RANK outsiders Omagh Academy will bid to reach the final of the Belfast Telegraph Schools’ Cup for only the fifth time in their history when they meet old foes, Friends High School in an eagerly-anticipated last-four clash at Stormont tomorrow afternoon.
Omagh have captured the prized silverware just the once in 2005 but have reached three other showpiece deciders in 1999, 2006 and again in 2010.
Now the class of 2020 are just one step away from playing on the biggest stage in schools’ hockey but to reach there they will have to get past a quality Friends outfit, who, in highly-controversial circumstances, defeated Omagh in last year’s Shield final at the same venue.
On that occasion Friends scored a last-gasp winner from a hotly-disputed penalty corner to win and the heartbreaking pain and sense of injustice cut deep and remains raw for some of Omagh’s more senior players.
Academy coach Lesley Dickson admitted that that defeat had been a bitter pill to swallow but she wants her players to use the gut-wrenching experience as a positive tool in preparation for Wednesday’s semi showdown at Playball.
“We have been rank outsiders since the third round and that has worked in our favour thus far. Hopefully the underdog story continues,” said the Omagh coach.
“Drawing Friends doesn’t really make much difference although it means something given what happened and the controversy that surrounded last year’s Senior Shield final. We didn’t deserve to lose that game in the manner we did.
“It’s quite ironic that we did get them at this stage and again at Stormont. It’s re-run of last year’s Shield final and that will be good for us.”
Most observers are surprised to see the Tyrone representatives in the last four line-up given that they have a number of younger players in their ranks.
However Omagh has grown into the competition by defeating Down High School and Royal School Dungannon before providing the shock of all shocks in knocking out a highly-fancied Rainey outfit, which had been crowned Superleague champions before Christmas.
Dickson and Steven Arbuthnot’s charges then defeated Ballymena Academy 2-1 with goals by captain Lauren Armstrong and Sophie Egerton to secure their place in the last four for the first time in a decade.
The Academy coach said the underdog tag had served her team well and insisted they had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
“We know a fair bit about Friends. It didn’t really matter who we got, it was always going to be tough. We went into every game with the approach of we did very well to get this far and we have nothing to lose.
“It’s been one game at a time and that’s not going to change.
“We’ll be going with our own game plan and not worrying too much about how the other team is setting up. What matters is how we play, our game plan is the most important thing.
“The attitude of this team has been exceptional, they have worked so hard for me and for each other.
“Since beating Rainey the attitude and intensity has been fantastic, I couldn’t ask any more of them.”
FULL STORY IN THIS WEEK’S TYRONE HERALD