2012 - 2013
Neil Donaldson’s mini soccer centre once again occupied the front pitch at Black’s Road. Some fifty children, from five to seven, gathered under the watchful eyes of Neil and his jolly band of helpers, Judy Donnan, Dermot Green, Paula Fay, Damien McAuley, David Montgomery, Marco Abbatte and Niall Brown. The mini soccer centre met from 9.30 to 11.00 am every Saturday from September to the end of November and from February to April.
Neil continued to work in tandem with the development managers. The under 9s trained from 6 to 7pm on Tuesdays at Rathmore, marshalled by Maurice Delaney, Laurence Watson and Michael Gorman. The 10s also trained at that time under the guidance of Paul Boyle, Damien Logue and Pat McCauley. The 11s trained at the DUB on Wednesdays from 6 to 7 pm. They were coached and managed by Peter Lynch, David Kerr, Yvan Nzoughet, who switched from last year’s under 11s, John McKeown and Gerry Heery. The development teams played in the IFA development centres every Saturday. Venues included St. Malachy’s College, the Boys Model school, Ballysillan, Solitude and Rathmore. During the winter break, the under 9s and 10s moved to Black’s road to play games.
The under 12s were much depleted from the previous year. Eoin Brown had departed for Glentoran, Paul Bradley to Cliftonville while others simply did not re-appear. John O’Rourke , Damien O’Neill and Michael Heery took the team while Neil coached them on Tuesday nights. The team recorded some impressive victories but were also on the receiving end of some bruising results .. not literally. The second half of the season was the brighter with an impressive four wins out of five notched up in the run up to Easter and afterwards. Indeed, the team finished the season brightly with a string of wins which saw them climb the table relentlessly and saw main striker Patrick McKay score fourteen goals in seven games to secure joint fourth position in terms of goals scored during the year. It was a very impressive turn around in fortune and much credit must go to managers John O’Rourke and Michael Heery, Director of Football, Damien O’Neill, not to mention the cracking coaching provided by Neil Donaldson on a Tuesday evening.
Paul Crossey and Pascal Donnelly continued with the under 13 team, determined to put the disappointment of missing out on the division one league title behind them and make theri mark in the premiership. The team was joined by Adam Cunningham from last year’s Star team and recorded a decent performance for the first half of the season. Adams goal scoring skill added to the fire power already available through Emmanuel Gentry, Peter Henvey and Mark Hamill to the team as he contributed 19 goals to the cause overall. The team performed well during the season in the league. Unable to break into the top two positions, nonetheless, its third place finish was very credible, after a string of Arsenal like 1 – 0s as the season drew to a close.
The post-Christmas period started with a convincing trouncing of Larne Youth in the NIBFA cup at Black’s Road. Indeed the team made the last eight of that competition before succumbing to stronger opposition. Similarly, the team enjoyed a good long run in the cup reaching the semi finals with a convincing 6 – 1 win in the quarters. The semi final saw the team up against its rival from last year, Ardoyne, who had put us out twelve months previously. With Ardoyne ahead for most of the match, Aquinas grabbed a late equaliser with ten minutes left. Unfortunately, the North Belfast outfit grabbed the winner with very little left on the clock and once again, the blue’n’black exited at the penultimate round.
Ash Abouharb and Robert Macho stepped down as managers of the under 12Red Star at the end of last year. A major recruitment exercise at the start of September made sure the team survived, expanding from nine players to nineteen in a matter of weeks. New managers were also put in place, Colm Rafferty taking the lead role and being assisted by Ciaran Sheehan, Jim Devlin, Gerry Mallon and Kieran Matthews. A disappointing start to the season was soon banished with a convincing win over Celtic Boys, the star of a three match winning run. The run only came to an end due to the cross bar which denied Harry Sheehan’s fine shot. It was largely a year of consolidation and building for the new managers. Some well deserved wins were achieved but more often than not disappointment was the order of the day. Nonetheless, the managers were pleased with the technical progress made by the team and look forward with confidence to the new season.
Michael Quinn and Gary Cullen were joined by Kevin Kerr on the touchline this year. Kevin replaced the injured Peter Shaw who hobbled his way about for most of the year, helping through his day job the club to achieve the City council’s clubmark award. Anyway, returning to the football, the boys had a mixed season winning some games impressively but losing a number as well. A top half of the table finish was achieved.
14 Star started the year without their top goal scorer, Tom Maguire. On the other hand, they picked up a couple of useful additions and despite a more frustrating year than they would have hoped for eventually finished in a very credible fifth position.
