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Rainey day gives girls so much to celebrate

Banbridge Academy 1-1 Rainey Endowed (Rainey win 3-1 on penalties)

By Graham Hamilton

You just sensed Rainey were going to land the Belfast Telegraph Schools' Cup for the first time when the heavens opened at Stormont Playball yesterday and the rain came pouring down midway through the second half.

Holders Banbridge Academy came into the final as favourites but, despite creating far more opportunities, they found it difficult to break down their well organised opponents.

The longer the game went on, the feeling was that it would eventually go to extra time and then the dreaded penalty stroke shoot-out... and that was exactly what unfolded.

And with that downpour leaving the big crowd saturated, it seemed fate was ensuring that it was going to be literally a Rainey day.

Mind you, they deserved the win on effort and commitment alone.

Carolyn Burns' girls ran their hearts out, closed down Banbridge at every opportunity, put in last-ditch tackles on a regular basis, and threw their bodies on the line in a bid to keep their hopes of winning alive.

It seemed they were going to lose a final for the third time in their history when Katie McKee put Bann ahead with a sublime goal.

But they refused to give up, levelled matters through Cara Brown, took the game into extra time and finally to penalty strokes.

And that was when their skipper and goalkeeper Erin Mulholland came into her own.

Having been on the losing side in 2014, it was her last chance to win the coveted trophy... and she responded by saving three of the four Banbridge penalty strokes to guarantee the trophy was on its way to Magherafelt.

The first half was scoreless, and the only notable points were a yellow card for Banbridge's Nadia Benallal and later Rainey's Lauren McGaw.

Banbridge's main threat was always going to come from Katie McKee but Charlotte Beggs was keeping her quieter than usual.

But you can never keep a good player down, and Katie pounced just four minutes into the second half to give her team the lead.

She picked up a loose ball outside the 23 metre line and drove past four defenders into the circle before slotting into the far corner, a goal worthy of a cup final.

But Bann couldn't improve on that tally, especially with their penalty corner routine not working as well as usual.

McKee switched one to Ellen Reid - who was outstanding at the back - but her deflection went wide of the upright.

Then came Rainey's equaliser with what was their first meaningful attack of the game.

Andrea Hegarty got her shot on target but Bann keeper Rebecca Spence blocked it with her legs, only to fall into Cara Brown's path, and she made no mistake.

The Magherafelt girls sensed they still had a chance and Gabi Scott was unlucky when she had a shot on her reverse saved.

And so it went to extra time, but the Banbridge penalty corners still weren't working, and so came the penalty stroke shoot-out.

Charlotte Beggs converted Rainey's first, as did Lauren Mulholland and Betty Scott for their third and fourth attempts.

But Banbridge uncharacteristically missed their first two before there was some controversy over their third by Katie McDonald.

Her effort rolled slowly wide but it was clear that there was a problem with the penalty spot, and so the shoot-out went up to the other end... where McDonald made no mistake on the re-take.

But Rainey keeper Erin Mulholland saved a third Banbridge stroke and the next thing she knew she was surrounded by her players with tears and screaming all round.

The trophy was handed over by Hockey Ireland President Ivy Dennis, who had travelled all the way from Bandon in West Cork to attend.

Belfast Telegraph

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