2010/2011 saw the club take its first steps into senior football. With Paul Fay and Stephen McDonald as managers, enrolled in the Belfast and District league and sponsored by Crown Paints, the first squad took to the field against the under 18s in a friendly at the YMCA. It would prove a fruitful adventure not just in terms of league outcome, more of which later, but also because it now means that Aquinas players can continue on in the club and it was pleasing to see that with one exception, the squad was made up of former Aquinas players.
Mini Soccer saw a new Director, Neil Donaldson, in place for the new year. He was joined once again by David Kerr and Brendy Agnew. The new season also saw the arrival back as a coach of Conor Fitzpatrick after an absence of a year and a new arrival in Gio Abbate.
The year also saw a new approach by Aquinas. With births in 2002, 2003 and 2004 eligible for the mini soccer school, it was decided that David and Brendy would look after the 2002 squad which would form two teams in the under 10 Belfast Development Centre. It had also been planned to send an under 8 team, 2003 births, to the Development Centre but due to lack of numbers the IFA cancelled it. The two under 9 teams took part in the centre until the end of October when one was withdrawn and resumed the mini soccer training at Black’s Road. Neil, Conor and Gio managed the Black’s Road set up, running every Saturday morning from 9.30am to 11.00am. As previously, it consisted of training drills followed by a series of matches.
The new under 10s took to the field against Ballynahinch on Saturday 4 September 2010. Under the management of Damien O’Neill, Colm McCambridge, Michael Heery and, slightly later, Artur Kopyt for a while, the boys got off to a cracker start with an 8 – 1 victory. Despite the promise of a 24 inch pizza for the man of the match each week from Little Wings Pizzeria, fortunes in the beginning were mixed with big defeats against the Irish League teams. However, the team soon settled into its stride and a good vein of form which saw the team’s top goal scorer, Paul Bradley, net six in one match in November was, unfortunately, brought to an end by snow and frost.
The weather conditions from the end of November to the middle of January were such that no games were played from 20 November 2010 until 15 January 2011. The 10s started back with a game against Crusaders which saw one of their pluckiest performances. Despite going 4 – 1 down, the game finished 5 – 4 to Crusaders. We missed a sitter which would have given us a share of the points and, despite, losing it was a performance which boded well for the future. This game was followed up with a 3 – 1 win over St. Mary’s as the weather once again put paid to most of the fixtures.
It didn’t take the team long to get back into its stride, chalking up narrow victories in the cup over St Mary’s, in extra time, and Ballynahinch both by a single goal. League leaders, Glentoran, who had not dropped a point all season were also put to the sword. Down 1 – 0 at half time, the mighty midgets roared back with the display of the season to win 4 – 1. Carniny were also despatched, 7 – 1 this time by a rampant under 10 machine before the trip to neighbours and rivals Rosario at Ulidia at the end of March. Similarly, despite going a goal down to a penalty, Aquinas fought back. A penalty just on the stroke of half time was converted by top goal scorer, Paul Bradley, before, in the face of an indomitable Rosario spirit, goals from Eoin Brown and Calum Webb saw the bragging rights brought home to BT9. A cup semi final rounded off the year, after a dubious refereeing decision to disallow a goal.
John O’Rourke swapped the frustrations of the under 16 Red Star for the new under 10 team in the Belfast Development Centre. Starting with one team, momentum soon made it necessary to start a second team as numbers grew significantly. John managed to stride both teams for a while as the club searched for an assistant, found in the person of Kevin Murray. The teams, similarly could not establish a winning pattern with wins punctuated here and there with some defeats. Nonetheless, the two teams have come on by leaps and bounds and can look forward confidently to the new season.
Paul Crossey at under 11 was joined on the touchline by Marty McNally junior this year. Similarly, the year started in mixed form for the cup holders with some impressive victories and some disappointing defeats. It was a mixed year which saw the boys finish in mid table. The cup story was just as disappointing. The cup won in the final match of the 2009/2010 season could not be retained with a first round exit to Castle juniors in the South Belfast cup. Similarly, we fell to Sion Mills in the first round of the NIBFA also.
The under 11 team in the Castlereagh Development Centre, once more under the watchful and experienced eyes of Ash Abouharb, Robert Macho and Peter Milan, soon got into their stride and ran up some impressive victories. Ash’s main problem throughout the year was how to manage the numbers in his squad and allow everyone football. Next year will see the team move onto eleven a side football in the South Belfast league.
The disappointment of relegation last season soon disappeared for the under 12 South Belfast team as they emerged strongly at the start of the season, remaining unbeaten. With the recently enrolled Mathembe Khumalo on board, the scoring machine powered the team to the top of the table after the first few games. The team regularly notched up impressive victories, with eight, nine and even ten goals not unusual and they went into the enforced break sitting atop the league. The missing months of December and most of January were punctuated with one game, an NIBFA cup victory over Ballynahinch at the DUB. Unfortunately, we had drawn the league leaders, Rosario, and no amount of blue’n’black pride could prevent the inevitable.
