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Tyrone Howe: Final thriller should be academic for Belfast and Ballymena

Last Thursday afternoon, for many who follow Schools rugby, the world seemed to grind to a halt.

Then, all of a sudden, texts began to fly across the networks, phones started ringing and the news broke. The mighty Methody, red-hot favourites to lift this year’s trophy, had been beaten — and the giant-killers? It took the boys from the country, as Ballymena Academy achieved what no other school team in Ulster has managed this season.

The players had already endured and come through high pressure in the quarter-final, beating Friends School at the death in a fixture that was so close that it came down to the last minute of a replay. These fixtures together must have taken incredible focus and huge emotional energy.

This, in itself, could be the biggest hurdle to overcome if Ballymena Academy are to ultimately triumph in this year’s Northern Bank Schools Cup.

They cannot afford to allow this magnificent semi-final victory be the pinnacle of their season. One more game lies ahead and the challenge is to conjure up the level of intensity and performance once again in the final rather than allow the mental fatigue of this result prematurely to exhaust their engines.

Not that it has in any way been plain sailing for Ballymena’s St Patrick’s Day opponents, Belfast Royal Academy.

They too have had their fair share of last minute tension and drama, both in accounting for Dalriada in the quarter-finals and then in the semis, coming back from a losing position to claim a last minute victory over Wallace.

What we have in this year’s final are two sides that have already shown enormous character, tenacity and real will to win. It will come as no consolation, but it is good for the competition that the traditional hegemony has been sufficiently challenged.

There has been drama all along and this year’s final is shaping up to be a St. Patrick’s Day cracker.

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