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Best of Friends' as Irwin hits winner to end a 40-year wait

Friends' School 2 Sullivan Upper 1

By Graham Hamilton

The name of Friends' School will be engraved on the Burney Cup for a record 20th time after they came from behind to beat holders Sullivan Upper at Stormont Playball last night.

Late goals from Andy Edgar and Conor Irwin helped them land the trophy for the 16th time outright, two more than nearest rivals Banbridge Academy, but having shared the silverware on four other occasions, they are streaking out ahead in the success table.

Mind you, it was 40 long years since they last won the Burney, now sponsored by John Minnis Estate Agents, but coaches Craig Cunningham and Drew Campbell are determined it won't be that long again.

It didn't look like they were going to end the famine as they trailed Sullivan from the 20th minute but they turned the game on its head with two goals in the final eight minutes to start wild celebrations.

Friends' co-captain Edgar said: "We lost the McCullough Cup final on a shoot-out to Sullivan back in December, after leading 2-1 going into the final minute.

"And we've worked on that and trained hard since then to make sure that we don't fade near the finish.

"It did look bad going into the last 10 minutes as we were still trailing but there is a great belief in the squad and it showed.

"It has been 40 years since the school last won the Burney, and it's a great feeling to be part of the team that has finally bridged the gap."

With the two teams knowing each other so well, the opening half was a cautious affair.

But Sullivan won two penalty corners and from the second Paddy Crookshanks fired past Friends' keeper Jack Simpson.

Matthew Milliken had several impressive runs for Friends' but there was little support and the Sullivan defence was barely tested.

The one chance that fell their way in the first half saw Sullivan keeper Thomas McCord clear when it looked like Harry Scott might force the ball home.

Friends' were more of a threat in the second period and Irwin made some great runs to collect aerial balls as the Sullivan defence became a little shaky.

And when the Lisburn lads forced two penalty corners, after good work by man of the match Ollie Reid, the second was stopped illegally on the line and Edgar put away the penalty stroke.

With eight minutes remaining, it seemed extra-time was looming but Irwin stayed forward from another break and this time he was able to get in where it hurts to meet Rory Brown's cross and deflect it past the keeper.

Irwin said: "I just saw Rory firing the ball into the circle and I did my best to get on the end of it and it worked.

"I'm ecstatic. It's a great feeling to bring the Burney Cup back to Friends' after such a long wait."

FRIENDS': Ryan Kirkpatrick, Matthew Hamill, Matthew Thompson, Ross Little, Harry Scott, Conor Monteith, Matthew Milliken, Rory Brown, Sam Anderson, Hugo Henderson, Ollie Kidd, Matthew Aughey, Jack McGall, Conor Quinn, Conor Irwin, Andy Edgar, Jack Simpson.

SULLIVAN UPPER: Thomas McCord, Paddy Crookshanks, Matthew Willis, Tom Robson, Michael Trimble, Callum Carson, Fergus Gibson, Matthew Morris, Sonny Erskine, Daniel Girvin, Fergus Kerr, Patrick Haley, Isaac Hart, Tom McClintock, Djay Erskine, Jamie McAuley.

Meanwhile, Instonians' title hopes were dented when they lost 3-2 at home to Mossley last night.

The Shaw's Bridge side crushed Belfast Harlequins 8-1 24 hours earlier, but squandered many chances against Mossley.

Bangor beat South Antrim 3-1 and now have a game in hand.

Ulster Premier: Instonians 8 (W Robinson 3, R McKnight, J Watson, C Kirk, C Barnes, J Palmer) Belfast Harlequins 1 (R Quigley); Bangor 3 (D McClune, M Willis, C Campbell) South Antrim 1 (M Taylor); Instonians 2 (S Kelso, C Barnes) Mossley 3 (S Lyall, J Cathcart, J Robinson).

Belfast Telegraph

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