Ballyclare High staged a late, late show to book their place in the Belfast Telegraph Ulster Senior Cup final for the first time in seven years with a 1-0 win over holders Rainey Endowed at Lisnagarvey on Wednesday.
There were just two minutes remaining when, after being second best in terms of possession for the majority of the game, the Co Antrim girls netted the winner. In a game in which genuine chances were at a premium, it looked likely it would have to be settled by a penalty shootout until Rachel Hill struck to spark the celebrations.
Until that point, Rainey had the better of the few opportunities on offer but Ballyclare goalkeeper Laura Chestnutt stopped everything that came her way. Ballyclare captain Rebecca McCullough, who set up the winning goal, was delighted at the outcome as she looked forward to her first Senior Cup final with Banbridge Academy standing in the way next month
“Rainey held the upper hand during most of the match but we just held firm and were able to clinch it at the end, thankfully,” said the 18-year-old.
“I think we defended well in every line when we were on the back foot. There was a point where I thought, this isn’t going to happen and it’s going to go to penalties but we were able to hold them off and get the goal even when we had a player in the sin-bin at the time.”
“We were actually two players down briefly in the last few minutes but we had planned for that scenario. The aim was to sit back and hold them out if we were short-handed but then we went up and won a corner and scored it which wasn’t in the script.”
“We’re buzzing for the Banbridge game now, especially as none of us have played in a Senior Cup final before. It’s a bit surreal, it’s kind of like a dream and I don’t think it’s sunk in yet.”
The common thread from the 2012 final lies in the shape of Ireland World Cup silver medallist, Zoe Wilson, who scored the winning goal in that game. Now the High School assistant coach, she is delighted at the prospect of another appearance in the showpiece albeit in a different capacity.
“It’s certainly more nerve wracking being on the sidelines that on the pitch but hopefully we can bring the trophy home to Ballyclare again,” said the 21-year-old.
“The girls defended really well when Rainey threw everything at us in the first half. Our defending from the front to the back was tremendous and the girls really rose to the challenge and the occasion.”
“Just before we scored, we were actually writing down who was going to take the penalties but we were delighted we managed to nick the goal without it going to the wire.”
Erin Anderson, Sara Semple and Betty Scott all had half-chances for Rainey well dealt with by Chestnutt in the opening 30 minutes. McCullough was denied by Rainey keeper Dawn Francis six minutes after the break and four minutes later Chestnutt stopped another effort from Semple. Then with two minutes left, and down to 10 players after briefly having nine on the pitch, Ballyclare won a penalty corner.
After McCullough’s initial shot was saved, the ball broke to Hill who fired in the rebound for the winner. The Magherafelt side forced a set-piece in the dying seconds but the Ballyclare defence once again held firm.
Rainey coach Carolyn Burns reflected: “It was a great game and we just couldn’t score at the end of the day. The girls played really well and it was just the final touch that eluded us but that’s sport.”
Ballyclare High: Laura Chestnutt; Rachel Hill, Katie Stewart, Rebecca Walker, Kathryn Quinn, Molly Dougan, Chloe McNeilly, Megan Cochrane, Hannah Petrie, Hannah Smyth, Rebecca McCullough (capt.); subs: Leah Baird, Issy McGrugan, Anna O’Hara, Nell Campbell, Amy McGookin.
Rainey Endowed: Dawn Francis; Imogen Graham, Alexandra McKinlay, Gabi Scott, Ellie Stewart, Betty Scott, Charlotte Beggs (co-capt.), Erin Anderson, Ellie Montgomery (co-capt.), Sara Semple, Honor Graham; subs: Aimee McClure, Molly Clifford, Sarah Goodwin, Rachel McMenemy, Alexa Hastings, Jessica O’Neill, Aoife Doyle.
Umpires: Linda Johnston, PJ Whyte.