2000 - 2003
The new millennium season started quietly for the club. All teams performed respectably, although we were not involved in the chase for silverware. In 2001/2002 two of our teams, Pascal Donnelly and Martin McNally’s Under 12s and Kieran Murphy’s Under 14s challenged for the league, but as so often in the past, they both fell at the final hurdle.
Nevertheless, all Aquinas teams had improved their positions on the previous year and there was a newfound optimism around the club. In addition, recent years have seen the arrival at the club of two highly experienced, weather beaten coaches, as it were, Eddie Agnew and Brendan McAuley, who have brought with them more years experience of playing and coaching the game than either is prepared to admit! Similarly, Martin Stewart, who has a proven track record of success over the years with both children and adult teams, is now back in the Aquinas harness. Taken with the club’s impressive list of talented and experienced homegrown coaches this combined experience augurs well for the future.
2002/2003 was a harbinger of the glory that was to come to Aquinas in its thirty-fifth year. In 2002/2003 Kieran Murphy’s Under 16s and Noel Murphy and Brendan McAuley’s Under 14s reached the cup final at their age groups.
The Under 14s went down to Dungoyne 2-1 at the Blanchflower Stadium on a Tuesday evening, memorable for the wrong reasons. Dungoyne opened the scoring before Mark George drew Aquinas level. Defeat was all the more bitter as, following a spirited Aquinas display, the Dungoyne winner came in the first minute of stoppage time.
The Under 16s played their final at Dunmurry Recreation’s ground. In truth, Aquinas never got started in a final that they should have won, and went down 2-0 to Rosario. There was further disappointment for the team in the league. Throughout the year they had challenged for the league, but as so often in the past, had to make do with second place.
However, all was not doom and gloom. Pascal Donnelly and Martin McNally took their Under 13 team and some of Martin Stuart’s Under 12s to Blackpool. The team battled hard throughout the round robin competition. Going into the last day they were unbeaten but due to play the top two teams. In the morning Springfield Boys from London were duly despatched 2-0.
The last game would be the decider. Aquinas were to play the, similarly, unbeaten Low Fell from Northumberland. Aquinas needed to win, Low Fell would win the Shield with a draw. The game started badly, with Aquinas falling behind to a cruel goal in the first few minutes. However, the Aquinas metal shone through, the team responded magnificently and with a display of guts, determination and no mean skill, turned it around to run out deserved 2-1 winners.
The goal scorers that day were Chris Donnelly from a volley and David O’Neill from the spot. In addition, to the club’s credit, the team also won the Fair Play award. The squad was: David Brennan, David O’Neill, Stephen O’Brien, Randal Boyle, Chris Donnelly, Liam McAuley, Mark Hyland, Martin McNally, Ben Sinnott, Daniel Kennedy, Daniel Ramsey, Stephen McAlear, Chris Mooney, Darragh McCullough and Matthew Kelly.
One piece of silverware and two cup final would be a hard act to follow in 2003/2004, our thirty fifth anniversary year. Follow it we did.