2011 - 2012

The new season saw Neil Donaldson back once again at the helm of the Development Centre. Children born in 2004, 2005 and 2006 were eligible. Despite setting up an under 9 team, those born in 2003, and providing them with their own training session, the numbers in our development centre continued to be healthy with some fifty children enrolled for Saturday mornings. The centre ran, as previously, from 9.30 to 11.001m on Saturdays at Black’s Road. Neil was joined by an enthusiastic group of coaches in Maurice Delaney, Damien Logue, Lawrence Watson, Gerry Bradley, Michael Gorman, Adrian Toner, Judy Donnan, Brian Kavanagh and Conall Kelly for half the year while his wrist injury kept him away from the under 19s.

The under 19s trained in the early part of the season at Black’s Road too, before moving to the new Rathmore training site. We originally entered one team in the seven a side development league but due to the pressure of numbers increased this to two teams after the Christmas break. The squad was looked after by Paul Boyle, helped by Fra McCartan, Andy Mickelburg and Michael Rogers. The Development Centres are definitely the way to go and the club committed to them this year as never before. The 9s had a slow start but picked up in performance as the season developed.

Similarly, it was decided not to enter teams at under 10 in the eleven a side South Belfast League. Instead with a development centre of 35 players we entered three teams, the Athletic, the Astros and the All Stars in the IFA development league, played mainly between Ballysillan and Shaftesbury leisure centres. The Athletic and Astros were trained by David Kerr and Peter Lynch while Danny McGeown and Michael Patterson looked after the less strong All Stars. As with the 9s, the 10s had a mixed bag of results. The Astros were the strongest team and won most of their games. The Athletic similarly won more than they lost and the All Stars fought hard but generally ended up on the wrong side of the result.

The 11s, under the management team of Colm McCambridge, Michael Heery and Yvan Nzoughet had a bit of a torrid time. They found themselves in a league with Irish League teams like Linfield, Crusaders, Glenavon and strong outfits like SOPYC and Bertie Peacock. Essentially, ourselves, Rosario, Newhill and Immaculata were left to fight over the crumbs. In addition, as the league was over in March, due to the quite clement winter after two years in which no football was played in December and January, a supplementary competition was established which pitched Aquinas against their other bottom clubs.

In the cup, the 11s clawed their way past Ballynahinch in a seesaw of as match which saw us go three up thanks to a first half hattrick from Patrick McKay. We allowed Ballynahinch then to come back into the game to leave a half time score of 3 – 3. We then twice allowed Ballynahinch to take the lead before pegging them back again with goals from Eoin Brown and Patrick again before Tom Morrisey scored a wonder goal with minutes left on the clock in extra time to win it for the blue’n’black. Alas, Linfield in the next round put an end to the cup run.

The team also enjoyed a good run in the NIBFA cup. The first match saw a depleted squad of only eleven players make their way to Limavady. Liam Donaldson nearly opened the scoring with a super header in the first five minutes before a goal from Callum Webb from the edge of the box, through a forest of legs found the back of the net. In the next round we welcomed the Magherafelt Sky Blues to Olympia.

Aquinas fell behind as the Sky Blues started strongly and kept the blue’n’black men on the defensive. However two goals from Eoin Brown and one from Patrick McKay left Aquinas comfortable until the last few minutes. Another Magherafelt goal with three minutes on the clock made for a nervous finish but the lads held out and into the last sixteen we went.

Next up, again to Olympia, was Oxford United from Derry. Derry teams have a reputation for being hard to beat. Unfortunately, their reputation was deserved, they were the better team and the under 11 NIBFA dream came to an abrupt end at the end of February.

The Supplementary cup started at the YMCA on Wednesday 4 April against Newhill. Aquinas fell behind to a great lob of a ball virtually from kick off and went two down within fifteen minutes. However, blue’n’black mettle came to the fore as the team produced the biggest fight back since Istanbul. Five goals from on fire Eoin “Bomber” Brown and one from Patrick McKay saw the lads home and dry in style. Unfortunately, the matches against Rosario and Glenavon saw defeats despite a plucky fighting spirit and the season ended disappointingly for the under 11s.

