Belfast Telegraph Ulster Senior Schoolgirls Cup final
Rainey Endowed 1 Banbridge Academy 1, Rainey win shoot-out 3-1
Rainey Endowed lifted the Belfast Telegraph Ulster Senior Schoolgirls’ Cup for the first time after a dramatic 3-1 penalty shootout win over holders Banbridge Academy which followed a 1-1 draw after extra time at Stormont on Wednesday, writes John Flack.
The heroine of the hour was Magherafelt goalkeeper and captain Erin Mulholland, who made three superb saves in the penalty decider, after also excelling in the course of the game.
Erin was one of just two players that had taken part in the 2014 final when Rainey ironically lost in the same fashion to Lurgan College.
Rainey coach Carolyn Burns came up with a tactical master plan, with her team sitting back and soaking up any pressure and then counter attacking in numbers when the opportunity arose.
Banbridge captain Katie McKee was expected to provide the main threat after scoring a hat-trick in last year’s final.
Burns opted to man-mark her and Charlotte Beggs carried out the strategy to perfection – well almost – as it was the Pegasus starlet, who scored her team’s goal.
But other than that, Charlotte, sticking to her player like the proverbial limpet, restricted McKee’s influence somewhat although she did pose a threat at penalty corners when she managed to break off the shackles.
Bann, however, will have been disappointed they didn’t make more use of the seven set-pieces that came their way. Too often, they looked for a variation or switch when perhaps a more direct approach might have been more productive.
Rainey did live dangerously at times though, notably when they survived penalty corners with the last play in both halves of extra time.
Mulholland made a full length diving stop from the second of these as McKee went close to scoring the winner.
In a game of fine margins, Academy were just nine minutes away from retaining the trophy when Rainey got the equaliser that forced the additional 10 minutes and ultimately the shootout.
Banbridge had the edge in the opening exchanges when both teams had a player shown a yellow card, Alex Burns ‘taking one for the team’ as Nadia Benallal bore down on goal and Academy’s Lauren McGaw quickly following her into the naughty chair.
Both sides exchanged penalty corners as the game entered the second quarter and Benallal’s deflection went just wide after McKee had sent the ball into her path.
But McKee got her reward four minutes into the second half with a brilliant solo effort as she darted her way past several players after driving in from the 22 before neatly beating Mulholland for the opener.
That setback temporarily stifled Rainey’s game plan and they obviously needed to adopt a less conservative approach but they did just that.
They began to throw more players forward and were rewarded with the equaliser which came with under 10 minutes left on the clock.
Bann keeper Rebecca Spence hadn’t had a shot to deal with until then but she was beaten by Cara Brown, who scrambled the ball home following a rebound and, all of a sudden, it was game on.
Academy had a chance from a set-piece near the end, despite being down to 10 after Benallal was binned, but Lauren Mulholland blocked Rebekah Dougan’s effort.
And so to extra time when there was little of note bar those two Academy corners and, if anything, the momentum had switched to Rainey.
Erin Mulholland had been the saviour in a shootout success over a highly fancied Ballyclare High team in the quarter finals so she was probably relishing the challenge once again.
And she certainly rose to it with that trio of saves earning Rainey the most dramatic of victories after which she was engulfed by her triumphant team mates while the inspirational Rainey coach danced a jig of delight a short distance away.