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Luke who's Banbridge Academy hero in McCullough Cup showdown

By Graham Hamilton

Goalkeeper Luke Roleston is already being tipped as a possible international star of the future... and he showed his credentials yet again as Banbridge Academy regained the McCullough Cup with a slender victory over holders Wallace High at Lisnagarvey yesterday afternoon.

The custodian impressed earlier in the season as Ulster Under-16s won the inter-provincial series and he underlined his potential once more by keeping Wallace at bay, particularly in the second half as the Lisburn school threatened to turn the final around.

Banbridge had taken what looked like a comfortable two-goal lead in wet and wintry conditions but they began to lose their way in the last quarter, especially after skipper Johnny McKee was carried off with a leg injury.

They lost their shape, lost their composure and were in danger of throwing everything away as Wallace at last got to grips with the game and the cold conditions.

But that's when Roleston came into his own.

He stood tall on the goalline and pulled off a handful of crucial saves, including one particular effort that he turned away when it seemed destined for the back of the net.

He was finally beaten with a crisp shot on the reverse from Mark McNellis late in the second half - it was only the fourth goal he had conceded in seven games in the competition - but his heroics clearly kept Bann ahead in those dying minutes when Wallace could easily have forced extra time.

It all seemed to be going so well for the Academy as they stepped up their bid to land the trophy for the second time in three years and also gain revenge for last season's Burney Cup final defeat against Wallace.

McKee, one of the province's upcoming stars, showed his class with a wonder goal two minutes from the interval and then the hard-working David Armstrong made it two just four minutes into the second half.

McKee's goal certainly caught out the Wallace defence.

He went on a superb run and as defenders backed off expecting him to cross from the byline, he sent the ball high into the far corner of the net, a quality effort.

Up until then, the two teams had fought hard against the elements and also cancelled each other out in midfield.

But after McKee's goal, Bann seized the initiative and looked in control as they pushed forward.

And they were rewarded for the second time when Robert Scott crossed from the left and the unmarked Armstrong tucked the ball home.

Gradually, Wallace started to click and Scot McCabe deflected a cross narrowly wide before Matthew Nelson missed a gilt-edged chance when his effort hit the post.

Bann weren't afraid to use the long ball to get out of trouble at this stage, and with Timmy Watt sin-binned and then McKee carried off injured, they were losing control at this crucial stage of the match.

Worse was to come when Ulster Under-16 defender McNellis pulled a goal back with a classy reverse strike, and suddenly you could see the Lisburn school were now going for the jugular as they tried to keep a grip on the trophy they won last year.

Roleston made a double save and then denied Wallace again when he deflected Sean Murray's penalty corner wide.

Wallace were now driving forward as much as the rain, and Matthew Nelson twice got into dangerous positions along the byline as they tried hard for the equaliser but despite his good crosses low into the circle, no-one could get the vital touch.

It simply was not to be their day, and Bann held on to take the trophy for the fifth time since the Millennium.

And judging by their performances, there's a reasonable chance the two could meet again in the Burney Cup final, providing they are kept apart in the earlier rounds.

Afterwards, man of the match Roleston (pictured with Richard Waring) received the John Waring Memorial Trophy while McKee hobbled back on to the pitch for the medal ceremony - a bad injury wasn't going to prevent him from holding the McCullough Cup aloft!

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