The other under 11 team, the development squad, continued to be managed by John O’Rourke. This year he was joined by Conor Fitzpatrick and Damien O Neiil. As with our other development squads, the team enjoyed mixed success, although to be fair, the boys won most of their games, falling down on occasions to strong Irish league team squads. After the Christmas break, due to pressure of numbers, it was decided to enter two teams in the development league

Once again, the club fielded two teams at under 12. The Aquinas squad found itself in the first division due to finishing ninth rather than eighth last year. On such happenstance a season can depend! Manager Paul Crossey was joined by Pascal Donnelly from last year’s under 14s. This arrival, in its turn, saw Marty óg McNally switch to this year’s under 15s.

The team should not have been in the first division and after dropping two points in its opening game and losing one other, it never looked back as team after team was despatched with three points bagged. With only three games left, the statistics were simple. Win all three and we were league champions. The only flaw in the argument was that the team’s rivals for the league, Carryduff, were one of the three teams to be played, as was third place Holywood.

Unfortunately, it all came unstuck against Carryduff. A tight first half saw the scores level at nil all at half time, despite chances by both teams to pull ahead. The second half was a different story as Carryduff, despite a battling performance from the boys in blue’n’black notched up three with no reply to be crowned champions. The despondency didn’t last for long as a win over Sirocco a couple of days later ensured a second place finish and promotion back to the premiership at the first time of asking, as with the older boys at under 14.

In the cup, Ulidia was despatched with relative ease to set up a second round match with Newhill. This proved to be a tense affair, at Hydebank in March. We took the lead with a goal from Mark Hamill. Newhill pegged us back before Emmanuel Gentry restored the blue’n’black hegemony before half time. Newhill equalised again shortly into the second period and with just seven minutes on the clock looked to have won it with a third goal. Aquinas now threw everything forward and the pressure was rewarded just before the end of time Angus Harron swept majestically down the right to send a perfectly weighted cross the John Morgan’s right boot on the edge of the six yard box. John shot and didn’t miss to send the game into extra time.

Despite tremendous pressure from Aquinas who now had the wind in their sales, extra time ended without further score. This brought the lottery of a penalty shoot out. Mark Hamill went first for Aquinas. He slotted it low into the back of the net. Newhill took their first penalty. Conor McGeown in nets for the blue’n’black guessed it right, dived to his right and saved. John Morgan scored for Aquinas. Newhill scored. Emmanuel danced the ball into the net for Aquinas. Newhill scored. Our fourth was saved, to Aquinas agony. If Newhill scored it was all level with one penalty to go. Newhill scored. Would the momentum now swing to the West Belfast men? Our last penalty taker, Niall McStravick stepped forward. He placed the ball. He stepped back, ran forward and placed the ball into the corner of the net. 4 – 3 to Aquinas. Newhill stepped up to take their last penalty. If they scored, it went to sudden death. To the immeasurable joy of the touchline and the ecstasy of the players, the Newhill penalty was sent wide. Aquinas had won 4 – 3 on penalties to reach the semi finals.

The semi final against Ardoyne was played at Hydebank on Saturday 21 April. Two good goals were struck off by the referee and the safest thing to say is that we wuz robbed. Promotion was secured but if the truth be told, the season more or less fizzled out.

The Red Star were entering eleven a side football for the first time in the South Belfast League. Previously, they had played in the Castlereagh development league. Managed by Ashraf Abouharb and Robert Macho, the team got off to an excellent start racking up a couple of fairly comfortable wins. However, as the stronger teams were played, the wins dried up and it was time for hard work and grim determination. However, it was not all doom and gloom and points continued to amass, if somewhat slowly.

At times, Ash, Robert and the team could only reel away in frustration as all their good play and elegant passing came to nought. This was, probably, best summarised by the game with Holywood at Black’s Road in March. We did everything, we matched and, indeed, for periods, outplayed our opponents, we hit the post, we even missed a penalty with minutes to go. Yet, they got a goal and we couldn’t and how we came away from that match with nothing will forever be one of the great mysteries of Aquinas Football Club.