Daniel Glover was joined on the touchline of the 15s this year by Artur Kopyt and Bobby McCambridge. The team, largely, flattered to deceive, consistently unable to deliver to its real potential and ending up in a relegation dogfight. The season saw wins over Sirocco in both fixtures despite them being some fifteen points ahead of us. The team also put in a Trojan performance against second in the league Ballyclare at Mallusk on a cold and wet Saturday. We won 5 – 4 in a tremendous match which saw Mark Johnston in nets pull off some remarkable saves and chance his luck on a couple of occasions as well.
The season also saw an amazing goal from team captain, James Carson, against Dungoyne, a Carso cracker from inside his own half and a lovely fancy overhead flick from Frank McCormack to share the points with Rosario. That draw and a convincing win over Abbey Villa after we had gone behind meant that we needed to beat Sirocco or SOPYC. In a tight and edgy game at the YMCA, we put on an impressive display to hold our nerve and put Sirocco to the sword 2 – 0. Going into the last game against Bryansburn, it looked as if a win was vital, or we were relegated. Thankfully, other results went our way, as justice demanded and by the time of the last Saturday, we were safe. A party atmosphere hung over Starngford for what had become a pointless fixture for both teams. It the event, it proved to be a game that will be talked about for some time, if only for the score line, 8 – 5 to them. Thirteen goals in an under 15 game does not happen very often. No bad thing, maybe!
At the same time, Ryan McGuigan, was selected for the Northern Ireland under 16 team. This was a great honour for the club, reflecting not just on Ryan’s ability and talent but also the quality of the coaching that he has received throughout his Aquinas career. Full credit must go to Jim Morrison, Michael Gibbon, Maxi, John McKeown, Paul Fay, Daniel Glover and Rύaírí Taylor. Ryan was the only player not to be with an Irish league or National League club.
The 16s under the watchful and skilful eye of John Baillie started out in tremendous form, with new signing Cronan Rogers putting nine in the net in his first two games. Having scored a hattrick in his first game he answered the old question of what do you do when you score a hattrick in your first game. Easy, you score two in your second game. Unfortunately, after that, Cronan and the team slowed up a little and were eventually pushed out of contention. Nonetheless, the best of the rest position at the end of the season was no disgrace.
17 Star, continuing to take what the doctor ordered, grew in strength and talent and confidence urged on and trained by the big doctor, Adrian McCauley, Michael McGranaghan and Tiarnan O’Kane. The team have grown in strength and confidence over the years and this was very much on force this year as the team went from strength to strength, winning seven or eight on the trot and vying for second place. The best laid plans, however, can come undone, although the team was not thwarted on the pitch. Instead a spate of teams folding led to the stripping out of points which saw well earned six points being deducted in respect of many fine wins. As a result, second spot was gone. However, the team finished its time in children’s football on a high.
The other 17s, under the leadership of the dynamic duo, Denis and Damien, Qughesy and Kelly, hoped to build upon their strong showing last year when the finished second and made the cup final. And build they did. The team had a great start to the season winning match after match. With their only rivals, Rosario, being held, Aquinas entered December two points ahead of last year’s league winners. Rosario blinked first, losing 2 – 1 to Bangor at the start of the month which saw Aquinas celebrate Christmas with a five point gap.
The new year started up again with the differential intact. However, a defeat at Black’s road to a resurgent Newington in February gave Rosario the chance to narrow the gap. Amazingly, they didn’t take it, going down the same morning 6 – 1 to Newhill. The five points remained in place until April. What a month April turned out to be for the blue’n’black. April saw us left black’n’blue. A defeat on a cold miserable night at the YMCA cut the lead to two points ahead of the first South Belfast derby of the season. In a tense match at Black’s Road the teams served up a 1 – 1 draw. Only one derby game left and two points in it, to Aquinas’s advantage. It was time for nerves to be held!
Next up was Newhill, the tormentors of Rosario. It proved to be a tight affair. Aquians thought they had won it during the second half, but Newhill clawed back an equaliser to ensure the points were shared. Meanwhile, Rosario had won. It was now a tie. Both teams tied on the same points. However, on a Wednesday evening, St Mary’s did to Rosario what they had done to us and with the blue’n’black winning, we went into the last game, at Hydebank, against Rosario three points ahead.
Saturday 11 May 2013. A large crowd had gathered on the Aquinas touchline. The maths were simple. A draw or a win meant Aquinas were champions. A win for Rosario pushed the title to a decider, to be played the following Saturday at Seaview. The game started edgily, as you might expect with so much at stake. A free kick for the blue’n’black sent in clinically by Dan Rainey saw Matt Carson leap like a salmon and head the ball into the Rosario net. Half way through the first half and Aquinas had their nose in front. While the rest of other half was fairly even in terms of play, the light blues came closest just before the break when a vicious shot careered off the crossbar. It wasn’t over yet, that was sure.
