2013 - 2014

2013/2014 saw Aquinas moved out of their Black’s road base while redevelopment took place to allow a special needs school to move in. Mini Soccer, still under the guidance of Neil Donaldson and his right hand woman Judy McAuley, set up its stall at the YMCA and continued to operate on a Saturday morning from 9.30 to 11.00am. Neil and Judy were helped by Damien McAuley and David Montgomery.

The newly formed under 9s entered the Belfast Development Programme and played seven a side football on Saturday mornings. Lawrence Watson managed the squad, assisted by Ciaran Cummins. Maurice Delaney and his under 10 management team of Michael Gorman, Brian Kavanagh, Kieran McCooe, Paula Foy and Adrian Toner took charge of some forty players forming three development teams on Saturdays. At under 11, Paul Boyle and his team of Jason Donnan and Pat McCauley were joined by Joe Devlin from Bangor rangers and Conor Carberry. The development squads continued to train at Rathmore in 2013/2014.

The club started the season with two under 10 teams. The Aquinas team was managed by Peter Lynch, David Kerr, who forsook football for studies during the season, Sean Connor, Joe Moore and Gerry Heery. The Aquinas star team was managed by Danny McGeown but, unfortunately, due to the lack of a second manager and players on a Saturday, the team folded quite quickly. On the other hand, 12 Aquinas went from strength to strength and, although, losing to rivals St Mary’s and Rosario, remained in contention in a seven way fight for the league. A convincing win in the return derby restored pride and as the business end of the season approached, the team was still in contention.

Going into the final furlong, the position was clear. Rosario had finished all their games while Aquinas had four left to play. If Aquinas won all their matches, including that against Larne Youth, who could also catch Rosario if they won all their games, we would match Rosario on points and push the league to a title decider. First up was Newhill. On paper, a game we should win. Win we did, but not after a fierce struggle which saw the sides level, two apiece at half time.

That left matches with second place Larne, third place Ballywalter, fourth place St. Patrick’s and Carnmoney Colts. Next up was Larne, who could also force a play off if they won all their matches. It was a tight nervy game at Mallusk. Thankfully, nobody told Ronan Agnew about nerves and he put two in the net, one which no-one was entitled to score. Larne could only score one, so a difficult hurdle was overcome to keep the dream alive.

The next match tested the blue’n’black nerves to breaking point. With only twelve men available, the 12s met Carnmoney Colts at Mallusk. A nightmare start saw the blue’n’black fall two goals behind. However, with not a hairdryer in sight, blue’n’black metal and strength shone through as a Rory Moore hat trick inspired an amazing fight back that saw us end up 6 – 2 winners. The mighty midgets breathe again.

Next up, on Saturday 3 May, was St. Patrick’s, the last team to beat the 12s. What a game it turned out to be. Once more Ronan Agnew delivered, scoring another two, his third brace in three matches, for one from St. Patrick’s. Then with three minutes on the clock, the North Belfast midgets were given a penalty. Disaster for Aquinas. A draw won’t be good enough and the league will be Rosario’s with a game to go. Of course, they have to score first. Its a massive goal with only a little keeper standing in their way. However, they had reckoned without the magical Reuban. The magical Reuban guessed right and pulled off a brilliant save that kept Aquinas in the title hunt. 2 – 1 it finished. Victory over Ballywalter on Wednesday 7 May will set up the title decider.

Unfortunately, Ballywalter proved to be a worthy opponent too far and the boys, displaying a fatigue from their heroic exertions up to this point fell behind to two well taken goals. Despite getting one back from the goal machine, Ronan Agnew, Ballywalter restored the differential and the game ended 3 – 1. No matter, the long run of games that needed to be won showed blue’n’black deteremination and commitment that did the boys, the managers and the club proud and this gropup of lads can look forward with confidence to next year and the new campaign.

The same was true of the South Belfast cup. Convincing wins over Albert Foundry and Springfield Star and a tense penalty shoot out involving Sirocco set the 12s up for a semi final with Ballynahinch. Played on an April evening at Hydebank, the game was close enough even if Aquinas were always the leaders and it took Liam Finnegan’s goal late on to make it 4 – 2 and safe. Celtic Boys beat Ballywalter on the next pitch to set up an all Belfast final.