On the other hand, the following week, Lisburn Wanderers from the premier division were despatched in the cup with reasonable ease. Unfortunately, Red Star drew Immaculata, the premiership leaders and last year’s champions in the next round. Alas, the result was not in doubt and that was the end of the short but gallant cup run. Nonetheless, this team found its footing in eleven a side football with some confidence, finishing on a respectable 15 points and can look forward to building on its experiences this year to grow and develop in the future. Ash and Robert are experienced in the game, having played professionally in Slovakia, and with them at the helm the boys training is grounded in good passing football.

The 13s re-entered the premiership this year after winning division one in 2011. Noel McKee left the management team, switching to the under 15s. Michael Quinn and Garry Cullen were joined by Peter Shaw and John McKeown. After a terrible start to the season when the team couldn’t record a win no matter what, the lads got into its stride with a convincing run of wins. After that the season settled down. Some were won, some were lost and a respectable mid table finish was recorded.

In the cup, Immaculata were overcome comfortably in the first round to set up a second round game with Crumlin. On a bright sunny morning at Hydebank, Crumlin were despatched with ease, in a comfortable 8 – 1 win including a Spaghetti hattrick. This set up the intriguing and, indeed, mouth watering clash with Red Star in the next round, the quarter finals. The game was played at Hydebank. Aquinas struck first in the opening minutes only for Red Star to set the cat among the pigeons with an equaliser to leave the score 1 – 1 at half time. Unfortunately for Red Star, Aquinas turned the screws in the second half and three more goals saw the blue’n’black triumph over the other blue’n’blacks. This set up a semi final match with Cliftonville.

The match was played at Hydebank again on Saturday 28 April. Despite a determined performance with some lovely fluent football, the Irish League team proved too much and the season ended in a 3 -2 defeat.

The NIBFA cup saw the 13s drawn against Holywood. A tense and balanced game saw the blue’n’black the winners by 3 – 2. Unfortunately, for us, the reward was a draw with Linfield, when no amount of blue’n’black heroics could affect the outcome.

13 Star under the continuing watchful eyes of Brendan McCann, Fra McCann and Marty Robinson came into the South Belfast league after a successful under 12 year in the Down and Connor League. The team was placed in the first division but it became clear from early on that they boys were wasted there. Large victories started to stack up as Red Star and Eddie Irvine headed into a two horse race. It was advantage Eddie Irvine before Christmas as we suffered our first defeat of the season to them. Further points were dropped against Ballywalter. However Irvine also dropped points and when we drew with them in the return fixture at Black’s Road the title challenge was back on again. Going into the business end of the season, we were five points behind Eddie Irvine with two games in hand. In addition, John Paul had nosed their way into contention too by this stage. We had four left to play, Eddie Irvine had two.

Next up was Belvoir. After a tight and nervy first half, Red star pressure started to show in the second half and with four goals scored to one in reply another three points were notched up. Bryanburn were despatched after Easter in a sloppy, but ultimately, successful 3 – 0 victory. Next in line was Cregagh on Wednesday 25 April. A win here would set up the league decider with John Paul as the last match of the season on Saturday 28 April.

Red Star drew first blood with a goal from, who else, Tom Maguire. Unfortunately we allowed John Paul to draw level and then go ahead in the early in the second half. Ed star stepped up the pressure and were rewarded with an equaliser of their own from Odhran Dunlop before a last minute goal gave John Paul the lead again, the win and the title. Unfortunately, so tight was the top of this league that the defeat left us in third and, in all likelihood, missing out on promotion.

While the NIBFA cup came to an end after the first match, which saw the boys travel to Derry to take on Oxford united, in the South Belfast cup Sirocco were despatched in the first round to set up a second round fixture with Shankill. A hattrick from goal machine Tom Maguire and one from the ever reliable Mark Robinson saw off the men from the west, to set up the mouth watering prospect of a meeting with Aquinas in the quarter finals. Although level at half time, 1 – 1, Aquinas pressure showed in the second half as three goals were conceded and the cup run came to an end.

