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Orla hopeful Academy can finally lift the Cup

By Graham Hamilton

Banbridge Academy girls have long lived in the shadow of their male counterparts but this season's captain, Orla Thompson, is hoping she can lead her team to the Belfast Telegraph Senior Schools' Cup crown for the first time in their history.

The competition is now in its 110th year but the Academy have only ever reached one decider when they lost to Sullivan Upper two years ago.

As fate would have it, the two teams are matched again this afternoon in this season's semi-final (2pm) at Lisnagarvey with a place in the decider on offer for the following Wednesday.

The winners will face either Royal School Armagh or Wallace High who meet at the same Garvey venue this afternoon but on the second pitch (2.30pm).

"It's my last year at the school, so it's my last chance to reach the final and possibly go on to win it," says Orla.

"With such a great bunch of talented girls on the team, I think we can make it but only if we play to our potential.

"We only lost one player from last year, so the team is mainly the same.

"This means that we have good experience of playing with each other which will help with linking play.

"We have eight currently playing for Bann's senior team, and this has been useful as the high standard in the Premier League has really stretched the girls," says Orla.

"However, Sullivan have been in the last two finals, which might give them an advantage, but losing in the 2015 final hurt, so we've something to put right!"

Banbridge have several potential matchwinners, in particular Katie McKee who was named player of the match in that 2015 final which they lost to Sullivan - and is an even better player now.

But it certainly won't be easy against Sullivan who have yet to concede a goal in the competition after wins over Larne Grammar (3-0), Glenlola (5-0), Victoria College (1-0) and holders Methodist College (1-0).

Captain Amy Rothwell marshalls the Sullivan defence while the goals flow freely from Emma Hill, Laura McCaw and Erin Camlin.

"It would obviously be an honour to captain my side in a final, but at this stage our main focus is getting through the match with Banbridge who always give us a close game," said Amy.

The second semi sees Wallace High, who are another school never to have won the trophy, take on six-times winners Royal School Armagh.

Jane Kilpatrick's girls may go in as underdogs but with players like Rachel Houston and Jasmine Kirkwood capable of finding the net, Wallace will be giving it a real go.

Royal have a spread of players with senior experience already - skipper Hannah Irwin (Ulster Elks) and Alana Doyle (Ards) feature in the Irish Hockey League while Lauren Wright lines out for Lurgan, Olivia Berry for Banbridge, Stacey Livingstone for Portadown and the majority of the others for Armagh in the Ulster Premier League.

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