The RBAI 1st XI hockey squad travelled to Cork on Tuesday 24th October to take part in the Irish Schools Tournament, hosted by Bandon Grammar School. The RBAI team had earned its place in the competition following an impressive run of results in early September in a qualification tournament : a 1-1 draw at home to Friends’ School, was swiftly followed by an impressive 2-1 victory over MCB and a hard-fought 1-0 win away to Cookstown H.S. Having missed out on qualification for the Irish Schools Tournament in 2016-2017, this was an excellent achievement for the members of the squad and the coaching staff and it was with a sense of excitement that the entire group travelled to Cork for the tournament itself where the top sixteen schools on the island of Ireland would compete for the Tasmanian Shield.
The draw for the competition had place RBAI in a group with Friends’ School, Ashton School, Cork (ranked as the top team in Munster), and Villiers Secondary School from Limerick (the second team in Munster.) As expected, all three opposition teams provided a stern test for RBAI.
As has been the case on a number of occasions in previous Irish Schools tournaments, the RBAI 1st XI started somewhat slowly in the first match against Friends’ School on Wednesday 25th October, played at Midleton College, Cork. The majority of the game saw the RBAI defence and midfield having to repel a series of Friends’ attacks whilst the forwards rarely got the chance to show what they could do such was the nature of the match. Friends’ scored five goals without reply and, in truth, a few more could have been conceded had it not been for the performance of Finlay Marney in the RBAI goal.
Ben Rose in action versus Friends' School, Lisburn. Harry McNellis in the background.
Day two of the competition saw RBAI take on, firstly, Ashton School in front a vociferous home support. A much-improved performance from RBAI in comparison to the match against Friends', led to an extremely close encounter. This was a match of end-to-end hockey which could have been won by either side. Unfortunately, for the RBAI team, Ashton managed to squeeze a shot past the excellent Nathan Oakman in the RBAI goal with ten minutes left in the match and, despite the best efforts of all involved, RBAI could not muster what would have been a deserved equaliser.
With very little time for recovery or reflection the RBAI 1st XI then transferred to Midleton College for the final group match against Villiers Secondary School. Another physically demanding contest ensued and, in a very similar manner to the earlier match of the day against Ashton, RBAI succumbed to a 1-0 defeat.
The RBAI team could not be faulted for the effort shown in the three group matches. A technically very talented Friends' School side had converted their chances,whilst the two matches against Munster opposition had been very hard-fought encounters which, in reality, were always going to be won by a small margin.
The final day of the tournament saw RBAI play King's Hospital, Dublin in a friendly match at Ashton School. Another very close encounter, played in excellent spirits, resulted in a 2-2 draw. The RBAI goals came from Harry McNellis and Josh Kidd. Following this match the squad embarked upon the long journey home, with plenty of lessons learned about tournament hockey.
RBAI v. King's Hospital, Dublin
As is tradition on the journey home, both the players and coaches of the squad voted for their 'RBAI player of the tournament', with captain Adam Stronge coming out on top, closely followed by Ben Rose in second place and Harry McNellis in third.
In reality, there is probably not a great deal separating the majority of school hockey teams on the island of Ireland and the RBAI 1st XI certainly gave a good account of itself throughout the competition.
St.Andrew's College, Dublin defeated Wesley College, Dublin on penalty-strokes in the final of the competition.