The under 14 managers from 2011 all left their posts this year. This necessitated an entirely new management team, led first by Gerard McClory. When Gerard had to bow out due to work commitments, Paul Fay stepped into the breach assisted by blasts from the past, Ruaírí Taylor and Daniel Glover. The fourteens had been relegated last year but soon showed that they would not be long for the first division. An unbeaten record was soon established and only came to an end in the top of the table clash with St. Patrick’s at a windswept and arctic Mallusk ... or to put it slightly more succinctly .. at Mallusk.

This was Paul’s first full game in charge. We conceded two quick goals from corners before our defenders to get to grips with two St. Patrick giants or the wind. 5 – 0 down at half time, the boys in blue’n’black seemed totally defeated with the match, in effect, over. And then, did we hear a cry in the distance, carried evocatively across the winds ....... remember Istanbul! Aquinas brought it back to 5 – 3 with some beautiful play and well taken goals. At a critical juncture of the game a heroic save by jack Johnston kept Aquinas spirits high, if not hot, before unfortunately, St Pats’ delivered the killer blow of a sixth goal. Still Aquinas did not give it up, stealing one back to return the gap to two. Unfortunately, it was too late and the leadership of the division was conceded to the North Belfast men.

Unfortunately, a defeat to Sirocco, when we did just about everything except put the ball in the net in a game that we dominated from start to finish, to see Sirocco score form their only chance effectively killed off any hope of toppling St Pat’s. Even a draw in the return fixture couldn’t overhaul them and the team had to make do with second place. Nonetheless, it was a great year for the lads after the difficulties of under 13 and promotion to the premiership was achieved.

In the supplementary cup, wins against Bangor and Shankill were enough, despite a St Patrick’s day defeat to St. Mary’s when Aquinas’s ten men held the North Belfast lads to a draw only to fall to an off side goal at the end, to see the team through to the quarter finals of the McMaster cup. Unfortunately, a defeat to carry duff by another ten men turnout brought the season to a disappointing end.

Pascal Donnelly and Marty McNally, the club’s most famous and most enduring management partnership, (which one is Morecambe and which one is Wise?), bowed out of the under 15s after five years at the helm. Marty took a well earned break, while Pascal we have already met with the under 12s. Their place was taken by Noel McKee, another legendary Aquinas figure and coach. Helped by Marty óg McNally and Martin Ramsey early in the season and by Daniel Glover and John Bailie in the latter half, Noel sought to energise a team with a bad attitude in some areas.

The team had some high points, including a hard fought draw with our South Belfast rivals from across the Lagan, and some silly defeats that could have been avoided. As some internal disciplinary matters came to a head and had to be resolved, the team finished a respectable mid table. With Noel’s experience and talent as a coach, this team can recover the glory days and become real challengers if the problem attitudes can be sorted out leaving those who want to play to get on with things.

The 16s management team of the old reliable, Denis Kelly and Damien Hughes, welcomed newcomer and goal machine Tom Maguire to the squad this year. As with other teams in the club, the sixteens got off to an indifferent start and dropped silly points which would come back to haunt them. That was soon put right by the tactical generals Kelly and Hughes and wins against the top of the table and unbeaten leaders Ards Youth and Rosario was the start of a ten match unbeaten run which saw the blue’n’black claw their way back to contention, even if as an outside bet. In the midst of this great run, Aquinas legend Matt Hughes reached his 200th goal in Aquinas colours, his contribution to a 16 – 0 rout of Ballynahinch, the second biggest win in the club’s history.

Unfortunately, two minutes of madness brought it all crashing down. 3 – 1 up against Immaculata, another title challenger, at Olympia, we allowed them to claw one back to 3 – 2 before two penalties in two minutes changed the course of the match and brought our season into collision with a brick wall. Despite a gallant Aquinas performance and so many near chances, the game finished 5 -3 to immaculate and any hope, outside or not, of winning the title was gone. More points were dropped a couple of weeks later when two well taken late goals earned a draw against Red Star who had, amazingly, taken a 3 – 1 lead in the inner club derby at Black’s Road.

