Ballymena Academy First XI hockey team kept their hopes of Belfast Telegraph Schools’ Cup glory intact in determined fashion last week.
Diane McNeill’s girls set off from a snow-covered Galgorm Road on Friday for the long trip to Omagh for their rescheduled third round tie.
The decision to go ahead was in doubt right up to the completion of the warm up.
The staff and pupils of Omagh Academy deserve high praise for their efforts to get the pitch playable. Everything from a snow plough, staff cars, pupils wielding buckets of water and the players from both teams scraping snow and slush off the pitch was used to ensure the game went ahead!
The arrival of heavy rain just as the game got underway did not help either team settle into a rhythm, so, early proceedings were scrappy to say the least.
Neither team was able to retain possession of the ball for long enough to apply pressure in the opposition’s 23. Omagh double-teamed and passed the ball around more effectively than the Ballymena team in the opening 10 minutes and seemed to cope better with the challenging weather conditions.
Despite this, however, they were unable to cause the Ballymena defence too many problems. The Academy girls soaked up the initial pressure and started to play with more confidence and Emma Kernohan won their first penalty corner midway through the first half. Omagh defended it well and it was the same story 5 minutes later when Ballymena won their next two corners.
Omagh made a few good counter-attacking runs into the Academy 23 after this but, again, were unable to get a shot on target. Just before the end of the first half, Ballymena won their fourth penalty corner and were unlucky not to score from Rhianna Campbell’s deflected strike. This left the score 0-0 at half time.
The start of the second half saw Omagh apply more pressure on the Academy defence who dealt with most attacks well until 10 minutes in when Omagh won their first and, as it turned out, only penalty corner of the game. The Academy defence once again handled it well, clearing the danger and this helped to set up a more fluid period of play for Ballymena.
Omagh stepped up the pressure again for the next 5 minutes but after an Academy counter-attack, they won their fifth penalty corner. Rhianna Campbell stepped up to hit a rasping shot towards goal which deflected off an Omagh stick and into the net much to the delight of the players and relief of the supporters.
The next few minutes saw Omagh chasing the equaliser but they were unable to make any of this pressure count. With the final whistle approaching and nails becoming shorter by the second, Ballymena assumed control of possession to see the game out and progress to the quarter-finals where they will travel to play Banbridge Academy.
The girls would like to thank those ‘hardy’ supporters who travelled, despite the uncertainty surrounding the game going ahead, and braved the ‘Arctic’ conditions to cheer them on.
Ballymena Academy 1st XI players, Rhianna Campbell (Year 14), Jade Lamont (Year 12) and Holly Taggart (Year 11) have all been selected for the next stage in the Irish U18 and U16 Development Squads.
Rhianna has been included in a training panel of 25 players, as they start to build towards the Euro Hockey Championships in July, 2015. The group will attend a strength and conditioning day in December, before they meet up in February for a three day training camp in Belfast, at the Queens University Sports Campus.
Jade and Holly have been included in the U16 training panel of 30 players who will meet again on January 11 at St Gerards School, Bray.