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Rainey chasing place in history

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Robyn Chambers has shown great promise after being called into the Irish senior training panel

Robyn Chambers has shown great promise after being called into the Irish senior training panel

Robyn Chambers has shown great promise after being called into the Irish senior training panel

Rainey Endowed completed their 300th anniversary celebrations just over a month ago... but now the Magherafelt establishment wants to start another century with a celebration of another sort.

Never in the history of the school have they managed to win the Belfast Telegraph Senior Schools' Cup, and that's something current captain Claire Mulholland and her team-mates would like to put right.

This afternoon, Rainey are hoping to edge a step closer to their target when they take on Ballymena Academy in the first of the two semi-finals being staged at Lisnagarvey (1.30pm), with holders Lurgan College and Ballyclare High meeting on the other Garvey pitch half an hour later.

Yes, it's a huge task for the Magherafelt girls. But there's a belief in their ranks that they can at least emulate the team from 37 years ago by booking their place in the March 5 decider.

That was the closest a Rainey team ever came to claiming the trophy, but they just failed to get the better of Regent House that day in 1977 and lost 1-0.

Now it's Ballymena standing in their way of progress, and although there's optimism in their camp, they aren't underestimating for one moment the quality that the Academy possess.

Under the watchful eye of former Ulster coach Graham Quincy, Olympian Jackie McWilliams and Miss McNeill, Ballymena have been getting better and stronger as the season has progressed, and this was never more evident than when they accounted for Strathearn 2-0 in the quarter-finals last month.

The Academy, of course, has a good history in the Schools' Cup. They have won it six times, shared it three times and reached a further nine finals, making them the fifth most successful school in the competition.

And during that course of time they have produced numerous international players including Karen Humphreys, Claire Parkhill, Pamela Orr, Katherine Maybin, Shauna Parkhill and Kirsty Bonar, and going further back Margaret Brown, Maggie Gleghorne and Janet Manson.

But that record doesn't scare the Rainey captain as she believes the school has a strong team which has gelled together over the past few years.

"The school has been in the Junior Cup final for the past six years, so you can see progress is being made," she said. "Many of us have come through the junior ranks together, so we have gained experience together.

"We shared the Derry and Antrim League title, having gone through our seven games unbeaten. And ironically it was Ballymena whom we shared it with. We drew 0-0 with them and we both won all our other games!"

To reach the last four, Rainey have beaten Limavady Grammar (4-0), Portadown College (5-0)and Sullivan Upper (1-0)... without conceding a goal. And, for that matter, they conceded just one goal in that seven-game league programme.

"We're benefiting from the facilities at Meadowbank," explains Rainey coach Carloyn Burns.

"It is just brilliant to go there, and there's no doubt this has helped the development of hockey in the town."

Tori Hastings, Cara Sloan, Kirsty McClarnon, Rachel Burns, Sarah Caldwell and Lauren Mulholland have all been among the goals for Rainey this season and in Robyn Chambers they have an outstanding prospect who has settled in very well with Senior League giants Pegasus and has already been called into the Irish senior international training panel.

The other semi-final brings together two schools who know all about the competition – current holders Lurgan College and the 2012 winners Ballyclare High.

if Lurgan make it through, it will be the fourth successive final... but coach Judith McVicker won't be taking anything for granted – especially as it was Ballyclare who beat them in the final two years ago.

However, with players like Hannah Grieve in your line-up – she was one of the scorers in the 2-1 quarter-final success over Wallace High – there's a reasonable chance of making it to another decider.

With pupils from the four schools being ferried by coach to Garvey's complex, there will easily be a sizeable crowd cheering noisily.

And with both semi-finals expected to be finely balanced, it will be a case of which teams adopt better to the big occasion who will win through to the March 5 final.

Belfast Telegraph