Ballyclare High School don’t have to look to far for a role model as they prepare for Wednesday’s Belfast Telegraph Ulster Senior Cup semi-final with holders Rainey Endowed at Lisnagarvey (3pm)
Their assistant coach Zoe Wilson scored the winning goal when the Co Antrim school last won the famous trophy back seven years ago.
Not only that but she has gone on to a bigger and better things, having played a key role in Ireland’s incredible World Cup journey last year which saw them come home from London with the silver medals. Ballyclare captain Rebecca McCullough is hoping her players can rise to the occasion today when they face Rainey, inspired by Zoe’s heroics and coaching ability with Strathearn facing Banbridge Academy in the other semi-final (1.30pm)
“Zoe is a great coach for one so young and she makes sure all of us know precisely what is expected on an individual and collective level,” said Rebecca.
“She is very detailed in her coaching and quite technical as well so it won’t be for a lack of preparation if we lose on Wednesday. Zoe’s also a great role model for us, having scored the winning goal in the 2012 final.”
“She has also gone on to do brilliantly with Ireland and it was a proud moment for the school , especially the hockey players, when she won a silver medal at the World Cup. From a personal point of view, this is my last year at school and there would be no better way to sign off than by winning the Senior Cup but we can’t look too far ahead just yet.”
Rebecca, who plays Premier League hockey for Mossley, is hoping Ballyclare can repeat last season’s Super League final win over Rainey which went to penalties.
“Hopefully, the semi won’t go to a shootout but if it does, we’ll be prepared for it and we’ve been practising them just in case,” added the 18-year-old.
“Obviously as the Senior Cup holders, they will be made favourites and rightly so but that will take the pressure off us. But we also have a lot of good players and are excited about the prospect of playing in the semi-finals as it’s been a while since we got that far and it will be a first for me.”
Rainey, meanwhile, are keen to not only reach the final but to hold on to the trophy and go on to represent Ulster at the all Ireland finals next month.
“We are happy with the draw and really buzzing for the semi-final and, in the longer term, we really want to retain the trophy, having won it for the first time last year,” said Magherafelt co-captain Betty Scott
“We also want to do better in the All Irelands should we get through and, having had the experience last year, we fell we would be better prepared for it. But that’s a lot further down the line and first we have to get over the Ballyclare hurdle which won’t be easy.”
“They are a big, strong physical side and I know quite a few of their players from representative hockey. The likes of Rebecca and Molly Dougan are very dangerous and will need to be watched carefully.”
“But we have a strong squad as well and we are determined to do well this season, having experienced the joy of winning the cup last year.”
Of the four semi-finalists, Strathearn have the most Senior Cup successes – five in total – but the last of those came in 1992. Team captain Chloe Sweet knows her side start as underdogs against 2017 winners Banbridge Academy but believes team work rather than stardom could hold the key to a potential upset.
“We reached the Plate final and the Shield final in the last two years and to go on and get to the Senior Cup final would be awesome,” said Chloe.
“I know we won’t be the favourites against Banbridge but, at the same time, there is no pressure on us and all of it will be on them so, hopefully, that might work in our favour. We have no stars in our team and our success so far has been based on team work. A lot of us have been together since first year and we know each other so well both off an off the pitch.”
“Hopefully, our togetherness as a unit will help us and although we will be the underdogs we will be giving it our best shot.”
Bann captain Nadia Benallal will be taking nothing for granted against Strathearn even though the Academy have a vastly experienced side with six survivors from the team that went on to lift the Al Ireland title in 2017.
“We played Strathearn very early in the season and lost 2-0 but didn’t have a full team out so I don”t think that will have any bearing on the game,” said the Irish Under 18 star.
“However, we’ll probably be made favourites and that puts a bit of pressure on us whereas there won’t be any on them. It’ll be a tough game but hopefully having won the cup and the all Ireland in the same year and having six of those players back this season will stand us in good stead.”
“Wining the cup was fantastic that year and going on to lift the Kate Russell especially on our own pitch was even better. This is my last year and it’s the same for quite a few of the girls, so to go on and lift the cup for a second time would be unbelievable.”
“But we can’t afford to think that far ahead and we will just concentrate on the Strathearn game for now.”