All-Ireland Schoolboys Championships final
“It’s just unbelievable.” Over the course of a 90-second interview in the moments after victory, Newtown coach Stuart Greene – tears drying on his cheeks – repeats the phrase seven times.
It is a measure of the seismic shock as the Waterford school produced probably the biggest surprise win in the 36-year history of the Tasmanian Shield. In so doing, they became just the fifth school to win both the boys and girls titles, emulating their 1981 Kate Russell winners.
Isaac Johnson’s sweetly timed volley 30 seconds before half-time did the damage, allowing them to lay the base with a teak-tough defensive performance to land the crown.
In the end, Banbridge Academy could not summon yet another amazing comeback having somehow twice gone almost into overtime to stay in the competition.
It proved a game too far as Newtown offered up scarcely a chance while, on the counter, they looked more likely to grab a second. Given their history in the competition, it was a remarkably composed performance.
Newtown had never emerged from the group stages before and had been a B division school in Munster up until just a few years ago.
Two years ago, they were tonked 8-0 and 7-0 in the All-Ireland group stages but they have grown into a powerful unit under coach Stuart Greene.
But such a success was beyond any of his wildest dreams, particularly against an Academy side who have shared the All-Ireland crown with St Andrew’s for the past eight years and were searching for their sixth title.
“When I started eight years ago in Newtown, we were a B school in Munster. To come from where we have to where we are now is just unbelievable.
We have some unbelievable players in the school and you saw it there today, a really good core and a really good work ethic. To be All-Ireland champions is just unbelievable.
“In 2016, we qualified for the first time in ten years. We got beaten 8-0 by St Andrew’s, 7-0 by Wallace. To come back last year, beating Sullivan was a big one, knowing we would have the full team back again this year. It was a big stepping stone.”
In Ben Johnson, Newtown had the tournament’s outstanding talent in midfield with glorious individual skills and a wide array of passes. Harry McCarthy, the McInerney brothers, Ian Balding and Sam Johnson – twin of Isaac, younger brother of Ben – were also outstanding, taming an Academy side driven by Eddie Rowe.
Bann had the best of the first 10 minutes but, as the half developed, the Munster side started having the better of the exchanges.
And they went in front from their third corner in the dying embers of the first half. The ball was switched right and then back into the middle, a defensive stick chipping the ball into Isaac Johnson’s path where he clipped it low into the backboard.
In the second half, Bann spent most of the time with the ball, skirting around the edges of the circle but unable to find more than one set piece for Rowe to produce one of his specials.
On Thursday, the powerful midfielder scored twice in the last six minutes to see Academy through ahead of Wesley 2-1. In the semi-final against St Andrew’s, he summoned an equaliser with the last play to earn a 2-2 draw and a shoot-out chance.
“Banbridge didn’t really have that clear-cut chance,” Greene added. “They had a couple of corners but our defence there against Friends yesterday, against High School this one against Banbridge was unbelievable.
“They put their bodies on the line, defended hard, and created plenty ourselves. We maybe should have scored one or two more but that goal was perfect just before half-time to be able to sit back and counter.”
Indeed, McCarthy, Isaac and Ben Johnson’s runs from midfield at the heart of the Bann defence almost made for a more comfortable last five minutes. It stayed tense but soon the tears of joy were allowed to flow.
Newtown: L Drayton, L Allen, S Johnson, E McInerney, D Gahan, I Balding, B McInerney, H McCarthy, B Johnson, I Johnson, R Treacy
Subs: M Laura, S O’Neill, T Delaney, P Cooke, H Belton
Banbridge Academy: S Dale, P Campbell, M Cowan, L McConnell, E Rowe, M Barlow, C Rowe, H Lockhart, L Bingham, L Rowe, H Farson
Subs: R Simms, L Groves, C Curry, A Jordan, M Anderson
All-Ireland Schoolboys Championships
Final: Newtown School, Waterford 1 (I Johnson) Banbridge Academy 0
Semi-final: Newtown School 4 High School 3; St Andrew’s 2 Banbridge Academy 2, Banbridge win shoot-out 3-1
For the day that’s in it, here’s something special from Waterford News and Star from 1981 when Newtown won the Kate Russell All-Ireland Girls title. Now they are the fifth school to have won both boys and girls crowns! pic.twitter.com/Z1hfZ0HkJ0
— The Hook (@hookhockey) October 26, 2018