The final took place at Harland and Wolfe on the evening of club day, Saturday 10 May. In reality, it turned out to be largely one-sided as the blue’n’black roared back from their mid week disappointment. An early goal from Ronan Agnew set the tempo for the night. Declan Heery was majestic in midfield, breaking up Celtic attempts on a regular basis. Therefore it was only justice when he reacted first in a penalty box melee to turn the ball home for the second. A third from Daniel Connor before Ronan grabbed his late second and our fourth saw the blue’n’black home in style and bring home silverware to South Belfast in their first competitive season.

The cup winning squad was Ronan Agnew (capt), Matthew McGuigan, Liam Finnegan, Sean Jennings, Jack Logue, James Turkington, Harry O’Connor, Donal Harrison, Lorcan McGurk, Hugo Leeson, Reuban Carleton, Daniel Connor, Marcus Lynch, Conan McNicholl, Declan Heery and Rory Moore.

The situation at under 13 was peculiar. In 2012/2013, the club had fielded only one team. Numbers wise, there were too many for one team but not quite enough for two. With the arrival of a couple more players, the decision was taken to field two teams in 2013/2014, although we recognised that squads would be small and susceptible to absences. The season was a middling one, the teams won some and lost some but enjoyed themselves anyway.

Aquinas was managed by Michael Heery with help in the latter part of the season from Bobby McCambridge. In addition, Neil Donaldson shared the training with Michael. At the Star team, the ever resilient John O’Rourke was joined by Paul Cullen, the quiet, calm part of the management team. Both teams recorded some fine wins, including an amazing comeback by Aquinas against Bangor. 2 – 0 down at half time, the players responded magnificently to Michael’s inspiring half time talk, not a hair dryer in sight, as well, to storm back and win the game 3 – 2. Aquinas also put seven in the net in the first round of the cup before going out to premiership side Bloomfield in a tight match. For both teams it was a sort of a frustrating season, both teams were a couple of decent players short of a really competitive squad but with some fine tuning can look forward confidently to next season.

The 14s also had interesting seasons. 14 Aquinas, managed by Paul Crossey and Pascal Donnelly, continued to make progress but found too often that well won victories were balanced out by foolish defeats. Operating with a small squad and carrying a large number of injuries for part of the season, the team had to be content with a top of the middle table finish.

14 Star, managed by the famous five, Colm Rafferty, Ciaran Sheehan, Jim Devlin, Gerry Mallon and Kieran Matthews, had a slow start to the season, picking up only one point from their first five or six matches. Their season burst into life against Taughmonagh at Strangford in November. Watched by Northern Ireland manager, Michael O’Neill, whose nephew Harry Sheehan bagged a hat trick, the star ran out 4 – 1 winners and never looked back, finishing a respectable third in the league and narrowly missing out on promotion. On the other hand, it is suspected throughout the club that the result that gave the Star most pleasure was in the second round of the cup when they beat the team that had knocked out Aquinas ion the first round!

Michael Quinn, Kevin Kerr and Garry Cullen took forward the under 15s. Peter Shaw dropped back a bit to nurse an injury. The team adopted a rotation policy and finished just above the drop zone. 15 Star lost several players in the close season as one of the coaches departed and took players with him. However, robust action by the other managers, including the recruitment of the veteran coach Eddie Agnew and the club ensured that the team stayed intact. Starting with only twelve players, the squad gradually expanded in numbers to fifteen. On the field any difficulties caused by the departure of players were hard to discern as the team went on the rampage, winning four of their first five games. For a team supposedly destroyed, 15 Star finished in respectable mid table.