Mind you, when the team returned to action, it was clear that the break had not affected appetites too much as a 10 – 0 victory marked their return to league competition. More wins followed with Michael Close taking over from Methembe as the goal machine. This left a tantalising position with four matches left. We were seven points clear of nearest rivals, Ballynahinch, who in turn were a point clear of Ballysillan. Going into the last four games, fives points guaranteed promotion, six the league title. As it was, victory over Ballynahinch with Ballysillan dropping points that same morning took whatever challenge there might still have been from the rivals out of the picture and the team strolled to the title, remaining unbeaten in the league all year.
The SBYL cup was a more pleasant matter than the NIBFA. The team saw off Ballynahinch, again, by 1 goal to nil, and Cliftonville by 4 to 3 to set up a quarter final fixture against St. Mary’s. This fixture as also won, although only be the skin of our teeth to set up a semi final fixture against Premier league winners, Glentoran. The result, unfortunately, was never in doubt but, similarly, it can’t cloud the fact that a first division team had won all the way to the semis and the lads covered themselves with glory again.
The league winning squad was Ruairi Lynch, Ryan Shaw, Christian Conroy, Damien Magee, Rory Cullen, Ethan Carleton, David Connolly, Luke O’Sullivan, Oran Boyle, Methembe Khumalo, Lorcan Fitzsimmons, Stephen Quinn, John Toner, Ward Farrell, Michael Close and Phelim Lennon.
Brendan McCann and Fra McCann, joined this year by Martin Robinson, took their team from the Development league to the Down and Connor league. Any thoughts that they would feel the pressure of eleven a side soccer were soon banished as they too produced an unbeaten run which saw them share the top of the table with the well marshalled Immaculata. Unfortunately, in the top of the table clash in mid October, the west Belfast men had the upper hand winning the clash 5 – 3. Not to be put off, Aquinas then got themselves back into winning form to maintain the pressure. However, throughout the season, the West Belfast men were our nemesis and any chance of the title soon disappeared after they beat us in the other two league fixtures.
In the cup, the twelves reached both the league cup and the DC cup finals. On a wet morning at Mallusk, we played below our normal level and struggled against Glenbawn in a match we should have won. We went ahead twice, missed a penalty, were reduced to ten men just before the end which saw Glenbawn equalise from the resultant free kick and finally conceded in extra time. One man down, despite great determination by the boys, we couldn’t claw our way back and the final score remained 3 – 2.
We played Immaculata in the other final. It produced a spirited performance from the boys, one of the best all season. However, the mac are seasoned campaigners and well marshalled. Despite our best efforts they took a two goal lead. Ten minutes form the end a wonderful ball sent Tom Maguire through on the keeper. Tom chipped to reduce the deficit to one. However, despite throwing everything forward for the last few minutes, the mac would not be overcome and once again we had to make do with the runners up spot.
The under 13s continued to be managed by Jim Morrison, Maxi and the two John McKeowns. They got off to an indifferent start, winning some, losing some and drawing a very keenly fought and entertaining game with Bloomfield. There was early disappointment in the cup when they went out to St. Mary’s in the first round, bringing their retention of the cup, first won at under 10 to an end. Despite the disappointment, the team can be proud. On top of their other achievements from under 10 on, they had produced the club’s longest unbeaten run in the cup, stretching for three years.
The team needs about two to three more good players to get it back to its old self again. In the league we struggled in the relegation zone. The only silver lining came in a superb display in the South Belfast derby which saw the blue’n’black run out 3 – 0 victors in a welcome diversion from the otherwise doom and gloom.
Pascal Donnelly and Marty McNally continued their management of the under 14s. The depression over the departure of so many key players from last year was soon lifted as the impact of Peter Battisti, newly arrived from the good ole US of A, began to show. A real goal machine, he led the line superbly and hit double figures in a matter of a few games. Dropping points in the first game of the season, the under 14s soon picked up the momentum winning game after game. Unfortunately, once again our derby rivals Rosario came out on top in a very tight game at Black’s Road to maintain their 100% record. With a silly defeat to SOPYC the prospect of a fight back to challenge for the league was probably gone. This had been one of our great teams and has the potential to be so again. Clearly, a major recruitment drive will be needed during the close season so that the team can compete again next year.
The 15s similarly kicked off with a draw against league newcomers, Ards Youth. Once more under the watchful eyes of Kelly and Hughsey, they put that disappointment behind them and kept hard on the heels of old rivals Dungoyne. Teams were despatched with relative ease until a lucky goal gave Dungoyne victory at Hydebank by the single goal. They had gone down the week before to Springfield Star which meant that despite the loss, Aquinas stayed a mere two points behind. Unfortunately, some other points were dropped, including a surprise defeat by Rosario at Blanchflower and by the resumption of fixtures in January a convincing win over Ulidia couldn’t disguise that we were probably too far behind main rivals Dungoyne to take back the league.
