Captain Katie McKee pulls the strings as holders Banbridge book Schools' Cup final place
Banbridge Academy 2-0 Sullivan Upper
Katie McKee again did the damage as Banbridge Academy moved within one step of retaining the Belfast Telegraph Schools' Cup.
The diminutive midfielder ran the show and scored a super opening goal as the holders beat rivals Sullivan Upper 2-0 at Stormont Playball yesterday afternoon to book their place in the March 7 decider at the same venue.
Good crowds turned out to watch the back-to-back semi-finals, although many were delayed in reaching the ground due to ongoing major roadworks being carried out on Belfast's Upper Newtownards Road, close to Stormont.
Sullivan knew in advance that McKee and striker Nadia Benallal were the big threats, and so it proved with each scoring a goal in what turned out to be a reasonably comfortable win for a team that won the Ulster and all-Ireland cup double last season.
McKee's ability to create chances, to glide past players, to shield the ball, to draw fouls, to win penalty corners and to convert chances surely marks her down as a senior international - just like her parents John and Glenda - in the near future.
Sullivan had actually started the better, and Julia Hall sent a dangerous ball across the face of the goal but no-one was there to get the final touch.
And then Beth Young had a good run forward before her opportunity was snuffed out by the Banbridge rearguard.
But then up stepped McKee to break the deadlock in the 21st minute after she had won Banbridge's first penalty corner of the game.
When the ball was stopped at the top of the circle, McKee executed a lovely spin to leave the Sullivan runners out of the equation, and giving her the chance to slam the ball home past the keeper.
She almost doubled the score with an effort on the backhand, but it hit the side netting, and was also denied from two more set-pieces.
Benallal had a shot on the reverse superbly stick-saved by Sullivan keeper Jenny Beattie, who also had to block three other efforts as Bann stepped up the pressure, trying to get the insurance goal.
Benallal's trickery up front was causing Sullivan problems in the second half, and she had one particular run when she weaved her way through four defenders before being blocked.
But it wasn't long until she got her reward, scoring Banbridge's second with a crisp shot from the top of the circle to effectively seal the win.
McKee came close with another reverse but Sullivan also had their moments on the counter, although there was little give from Bann defenders Ellen Reid, Gina Woods and Holly Hanna in particular.
"It's great to win and reach another final," said McKee.
"We could've and probably should've scored more goals, but we did enough and now we get the chance to defend our title, and hopefully go on to reach the Kate Russell All-Ireland championships again."
These were sentiments echoed by Academy coach Neal Madeley who has worked hard with the girls.
"I'm happy with the result but not necessarily the performance or the number of missed chances," he said.
With both Banbridge and Rainey comfortable on the ball, and capable of scoring goals, it augurs well for a spectacle in the decider in a fortnight's time.
Whether it will be Banbridge retaining their title and qualifying for the All-Ireland series next month, or whether it will be Rainey landing the trophy for the first time in their history remains to be seen.
BANBRIDGE ACADEMY: Rebecca Spence, Lauren McGaw, Katie McDonald, Holly Hanna, Nadia Benallal, Molly Mathers, Sophie Mount, Emma Gregson, Hannah Buchanan, Gina Woods, Rebecca Dougan, Sarah-Jayne Corry, Ellen Reid, Gemma Hassen, Alex Gardiner, Katie McKee, Seren Jones
SULLIVAN UPPER: Jenny Beattie, Janet Cunningham, Erin Davidson, Kate Bradley, Hannah Jemphrey, Grace Jackson, Beth Young, Mary Smartt, Julia Hill, Laura McCaw, Erin Camlin, Lucie Oran, Emily Smyth, Rebecca Haley, Emily Irvine