In the South Belfast cup, Ridgeway were comfortably circumvented in the first round to set up a fixture with Shankill. They too were sent packing with goals from the other Tom Maguire goal machine and Paddy O’Boyle. The reward for this victory was a semi final appearance against Ards Rangers at Hydebank on Saturday 21 April. What a game that turned out to be. Two goals in the first half from Tom Maguire seemed to have put Aquinas home and dry. However, two late goals were conceded to send the game to extra time. A well taken goal from substitute Peter organ restored the blue’n’black lead and a superb save, one of the saves of the season, kept the lads in front until the whistle blew. Here would be an all South Belfast cup final as we took on neighbours, Rosario.

The final was held at Knockbreda on Monday 14 May. The first half passed both teams by, to be honest as nerves and bad weather detracted from the normal flowing football both teams like to play. Rosario opened the scoring early n the second half and with a second soon after, the match seemed to be over. However, Ciaran Mohan pulled one back for the blue’n’black and better late than never, the fight back began. It seems Aquinas teams are never happy until they are valiantly chasing a game that they should have won and in the same old same old script we peppered their net to no avail. We thought we had equalised in the dying breathes of the game only to have it ruled just out and 2 – 1 to Rosario it finished.

The team travelled to Barcelona at Easter to play in that famous tournament. They were matched against Les Borges from Tarragona in the first match on good Friday morning, followed by an evening kick off against Olabide Ikastola from the Basque Region and finally a Saturday morning match against Cambrils. The Aquinas lads won all of their group games to set up a semi final on the Saturday evening with CF Cereval. The game on Saturday morning had been a bruising affair and the lads, despite having chances and stiking the woodwork on several occasions were eliminated after penalties. Nonetheless, the visit to Spain proved an enjoyable experience for as team that has done the club proud over the years. Thanks to Denis, Damien and Paul Rainey who sponsored the trip and accompanied the team ... to keep Denis and Damien out of trouble.

Peter Lynch bowed out from the management team of the Red star team this year to concentrate on then under 10s. Adrian McCauley and Michael McGranaghan soldiered on bringing their experience and humour to a team that needs a lot of humour. They were joined by the new concept for Aquinas of a player coach in Ruaírí McKernan, when he is not touring the world as Justin Bieber.

The team struggled to put a consistent run of games together but also enjoyed some tremendous moments when, for example, they came back from 2 – 0 down at half time at Black’s Road, to beat Ballynahinch 4 – 2 or on that famous morning, similarly at Black’s Road, when they put the fear of God into Aquinas. Red Star were 3 – 1 up with twenty minutes to go. Alas, for them, you can never relax against our under 16s and two goals from the goal machine, Tom Maguire, levelled the game. Despite close calls for both teams in the dying moments, calls for penalties and disputed of side calls, the game ended in a draw. However, one team was very happy and one wasn’t. Rock on Justin!

The under 17s, similarly, had a disappointing year. Managed, as always, by the irrepressible Sean Montgomery and his ever patient side kick, Paul Devlin, wins were few and far between. A new coach, Terry Wilson, was recruited but, alas, the team struggled throughout the season. Wins were few and far between and eagerly celebrated when they did happen.

The South Belfast league started an under 18 league this year for the first time. Aquinas was one of many teams that entered. Managed by Gerry Henvey and Tom Shannon, the lads similarly, struggled during the year. they liked their dulce and yellow man and Ballycastle were beaten twice during the year. However, very few other victories followed and although the lads enjoyed their football, the team remained locked to the bottom positions.

Eddie Agnew and Eoin Webb continued to manage the under 19 team, once more based in the North Down Youth League. Last year’s impressive displays and top five finish, unfortunately, looked a difficult prospect for 2011/2012 and so it turned out. The team won some and lost slightly more making very little impact upon the direction of the league.

The seniors entered their second year, newly promoted to Division 2 of the Belfast and District league. Under the continued watchful eyes of Paul Fay and Stephen McDonald and joined by players Ciaran Devlin and Ruaírí Taylor, the management team built upon the success and achievements of last year. Once again, from the off, the team challenged for the league, sweeping most teams before them. Last year’s league winners at division 3, Bhean Mhadigeann were beaten in the first fixture and held to a draw on the return. Unfortunately, Belfast City became our bogey team with only one point from them in the year. Nonetheless, the league, as last year, was a two way fight between Aquinas and Bhean Mhadigeann. Unfortunately, as last year, the North Belfast men pipped us to the title by two points.

