Belfast Telegraph Senior Schools Cup Final – Preview

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Ballyclare High School captain Rebecca McCullough insists most of the pressure will be on Banbridge Academy in Wednesday’s Belfast Telegraph Senior Cup final at Lisnagarvey (2pm)


The Co Down side, although not at their best in beating Strathearn 1-0 in the semi-final, have reached their fourth decider in as many years, having won the trophy in 2017.


Ballyclare are in their first final since 2012 when their current assistant coach, Ireland World Cup silver medallist, Zoe Wilson, scored the winning goal against Lurgan College. So, in terms of experience of the big occasion, the Academy might have the advantage but McCullough’s team knocked out the holders Rainey Endowed in the last four.


“We certainly didn’t play our best, but our defence were strong. We knew how to grind out a result and we took our chance when it came,” said Rebecca.


“Our team spirit is very high at the minute and that’s half the battle.


“I think beating the holders gave the girls a massive boost of confidence and looking back on the Rainey match,we were under a large amount of pressure for most of it


“So to have come out on top was really encouraging. Everyone seemed to think we were huge underdogs, but we definitely thrived off that.


Ballyclare’s players didn’t see much of the Banbridge semi as they were busy preparing for their own game but Rebecca and others knows some of their players, who are team mates on the Ulster Under 18 squad.


“Some of us have played with Ellen Reid and Nadia Benallal before so we know what they are capable of as individuals,” she added


“I do think they are a very strong team and we need to give them the respect they deserve.


“We’ve been training hard and it has really helped our preparation for the final although it’s just another match and we must treat it as such. 


“We enjoy doing things together as a team and this cup run has brought us even closer together. I would say we probably are underdogs, none of the girls have been in this position before so we are going in with nothing to lose and everything to gain.


“It’s a great position to be in and there is more pressure on Banbridge than us.’


Academy captain Nadia Benallal admits an improved performance will be required if her team are to lift the Ulster Senior Cup for the second time. Bann reached the showpiece for the fourth year in a row but they made hard work of beating underdogs Strathearn .


“I think there’s a lot of small areas we can improve on, but mostly we just need to start gelling like a team again like we did in the quarter final against Wallace,” Nadia said.


“Ballyclare have always been a strong side and they played really well in the semi final as they had to to beat Rainey, who were the holders.”


Bann will be hoping that their 2017 quarter-final win over Ballyclare will turn out to be a good omen as they went on to lift the trophy in the same year, beating Wallace 4-0 in the final.


Nadia is one of a handful of survivors from the class of 2017 and her experience and ability which has seen her make the Ireland Under 18 squad will be invaluable. In defender Ellen Reid, who played for the Ireland Under 21s in their international series against Great Britain earlier this year, the Academy have another key player.


However, Ballyclare won the most recent encounter between the sides and, although starting as slight underdogs, they are a force to be reckoned with as they demonstrated in beating Rainey.


“We played them last year in the semi final of the Super League and lost on strokes after a 0-0 draw, ” Nadia added.


“We beat them 2-1 in the quarter final of the cup a year earlier, so I think those results suggest it will be another close game this time.”


However, Nadia is hoping the Academy’s more recent experience of playing in the final and the atmosphere that goes with it, will prove useful.


Ballyclare, in contrast, will be making their first appearance in the decider since 2012, and so it will be a new experience for them.


“I think having a number of girls who have experienced playing in big games will definitely help us but it will come down to what happens on the day,” Nadia said.


“The atmosphere is obviously a lot to take in but during the game, speaking personally, I don’t really notice it much. As a team, we have just been training hard together and putting everything into each session and trying to use the time we have to prepare us as best we can.”


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