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Fired-up Sarah Russell heading Banbridge Academy's Cup revenge bid

By John Flack

Banbridge Academy captain Sarah Russell has bittersweet memories of last year's Belfast Telegraph Senior Schools' Cup final against Sullivan Upper and she is determined to help her team avenge their 2-1 defeat when the teams renew their rivalry this afternoon in the semi-finals at Lisnagarvey.

Sarah scored Bann's goal but then suffered heartache at the final whistle after the Holywood side hit back with two goals to lift the famous trophy outright for the first time in the competition's 109-year history.

This is Sarah's last at year at the Co Down school and celebrating with the Cup next month would be the perfect send-off.

However, it's one step at a time and Banbridge are fully aware that their immediate priority is today's match before they can even contemplate taking on either Methodist College or Royal School Armagh, who go head-to-head in the other semi-final.

"We are really looking forward to our semi-final and they don't come any bigger than taking on the holders Sullivan," said Sarah.

"We had a close game against them last year in the final and their finishing was the only difference on the day.

"We haven't played them this season but we are expecting a very tough game as they are the holders and have a great squad.

"It is my last year at school and I'm the only one not back next year, so I'll be doing all I can to keep our season going.

"I have mixed memories of last year's final as I scored our goal only to see Sullivan storm back with two great penalty corner strikes.

"And we hear that they have a good set-piece routine this year as well."

Key to that routine is Sullivan captain Katharine Hill, who scored the winning goal in last year's showpiece, giving her a memory she will always treasure.

"It was amazing to score the decisive goal last year but I couldn't have done it without the huge amount of team effort from everyone else," she recalled.

"It was an unbelievable feeling winning the Cup and I would say it was the best day of my life and a huge achievement to win the trophy for the first time for Sullivan.

"We are expecting a very closely fought game similar to last year's final and we know they have a lot of very skilled players."

Methodist College captain Katie Larmour wasn't even born the last time the south Belfast outfit won the Cup back in 1988 but the school holds the record for the most outright wins - 18 in total.

Katie is expecting a tough challenge against an Armagh side that has had more recent success in the competition with six triumphs, the last of which came in 2010.

"We played them in the Plate final last year and it went to penalties after a very tight game and that shows how closely matched the two teams are," she said.

"They have a very good spine to their team in their captain Clara Lennon, Alana Doyle and Hannah Irwin but we will just be focusing on our own game.

Armagh skipper Clara Lennon, meanwhile, says her team are looking forward to the challenge posed by Methody.

"There has been a real buzz about the school in the build-up to the game and we can't wait, although none of us will have played in front of such a big crowd before," said Clara.

"But we will just try to go out and enjoy the atmosphere and try not to be too nervous although we know from the last time we played Methody just how good a side they are."

The Methody-Armagh semi starts at 2pm on one Garvey pitch with the Bann-Sullivan beginning half an hour later on the other.

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