2005 - 2006

2005/2006 saw further significant developments in the expansion of the club. The season saw the creation of the club’s first ever under 18 team, playing as Aquinas. Under the management of Noel Murphy, Des Brennan and Bobby McCambridge, the team played in the North Down Youth League. The season, similarly, saw the creation of three second teams, called Red Star on the suggestion of Aiden Duffy, the driving force behind the move. The teams were created at under 12, under 13 and under 14. The under 12s were managed by David McCullough, John O’Rourke and Pat McKeever, the under 13s by Aiden “Red Star” Duffy, Jim Magee and John McCartney, the under 14s by Brian Fee and Paddy Kinney. Colm Keenan should also be mentioned in the Red Star story. Even though he opted to remain with minisoccer, he also pushed hard for the creation of the second teams.

The under 9s, under the experienced eyes of Denis Kelly and Damien Hughes, had a good season, running up some impressive victories. They improved on the under 9 position in 2004/2005 by finishing in the top half of the George Best Castlereagh and District Youth League and fourth overall in what has very quickly become one of the most competitive and keenly fought age groups. The mighty midgets also reached the cup final, sadly going down 2 – 1 from dubious corner award and having a clear cut penalty turned down. C’est la vie, these things happen. Their day will come, for we have not heard the last of the mighty midgets.

For Michael Brown, Bruce Kelly and the under 11s 2005/2006 was a year of what might have been… and maybe will be in future years. Throughout the year the team kept pressure on the league leaders battling for top spot throughout the season, falling away, unfortunately, under the weight of end of season fixture backlog. Nonetheless a top four spot was secured. The league run in was not helped, perversely, by long runs in both the SBYL and NIBFA cups, only going out in the semi finals of both. With matches virtually every other day as May drew to a close, the under 11s can look back with pride on a season in which exhaustion became their main opponent. Nonetheless, like the under 9s, this is a team that has the potential to write its name large in the annals of Aquinas Football Club.

Similarly, Seamus McLernon’s, Sam McMenemy’s and Brian McCrea’s under 12s put up a good show throughout the year. Like a couple of other Aquinas teams they challenged for the title all year but never quite got within touching distance. It was always a bit like playing catch up with the leaders. Nonetheless, the team enjoyed another good long run in the NIBFA cup, before going down, like the under 11s in the semi final. Once again the experience gained this year will stand the team in good stead for the challenges of 2006/2007.

Under 12 also saw the youngest of our new Red Star teams. Managed by John O’Rourke and David McCullough and coached by Pat McKeever, their start to the season was hardly vintage as we sent them to the wrong site to play a team which was, unfortunately, at the right venue. No matter, it started to look up after that inauspicious start. If Red Star were supposed to be the whipping boys at their age groups, no-one told their players or managers and the under 12s ran up some extremely impressive wins, including a back to back double header. Perhaps their finest hour came against Carryduff in the cup on a cold and wet morning…. that narrows it down a bit!! …. at Hydebank. Twice behind, they equalised to take the game to extra time and equalised again in extra time, under great pressure, to take the game to penalties. Red Star stood firm in the shoot out, the players coping admirably better with the tension than the managers and fans on the touchline. And then, the final penalty went in, Red Star through to the second round of the cup, sparking celebrations which, I am told, lasted well into the following week.

The under 13s started their season in determined mind. Marshalled once more by Stevie Martin, Phil O’Neill and Garry Cullen, the team put the disappointment of the NIBFA defeat from the end of the previous season behind them as they, with their usual skill, quality, verve and rugged determination saw off opponents on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, Linfield, with their greater resources, proved a bridge too far. We went down to them each time in the league. They won without dropping a point and we had to make do with second place. I suppose finishing second to the biggest and richest club in Northern Ireland is not the worst thing that, realistically, might happen in football, nonetheless, in Aquinas no-one is content with second place and a team of this talent and ability will have been disappointed. 

The team reached both the South Belfast Cup and the NIBFA cup final, the third time in three years for the latter. Unfortunately, in both our opponents were Linfield. Going behind very early in the NIBFA final, in truth, we never recovered to get back into the game and Linfield left the field with our trophy. Once again we went behind and were, in reality, overrun. The whole thing was an unpleasant affair, largely for the off ball and after match incidents. Overall, a disappointing season for a team that had set new standards within the club. However, this team will keep on battling with the array of talent at its disposal and will feature again when the silverware is being given out.

The second of our red Star teams was at under 13. Under the management of Aiden Duffy, Jim Magee and John McCartney, the team battled through its fixtures, notching up some impressive victories and going down, so frustratingly, to late goals, given away by lack of concentration rather than lack of anything else. The highlight of the year was an intra club cup clash against the galacticos of the first team. Played at Ormeau Park in the evening, a fairly packed touchline saw Red Star go down but with heads held high. Under the watchful eye of the management team, Red Star will continue to remind opponents that they are not pushovers, if anyone wants the three points off them, they will have to battle hard.

Thee under 14 entered 2005/2006 on a high following their promotion from the first division. However, a management team as experienced as Noel McKee, Paul Cummings, Damien Chesser, Eoin Webb and John Bogue knew the top flight was going to represent a long hard chore. For them the euphoria was long banished by the time the first match kicked off. The team battled in the traditional Aquinas way when our backs are to the wall. Victories were won and the determination and commitment of the team was demonstrated over and over again. Ultimately, the premier division proved a step too far this time and promotion could not be maintained. No matter, the team will be back up again before it comes to the end of its term.

The final and oldest of the Red Star teams was at under 14. Managed by Brian Fee and Paddy Kinney, the team started slow but quickly put its experience to good use. It joined its other Red Star teams in battling to an early victory and then sought to consolidate its position. Some more points were notched up on the table, and like the others, a respectable first year end position was achieved. Such is the talent in Aquinas that many of the Red Star players in the club would have no problem holding down first team places in other clubs. This fact was demonstrated very clearly by this team, who lost one of their players to a rival club.