Denis and Damien spoke their words of encouragement at half time and the team was sent out confident and determined this attitude would be rewarded in the early minutes of the second half. With only a couple of minutes on the clock Cormac O’Hanlon intercepted the ball in the centre circle and slipped it to Mohan. With an exquisite 40 yard pass he picked out the run of Tomas Maguire off the shoulder of the last defender, and with the touch of a master craftsman the league’s top scorer lashed a stunning left foot volley into the bottom corner from an acute angle. 2 – 0 to the blue’n’black. The nerves were slightly assuaged but there was still not too many on the line relaxing.
Rosario were not prepared to relinquish the title they had held for two years lightly. As they threw men forward, inevitably this left gaps at the back for frontmen Maguire and Paddy O’Boyle to exploit. With 16 minutes left Conor Flynn slalomed through several flailing legs on halfway and picked out Rainey on the left. His immaculate through ball sent Maguire clear for his second and surely the clincher.
Then the hail came down but, hell, no-one cared! Even when Rosario scraped one back, it seemed too little too late with only five minutes on the clock. Whatever vain hope may have beat momentarily in light blue hearts, such hope was ruthlessly quashed a couple of minutes later when Hugh O’Connor’s fine all round display was capped with a lovely assist for Maguire’s hat-trick and just his 49th of the season!
As if on cue the sky cleared as the final whistle sounded, triggering much celebration in the Blue ‘n’ Black ranks. This was euphoria tinged with a sense of relief as, having hit the front in the title race as far back as early October, they were pushed all the way to the last game of the season by a fine Rosario side. What was particularly pleasing as the team went up to receive their trophies was that ten of the squad have been with the club since mini-soccer season 2002/03. That’s what its all about after all!
The seniors would also produce a season for the records and memories. With Noel McKee and Stephen McDonald manning the line for the firsts and Pascal Donnelly and the bear guiding the seconds, the impressive performances of the previous years were consolidated and improved. While the seconds held their own in the second division of the Belfast and District league, sometimes not being able to field due to lack of numbers as scant resources were diverted to the firsts, the firsts set out as they meant to go along. Under the captaincy of Paddy Turley and with Ben Leonard, martin Ramsey and Irvineho in fine scoring form and the midfield and defence solid as a rock win after win was notched up. There was the odd loss and the odd draw but mainly win after win. So much so, in fact, that with three games left to play the league could have been won one spring evening at Cherryvale. And won it was, with an emphatic 3 – 1 win and the forwards wanting more! After two years of finishing runners up, justice had at last been done and the league title was ours.
The success of the seniors has more than repaid the club’s decision to set up the team and get involved in senior football for the first time three years previously. In year one promotion was achieved from divison three. In year two, promotion was achieved from division two and the Nelson cup final reached in a memorable night at Solitude. Now, in year three division one had been won and the premiership gained in the minimum number of years possible. While the record of the team is a tremendous reflection of the hard work and dedication of Paul Fay, in years one and two, Noel McKee from year three on and Stephen McDonald from the beginning, the most pleasing thing about the league win was that, as with the cup final the year before, thirteen of the fourteen man squad that lined out for that match had been with the club at mini soccer. That’s why we started the seniors, to ensure that Aquinas players from mini soccer could stay with the club after the years of childrens’ and youth soccer at under 18. Long may it be the case.
The club also held its now annual Primary School challenge at the YMCA at the end of April. St. Bride’s, St Anne’s, Fullerton, Finaghy, Stranmillis, Donegall Road, Holy Rosary, St John the Baptist and Rosetta sent teams. The shield was won by Fullerton and the cup by Holy Rosary, who beat Rosetta in the final. Both St. Bride’s teams went out on penalties at the semi finals.
Club day was held on Saturday 1 June at the YMCA. Overall, another fair day weather wise despite a bit of rain, including one heavy shower that had children and adults running for the gazebos. However, it all cleared up again reasonably quickly and great crack was had by one and all. Neil Donaldosn organised a string of small competitions, penalty taker, shot stopper, obstacle course and football golf while Denis Kelly looked after the crossbar challenge. Garry Cullen and Stephen McDonald fried at the BBQ and the ice cream man dispensed his wares at the side.
The award winners were:
Team Players’player of the Year Player of the Year
Under 12 James McKenna Daniel Foster
Under 13 Angus Harron Mark Hamill
Under 13 Star Thomas Matthews Adam Abouharb
Under 14 Phelim Lennon Rory Cullen
Under 14 Star Mark O’Hanlon Joe McAtamney
Under 15 Ryan McGuigan Matthew McCrory
Under 16 Gavin McGrath Eamon McFadden
Under 17 Matt Hughes Hugh O’Connor
Golden Glove Kevin McGovern
Golden Boot Tom Maguire
Des Brennan Matt Hughes