Denis and Damien’s team had been significantly reinforced by the transfer from Red Star of Cealan Lynch, Paddy O’Boyle, Conor Flynn and Niall McCourt. As the transfer had significantly boosted the Aquinas squad, so it had the corresponding weakening effect on the Red Star who struggled in the early part of the season until a surprise, but well deserved win over SOPYC. However, unfortunately after that things settled back into the all too familiar pattern with points dropped too often.
That’s not to say that a little bit of history was not made with the team becoming the first Red Star team to make it past the first round of the NIBFA cup, with a 3 – 2 victory at Black’s Road. The fixture came in the middle of the team’s best run of form in its existence, with four wins and a draw in a row.
With no Aquinas team at under 16, the spotlight at that age group fell upon Red Star, continuing to be managed by Sean Montgomery and Paul Devlin. Despite the addition of several of the previous Aquinas squad, the team struggled and despite convincing wins over Dunmurry hugged the second bottom position all season.
The under 17s continued to be managed by Seamus McLernon, Sam McMenamy and Andy Florence. They were joined this year by David Quigg. As with so many of our teams this year, it was a season of ups and downs. Good wins, punctuated by silly and frustrating defeats. Both South Belfast derbies ended in stalemate and an early exit from both the NIBFA and SBYL cups added to the general feelings of frustration. Nonetheless, we did record a top four finish in a highly competitive league. In addition, thanks to Andy’s connections with the old country, the team travelled to Hamilton at the end of the season for a friendly against Mill United. We also saw Hamilton’s only home win in the SPL all season.
John O’Rourke stood down from the management of the under 17 Red Star team,as did the long suffering David McCullough, who followed his son Ryan to Comber Rec, and good luck to both of the. Tom Shannon brought some of last year’s under 16 Aquinas to the squad. He and Gerry Henvey signed up to take the team this year. Despite some wins and draws, there was a predictable familiarity to this year’s proceedings. On the brighter side, the team got stronger as the year went on and finished strongly. This will bode well for 2011/2012.
Eddie Agnew joined Eoin Webb in the under 18 Aquinas management team. A slow start, where two defeats and a draw were recorded soon gave way to a truer picture of the team’s ability as eight wins on the trot were notched up. Unfortunately, this run was brought to an end by the weather and the lay off of almost two months led to a slow restart at the beginning of February. Too many silly points were dropped and our title challenge was effectively over by mid February. Nonetheless, the team produced some great football and can look forward next year to challenging once again.
The under 18 Red Star joined the North Down Youth League from Down and Connor, where they had reached the cup final. Like Aquinas, Red Star had a fairly good first half of the season, though they dropped more points than their blue’n’black compatriots. None the less when the snows came they were in a respectable position in fifth place. After the thaw, like Aquinas points which should have been gathered up safely were dropped and their title challenge was also over.
The newest and oldest Aquinas team, if you get my drift, the Seniors divided their time between the home ground of the YMCA and the wet, windy and perpetually cold winds of Mallusk. The seniors made a great start, remaining undefeated until we played the joint leaders, Bhean Mhadigan, at Mallusk on a particularly cold and wet Saturday. A ridiculous sending off, which saw Aquinas lose outstanding centre half Peter Mooney after twenty minutes, in effect made only one result possible and Bhean Mhadigan went onto to win 3 – 1. We dropped further points against Ardoyne after the new year and went down again to Bhean Mhadigan to end our title challenge. Nonetheless, we were second and had won promotion with three games left to play. Similarly, Bhean Mhadigan was our nemesis in the cup and the year ended trophy less, but at the same time, very satisfying as we had at long last broken into senior football. Now, no Aquinas player needs to retire from the club.
Managers stepping down from the club were:
Under 13: Maxi and John McKeown Sen
Under 14: Marty McNally sen
Under 17:Sam McMenamy and Andy Florence
Club Day award winners:
Team Players’ Player Player of the Year
Under 10 SBYL Eoin Brown Paul Bradley
Under 10 BDC Tom Sutherland James Burns
Under 11 SBYL James Mellon Niall Agnew
Under 11 CDC Andy McGowan Patrick Maguire
Under 12 SBYL Ryan Shaw Stephen Quinn
Under 12 D&C Tom Maguire Callum Copeland
Under 13 Jake Morrison Brogan McAustin
Under 14 Dermy McMenamin Peter Battisti
Under 15 Aq Niall McCourt Thomas Cafolla
Under 15 RS Keith McCourt Niall Lundy
Under 16 Sean McGloin Matt Rainey
Under 17 Aq Conor Quigg Ben Matthews
Under 17 Rs
Under 18 Aq James McKee Garret Cullen
Under 18 RS Sean Hitchen Patrick Fee
Senior Garrett Cullen Chris McKee
Golden Boot Peter Battisti
Des Brennan Niall Dorman
The speed gun prizes were won by:
Mini Soccer: Ronan Agnew
Under 10: Paul Bradley
Under 11: Cormac McGettigan
Under 12: Oran Boyle
Under 14: Peter Battisti
Under 15: Kevin McGovern
Under 16: Matt McCann
Under 17: Conall Kelly