The under 15s, under the watchful eyes of Adrian McCauley, Michael McCrea and Michael McGranaghan, fought a good hard campaign during the year. It was a seesaw sort of season, with fine wins balanced out by frustrating defeats and draws. Nonetheless, the team finished strongly and won a return to the top flight for the new season.

The under 16s started the year under new management. Martin Stuart and Brian George signalled their intent to depart at registration night. A flurry of activity saw two old players, or rather, two young former players, Ruairí O’Neill and Daniel Glover, both only nineteen, make the jump from Aquinas players to managers. It was a successful jump with the young turks applying themselves to their new charge with a confidence and aplomb that left the old timers nostalgic!

It proved a reasonably successful year. Although no silverware was won and we exited the cup to rivals Dungoyne by a solitary goal, the team performed well and finished respectably. Daniel and Ruairí also planned a trip to the Umbro tournament in Manchester in July 2006. While this proved a disappointment in terms of the football, it was, nonetheless, a very enjoyable trip making up for the disappointment over the cancelled Amsterdam trip the previous year. Although the team is coming near the end of its time in Aquinas, hopefully, for Ruairí and Daniel it is only the start of a long Aquinas career!

Pascal Donnelly and Martin McNally’s under 17s entered the season knowing that the league title had only been missed by a whisker the previous year. The team performed admirably throughout the season, but as so often in the past, silverware proved elusive at this age group yet again. Like our under 16s, the cup came to an end against Dungoyne and that was that. Thankfully, Pascal and Martin, two of our most experienced managers have opted to stay on with the club and start all over again, as next year’s under 10 managers. Experience and ability such as their’s is something no club wants to see walk away.

2005/2006 also saw the creation of the club’s first ever under 18 team. Managed by Bobby McCambridge, Noel Murphy and Des Brennan, it took the field at Strangford in September, going down 4 – 2 to Albert Foundry. We quickly found our feet after that and enjoyed quite a useful run notching up a string of victories throughout October and November. December proved more difficult with defeat to title rivals at the time, Sporta and Bangor Swifts, before ending the year with a comfortable win on New Year’s Eve against Linear Park.

The new year and the second part of the season proved to be an altogether more frustrating affair. With A level and AS level modules in January and defections to other clubs, things looked bleak in that month. Nonetheless, the black and blue were always there and we did record a spectacular 2 – 0 win over the league leaders, and subsequent winners, Sporta. No matter, for the rest of the season we did very much limp along with a squad often of eleven and no more. There were highlights even in these difficult days, notably a good cup run which brought us to the semi finals, before bowing out to Newington.

The final word should go to minisoccer, which tends to be overlooked in the review of the year. This year, under the direction of Colm Keenan, the minisoccer co-ordinator, Aquinas opted out of the South Belfast Youth League’s competition and with five teams of our own, the Grasshoppers, managed by Colm Keenan and Sean Montgomery, Tornadoes, managed by Jim Morrison and Mike Gibbons, Swifts, managed by Paddy McCormack and the ever reliable Mike Smyth, Hotspurs, managed by Stephen Connolly and Rams, with Moira Kelly and Fra McCann at the helm, ran an in-house one at the YMCA on Saturday mornings. This proved very successful and popular and is a format we would look to continue in future years.

The year finished with a very successful and enjoyable club day at the YMCA, on Saturday 17 June 2006. The sun shone and the addition of a shop and barbeque, manned by Garry Cullen and a larger barbeque operated by big Paul Cummings and even bigger Jim Magee proved a great success.

The award winners for the year across the club were:

Swifts Patrick McCormack Patrick O’Boyle Jack O’Kane
Tornadoes Konrad Stinson Thomas Webb Jake Morrison
Rams James Smyth John Martin Kevin Ballentine
Grasshoppers Dylan Mangan David Montgomery Rory Smyth
Hotspurs Ryan Connolly Michael Cummings Michael Campbell
U9 Matt Hughes Kevin McGovern Phillip O’Sullivan Ryan Sharkey Matt Carson
U11 Conor McCann Marco Abbate Matthew Rainey Niall Quinn Michael Shannon
U12 Ben Matthews Conall Cahill Jack McCrea Niall Dorman Conor Quigg
U12 Star James Clifford Jack McGrath Nick Ferguson Peter Kelly Andrew Smyth
U13 Rory McKeown Garrett Cullen Brendan Ferguson Michael Hynes John Bailie
U13Star John Dogherty Richard Beattie James Magee Conall Morgan Declan McCavana
U14 John Porter/
Luke Bowen Gerry Bogue Michael Webb Paddy Cunningham Andy Keenan
U15 Patrick McCauley Conall McGlade Cormac McBride Donal McKeating Chris White
U16 David Loughran Conor Quinn Matthew Kelly Ciaran O’Hare Daniel Ramsey
U17 Chris Donnelly Conor McGreevy Matthew Morris Chris Donnelly Davy O’Neill
U18 David Battisti Mark Donnelly Raphael Emmanuel Conor Geogeghan Conor Murphy

Congratulations from all the managers and players to all our award winners for 2005/2006. In addition, further congratulations to Patrick McCauley of the under 15s, winner of the Aquinas Shield as this year’s overall top goalscorer within the club, and to Chris Donnelly, winner of the Des Brennan trophy.

On the social scene, some 150 parents and coaches turned up for a very enjoyable quiz and tribute to swing evening in the Boat Club in March. In addition, the year ended in the Wellington Park Hotel on the evening of the club day. Parents and coaches enjoyed a drink or two and a bit of craic, to rejuvenate the batteries for the year ahead.