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Schools' Cup final: Rainey pitch in together for their bid to dethrone Banbridge

By Graham Hamilton

Rainey Endowed are hoping they have stolen a march on rivals Banbridge Academy ahead of this afternoon's Belfast Telegraph Schools' Cup final at Stormont Playball (2pm).

The recent spell of snow and ice has disrupted Banbridge's preparations but that hasn't been the case for the Magherafelt girls, who have use of Ireland's only covered hockey pitch at Meadowbank Sports Arena.

Banbridge go in as favourites to retain the title they won last season but Rainey are planning to catch them cold as they bid to land Ulster schoolgirl hockey's premier cup competition for the first time in their history.

Rainey coach Carolyn Burns said: "Meadowbank continues to provide us with the perfect playing and training environment, so our preparations have gone along smoothly.

"It is an international certified field for hockey and always receives praise from visiting teams outside of Ulster.

"Indeed, when Australian legend Jamie Dwyer took a training session there with the Ulster U21 men in 2010, he thought it was an amazing facility.

"We know that Banbridge managed to book a session at Meadowbank, due to their sessions being hit by the weather, but at least we are ahead of them on that score!"

Rainey have twice reached the competition's final in the past but ended up on the losing side in 1977 and 2014.

And they know that if they are to break their duck, they'll have to minimise the damage that Banbridge captain Katie McKee can inflict.

McKee was the driving force behind the Academy's Ulster and Irish double last season and this term she is again the inspiration on another fine cup run, which included the semi-final showdown with Sullivan Upper when she scored the opening goal and dictated play in the 2-0 success.

"Yes, Katie is going to be hard to contain, but we will just have to try and do better than we have in previous matches against them," said Rainey coach Burns.

Rainey skipper Erin Mulholland accepts that her team have a tough task lying ahead, but the goalkeeper believes this is the best chance of them finally landing the coveted silverware.

"It would mean everything for us to become the first team from the school to win the trophy," she said.

"We know each other so well - seven of us also play together for Rainey's senior team in the Ulster Premier League - and that might help us."

Banbridge captain McKee admits that the weather hasn't helped their preparations but that the indoor session at least helped them sharpen their game.

"Rainey will have the edge in preparation but, when it comes to finals, it will come down to who can produce the goods on the day," she said.

"I have played with Lauren Mulholland, Erin Anderson and Alex Burns before and they will be the ones to watch in what is a good overall Rainey squad.

"But our group has been together since our Junior Cup success, ironically against Rainey, and our coach Neil Madeley will ensure we are ready for the occasion."

McKee isn't the only potential match-winner for Banbridge - striker Nadia Benallal usually gets among the goals and can prove a real handful for any defence.

Rainey Endowed School

Squad: Erin Mulholland, Charlotte Beggs, Erin Anderson, Alexandra McKinlay, Andrea Hegarty, Betty Scott, Gabi Scott, Ellie Montgomery, Cara Brown, Alex Burns, Lauren Mulholland, Ellen Campbell, Sara Semple, Honor Graham, Sarah Thomson, Ellie Stewart, Dawn Francis.

How they got here

Round One: Bye

Round Two: Bye

Round Three: Rainey 2 Ballymena Academy 0 (after extra-time)

Quarter-final: Rainey 3 Ballyclare High 3 (won 3-1 on shoot-out)

Semi-final: Rainey 2 Friends School 0

Banbridge Academy

Squad: Rebecca Spence, Lauren McGaw, Katie McDonald, Holly Hanna, Nadia Benallal, Molly Mathers, Sophie Mount, Emma Gregson, Hannah Buchanan, Gina Woods, Rebecca Dougan, Sara-Jayne Corry, Ellen Reid, Gemma Hassen, Alex Gardiner, Katie McKee, Seren Jones.

How they got here

Round One: Bye

Round Two: Bye

Round Three: Banbridge Academy 4 Lurgan College 0

Quarter-final: Banbridge Academy 2 Royal School Armagh 1 (on silver goal)

Semi-final: Banbridge Academy 2 Sullivan Upper 0

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