BANDON Grammar’s All-Ireland Schoolboys Championship hockey triumph is a fitting reward for a hardworking squad.
The West Cork school outlasted King’s Hospital 2-1 in the semi-finals – with goals from Sam Dale and the superb Mark Collins – and then, later that same day, beat Banbridge Academy 3-1 in a shootout following an exciting 2-2 draw.
Bandon’s Justin Lucas levelled the score early in the third quarter only for Banbridge Academy to retake the lead and hold on to it until a minute from the end. That was Sam Dale’s cue to rescue his school with a second equaliser to set up a nerve-wracking shoot-out.
A 2-1 lead saw Sam Dale step forward with his school’s fourth effort and score to secure Bandon’s first All-Ireland senior title in 17 years.
‘We never give up; that’s what we are about!’ Dale said afterwards. ‘The perfect team, we have such great desire – late goal in the semis, late goal in the final and that is why this team is so special! We bind together and never give up!’
Schoolboys hockey league champions, Munster schoolboys senior hockey cup winners and All-Ireland senior schoolboys hockey champions, it has been an unbelievable year for Bandon Grammar’s players, management team and head coach Ashley Smyth.
‘Finishing 2-2 and going into shuttles, it becomes a lottery,’ Smyth told The Southern Star.
‘Thankfully, we did a lot of homework and had our preparation done for our goalkeeper and shuttle takers. It paid off on the day.
‘Preparation is huge in the modern-day game. You have to plan for your games, all the eventualities, well in advance. That’s why when you come to a shoot-out, it is a formality as the players have rehearsed them so often. Players know exactly what’s expected of them and just go out there and do it.’
Sam Dale played a pivotal role in Bandon Grammar’s All-Ireland success. Scoring a late equaliser was impressive but trumped by the coolness of Dale’s match-clinching goal to bring the Tasmanian Shield All-Ireland title back to Bandon.
‘Sam was a quiet player at the beginning of the year but I could see potential there from day one,’ Smyth added.
‘He is not yet an international and part of a U18 development squad at the minute. His performance against Banbridge Academy should see him earn a call-up to the full U18 Irish international boys’ set-up at some point.
‘Sam has developed as good as any player I have seen throughout my career. His stick skills and presence of thought in the final are there for all to see in the many clips put up on social media. He didn’t panic and just slotted the ball away both for our equalising goal against Banbridge and the equalising goal against King’s Hospital in the semi-final. A cool head and just clinical, absolutely clinical. A hot knife through butter.’
What an incredible group of young men! Huge congratulations @bandongrammar Senior Boys on becoming All-Ireland Champions 🏆 Bringing the Tasmanian Shield back to Cork for the first time since 2005!! Well done to all involved #BGS #AllIreland #Champions pic.twitter.com/v5xcixVQvk
— David Harte OLY (@daveyharte) March 30, 2022
So, what does this All-Ireland title mean for Bandon Grammar’s future?
‘In Bandon Grammar school right now, I’d say that hockey is at an all-time high,’ commented Smith.
‘Just today, our Form 1A team won their final against Midleton. Every single one of our school’s hockey teams that is competing this year have won their leagues and cups that they entered.
‘Three or four coach loads of supporters travelled up for our All-Ireland senior final. All the younger hockey players in our school were part of that group of supporters. Now, they want to emulate what the senior boys have done. All the younger boys want to be the next Sam Dale, the next Mark Collins, the next leaders and strikers.
‘That’s their goal so this All-Ireland win is going to have a huge impact on the locality and for the school.’
Bandon Grammar: Harry Forsey, Ian Perrott (vice-captain), Trenton Spencer, Josh Hamilton-Foott, Tiarnan Brown, Alan Buttimer, Jamie Horgan, Mark Collins (captain), Callum McCourt, Sam Dale, Angus Seign, Michael Harrington, Glen Gash, Conor Hoban, Charlie Gilbert, Justin Lucas, Ewan Cullinane, Sean Landy, Patrick Ryan, Sean Gallagher, Evan O’Neill, Adrian Frank.