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Banbridge hotshot Jake Rowe makes Royals pay the penalty

Banbridge Ac. 2 Royal & Prior 1

by graham hamilton

Two penalty corner conversions from set-piece expert Jake Rowe were enough to guarantee the McCullough Cup was on its way to Banbridge Academy for the fourth time in the past eight years.

It was a close game throughout but Rowe's ability to put away such awards helped Bann edge matters and send Royal & Prior on the long journey home still waiting for their first success in the competition which has now been going for 56 years.

The Academy went in as hot favourites against their Donegal opponents, despite the Royals beating them in the pool phase of the competition early in the season.

But it turned out much closer than expected, with the winner finally coming just eight minutes from the end.

The Royals did have their chances, especially as Bann's rhythm was disrupted time and time again as they ended up with four players in the sin-bin at various stages of the game - three received yellow cards and another a green card.

But with skipper Kyle Marshall controlling the defence and Luke Roleston looking very safe between the posts, the Academy were able to weather the storm before grabbing a dramatic late winner.

Rowe's two goals earned him the man of the match award, the John Waring Memorial Cup, which he received from John's son Richard (right).

But others like team-mates Marshall, Roleston and Mark Barlow, as well as Royal & Prior's Alex Tinney, Luke Witherow, Peter Scott and goalkeeper Sbusiso Ogwudile, were all in the frame for the accolade on the day.

The Royals started nervously and when Rowe converted Banbridge's first penalty corner, it looked like it was going to be a one-sided affair.

But when Jamie McKinney had a good effort well saved by Roleston, and Scott came close from a penalty corner, the Donegal lads stepped up a gear and began testing the Bann defence on a more regular basis.

Witherow hit the post when his shot needed just a touch and finally they drew level five minutes from the interval when their skipper Tinney crashed the ball home from the edge of the circle.

Another Witherow cross into the circle caused havoc early in the second half, but Banbridge then won a series of penalty corners which threatened to see them run away with matters.

However, Rowe found Ogwudile hard to get past, with the keeper deflecting one onto the crossbar, saving another and then blocking two other shots to keep Royal & Prior alive.

With Banbridge down to nine men, it seemed Royal & Prior would snatch the win, but the Academy won their seventh penalty corner eight minutes from time and on this occasion Rowe put it away.

The Academy had to defend stoutly in the closing stages, with Witherow coming close from a penalty corner and then Mark Buchanan having a glorious chance blocked a yard from the line.

Banbridge AC.: Luke Roleston, Kyle Marshall, Edward Rowe, Ryan Simms, James Anderson, Callum Gibson, Mark Barlow, Joel Reid, Phillip Campbell, Nathan Liggett, Scott Dale, Jake Rowe, Lewis Bingham, Chris Curry, Harry Lockhart, Charlie Norris.

Royal & Prior: Sbusiso Ogwudile, Jack Pearson, Peter Scott, Tom Eaton, Jordan Devenney, Ben Wallace, James Roulston, Luke Witherow, James Wilson, Zack West, Mark Buchanan, Jake Watt, Jonny Porter, Jamie McKinney, Alex Tinney, Luke Porter.      

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