Sullivan eye Schools' joy as first step towards curing All-Irish woe
Sullivan Upper have a double incentive to win this afternoon's Belfast Telegraph Senior Schools' Cup final against Methodist College Belfast at Lisnagarvey (2pm).
Not only do the Holywood girls want to land the title for the second successive year, but they know that a win will see them qualify for the All-Ireland schoolgirls' finals coming up next week - and they want to do themselves justice this time after what turned out to be a disappointing campaign last season.
Sullivan skipper Katharine Hill was part of the team on that occasion in Dangan, Galway, and this time she skippers the side as they look to land back-to-back Schools' Cup successes.
"We didn't do well in last year's All-Irelands at all," recalled Katharine.
"And we would love another go to try and put the record straight.
"But we mustn't get ahead of ourselves. First we have the Ulster final and Methody won't be easy to break down.
"We have been training hard for the final and we went to Dublin for a game.
"We played last year's All-Ireland winners Crescent Comprehensive in a friendly and beat them 3-0, so things have been going reasonably well."
On the injury front the main worry surrounds Amy Rothwell, who damaged her thumb, but there's every chance she'll take her place in the line-up as usual.
Many of the girls, including Katharine and her sister Emma, were in last season's cup final winning team and coach Sarah Hutchinson is hoping the experience will be of benefit the second time round.
They've had some sessions at Garvey to get used to the speed of the pitch and will go into the decider as favourites to retain the trophy.
But Methody represent a real threat - and their captain Katie Larmour also has a double reason for wanting to win the trophy.
"It has been so long since our school won the cup away back in 1988," she pointed out.
"In fact, none of our squad were even born then!
"A win would be long overdue and would be so good for girls' hockey here at Methody.
"But I would also love to win to see the smile on the Ulster President's face if he hands over the trophy or the medal to me!"
The reason behind that is simple - the President is Davy Larmour, the former Cookstown and Ireland international goalkeeper who just happens to be Katie's uncle.
"Davy and my dad Drew, who also played Senior League hockey, are brothers and when I asked Davy who he would be supporting at the final, he said that as President he would be remaining strictly neutral," she said.
"I've no doubt he will - but I'm sure I could manage a smile and maybe a hug from him if we were to get a win!"
This is the 110th year of the competition and Methody are the most decorated - this is the 24th time they have reached the decider, 10 ahead of any other school.
They have had 18 outright wins, three shared titles and were beaten finalists twice.
But they must go back to 1993 for their last final appearance, and even further - to 1988 - for the last time they lifted the trophy.
They've put in a lot of practice this season under coach Fiona McIlwaine and her assistant Carmel Hart and are reasonably optimistic that they can give a good account of themselves against a strong Sullivan side.
They looked a little nervous in their semi-final, playing in front of a large crowd, but they have learned from the experience and this time will be better prepared for the occasion.
"The goals have been going around, with our midfielders also regularly getting in on the act," added Katie. "And that's no bad thing.
"Susie McCollum is obviously our biggest threat upfront but Jodie Savage, Madison Bowyer and myself like to get on the scoresheet too."
Methody beat Royal School Armagh by the only goal of their semi-final, while Sullivan edged out Banbridge Academy 2-1.
It could be close again but the reward is big - the ecstasy of winning the honour of representing Ulster in the All-Ireland finals.