In the Nelson cup, an impressive set of victories was achieved to set up a semi final with League one leaders, Cumann Spoirt an Phobaill. In a thrilling game at Mallusk Aquinas, against the odds but not the run of play, led 2 – 1 at half time. CSP came back strongly in the second half to level and then poke their noses ahead. With time almost up an Andy Magill special drew the blue’n’black level with only seconds on the clock. With momentum at their back, Aquinas sprung onwards, scoring in each half of extra time, the first controversially, the second undeniable, to win 5 – 3 and set up a final appearance with St Matthew’s at Solitude on Thursday 26 April 2012.

A large and noisy crowd turned up at Solitude on the night to support the team. Unfortunately the injury list ruled out Matt Galway from the start. Paul Fay took the risk on Paddy Turley and D Cummings who had been out with injuries for the previous couple of weeks. The game started off at a quick tempo with chances both for St. Matthew’s and for our own Ben Leonard. The injury problems and the loss of influential players such as Ciaran “Devils” Devlin and Paddy Turley in the first half would prove decisive in the long run. Soon after Devils hobbled off at left back a superb long range punted shot gave Paul no chance in goals. 1 – 0 to the Short Strand men.

Aquinas continued to play their neat attractive football and continued to probe for St. Matthew’s weaknesses. A corner ball in saw Ben’s shot parried out again by the keeper into the six yard area. Aquinas centre half, Conor Geogeghan, reacted quickest and sent it back in past the keeper to level the scores before half time.

The second half saw both teams prod and probe without breakthrough. Unfortunately for Aquinas two key decisions by the referee decided the match. The first was a penalty award after the St. Matthew’s man chose to go down after he and the Aquinas defender jumped for the ball. The lines man saw nothing wrong, but the referee pointed to the spot. 2 – 1 to St. Matthew’s. Then as the game was running down a long ball over the top of our defence fell to a St. Matthew’s man in a clear off side position. The lines man went to raise his flag but by the time he did, the ball was in our net and the referee had given the goal.

It would have been better to have lost to a real penalty and an on-side goal, but that’s football. Officials are fallible. To have won promotion in both of our first two years and to have reached a cup final is by anyone’s standards a great achievement. Thanks to the players and to Paul Fay, Stephen McDonald, devils and Noel McKee for their leadership of the team.

2011/2012 saw the creation of a reserve senior team. The team, managed by Pascal Donnelly and Stevie Martin, played in Division 3 of the Belfast and District League. Progress was sound and the team quickly challenged for the title. However, after a couple of unfortunate results which saw us drop points that we shouldn’t have dropped, hopes of silverware and promotion started to fade. No matter, the team still recorded an impressive finish in its first season and is in a superb position to build on this year’s success and knock on the door for promotion next year.

Managers stepping down from the club were:

Under 11: Colm McCambridge
Under 14: Paul Fay and Ruaírí Taylor
Senior: Paul Fay

Club day took place on Saturday 26 May 2012. For the ennth year in a row the sun split the sky and we sweltered in its heat. Garry and Stephen manned the BBQ as usual, while the shop was replaced by an ice-cream van.

The club day award winners were:

Age Players’ Player of the Year Player of the Year
Under 11 Callum Webb and Liam Donaldson Shay Campbell and David Bell
Under 12 Mark Hamill and Adam Cunningham James Mellon and Adam Abouharb
Under 13 Ethan Carleton and Paul O’Hagan Luke O’Sullivan and Tom Maguire
Under 14 Jack Johnston Ryan McGuigan
Under 15 Mikey Cummings Chris Kelly
Under 16 Conor Flynn Caolan Lynch
Under 17 Daniel Winchester Eoin Johnston
Under 18 John Keenan Jack Hamill 
Under 19 Andy Clarke David Fitzpatrick

Golden Glove: Conor McGeown
Golden Boot: John Blaney

But Eve Donaldson went home the happiest as she won the big jar of Foxes Glacier Fruits.