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Hat-trick hero Orla inspires Banbridge girls to Irish glory

By Graham Hamilton

Banbridge Academy midfielder Orla Thompson had the perfect send-off as she rounded off her school hockey career by captaining her team to a first All-Ireland Championship after a decisive 6-2 victory over Ursuline Convent Thurles at Havelock Park yesterday.

Not only that but the 18-year-old hit a first-half hat-trick as Bann made short work of the Munster side after a blistering display in the opening 30 minutes as they built up a 5-1 lead.

The Academy captain had bittersweet emotions after receiving the Kate Russell Cup from Irish Hockey president Ivy Dennis.

"It was my last game for the Academy and I will be sad to leave the school but what a way to finish off the season, with our first All-Ireland title after also winning the Belfast Telegraph Senior Cup for the first time last month," said Orla.

"We didn't really know what to expect going into the Kate Russell because we knew very little about the other teams.

"But it all came good in the end after what was a superb effort from the entire squad and our coach, Neil Madeley - he's an absolute legend.

"We were really professional during the tournament even down to Neil arranging for us to have ice-baths between games.

"We made sure we stayed off our feet between matches because we knew that rest and recovery was important with four games in two days."

Banbridge went into the game needing a win of any description to lift the trophy for the first time in the school's history but the job was effectively done by the 16th minute, by which time the hosts led 4-0.

But the required task could have been more difficult had Muckross Park not scored a last-gasp equaliser in the penultimate game to draw 1-1 with Kilkenny College, who had held Banbridge to 1-1 earlier in the day.

Bann had a dream start as Katie McKee broke the deadlock after only 20 seconds and after that it was plain sailing as the floodgates opened.

"Katie is a superb player and you just have to give the ball to her and there's a good chance she will score a goal for you," Orla enthused.

Straight from the pass back, McKee darted down the left flank and fired home a superb backhand shot.

Seven minutes later, Lauren McGaw made it 2-0 after more great work by McKee and Charley Brush then set up Thompson for her first in the 12th minute following a penalty corner.

The Academy skipper added her side's fourth goal from an identical move and completed her treble before the break after Caoimhe Perdue had pulled one back.

Izzy Walsh reduced the deficit to 5-2 two minutes after the break before McKee set up Nadia Benallal for goal number six in the 39th minute.

Results: Banbridge 1 (O Thompson) Kilkenny 1; Muckross Park 1 Colaiste Iognaid 0; Colaiste Iognaid 1 Ursuline 2; Kilkenny 1 Muckross Park 1; Banbridge 6 (K McKee, L McGaw, O Thompson 3, N Benallal) Ursuline 2

Final placings: 1 Banbridge 10pts; 2 Kilkenny 8; 3 Muckross Park 7; 4 Ursuline 3; 5 Colaiste Iognaid 0.

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