Patrick McCormack and Mark Johnston took charge of the under 15s this year. Having escaped relegation last year by one match and without their talismanic star, Ryan McGuigan, who had departed for Cliftonville, the team, sponsored generously by IFS with new kit and squad quarter zip fleeces, trained hard to put the relegation dog fight behind them. After a slow start and with Peter Webb back in the team from Linfield along with some new additions to the squad, the results began to come together. a draw against last year’s league winners St. Patrick’s was followed up by a storming game against Newington which saw the 16s come form 3 – 1 down at half time to run out 5 – 3 winners. In the NIBFA cup Banbridge were despatched before we went out to Dungannon on a squally, wet, windy day down in Tyrone. Thirteen goals were put passed Sirocco in two game as the blue’n’black climbed out of danger.

Newington were beaten again at the Grove, making it six points from them. With three games left to play, we were safe enough. A good win over St. Mary’s further cemented our premiership position while we went down 2 – 0 to league challengers, St. Patrick’s. The final game of the season took place at Hydebank on 3 May, against Comber. With replacement keeper, Ethan Carleton, who had stepped in after Jack’s knee injury against Rosario, not available, Peter Webb stood in goals. A 3 -2 win over the North Down men saw the season finish on 34 points, a great improvement on under 15. Indeed, the squad and managers, Paddy and Mark, can look forward to next year with increasing confidence.

John Bailie was joined at under 17 by Chris McCleave and Ryan McGlinchey and a rake of new players. The season started with a win followed by a lot of losses before coming together again with a string of wins that was only surpassed by Liverpool. Alas, top spot was out of reach but the lads late run of form saw them finish comfortably in third spot.

In the cup, a respectable NIBFA run was brought to an end by Glentoran at Olympia. In the South Belfast cup the lads reahed the semi finals, playing against league winners and current year champions, Ardoyne. Ardoyne had also reached the final of the NIBFA cup, so this match looked like a bit of a march past for them. Indeed well into the second half that seemed to be the case. 2 – 0 up at half time, the North Belfast men seemed to be in cruise control. Even when we got one back, they responded to restore the difference. The game seemed to be petering out when with seven minutes to go Brendan Corr stepped to claim his second of the game and reduce the differential to the bare goal again. With Ardoyne jittery, Brendy struck again with a minute or two on the clock to level the score and send the game to extra time.

Extra time was a dull enough affair as each team prodded and probed cautiously without any significant impact. Unfortunately, the Aquinas curse struck again. In the second half of extra time, we took our time to defend a corner, for which the North Belfast men punished us. After a gallant fight back, it was a sickening blow, bit that’s football. Nonetheless, the lads covered themselves with glory that night and did the jersey proud.

The Supplementary cup was also exited in disappointing fashion. After a 1 -1 result in the decider in normal time, once again the lads were plunged into extra time in a cup semi final. We thought we had gone ahead in extra time but the referee awarded Southside a free kick. Once again, with time running out, we succumbed to a late goal and bid farewell to that cup too. On the whole, though, it was a positive year and managers John Bailie, who departs in the close season for London, and Chris McCleave and their players can be proud of what was achieved this year. It augurs well for their players who will link up next year with Denis Kelly’s and Damien Hughes’ under 18s.

Aquinas 18s started their defence of their title in the worst possible way, with two bad defeats. Another defeat in November to old rivals and title challengers, Rosario, stacked the odds against Denis’s and Damien’s dynamos. Giving away a 3 – 1 lead to draw with Larne didn’t help either, but this team are not league champions for nothing. With the welcome addition of several of last year’s under 18 title winning Hollywood team, Daire Rooney, Conor Leonard and Danny Hayes along with Anto O’Doherty from Crumlin, the blue’n’black soon motored themselves back into contention. Along the way, Conor Leonard’s goal against Braniel on Saturday 11 January 2014 was the team’s 1000th Aquinas goal.

The team also entered the Harry Cavan cup. Cliftonville were despatched in a bad tempered match at Solitude to set up a trip to Limavady. It was, unfortunately a Glenshane pass too many and the inaugural Harry Cavan cup experience came to an end on a cold wet last day of November. The South Belfast cup was another matter. Larne Youth, against whom the team had drawn in the league, were despatched ruthlessly one morning at Strangford to set up a quarter final dream draw with Aquinas Star.

This game took place at Rathmore in front of a capacity crowd. Despite a cautious opening, Denis’s and Damien’s lads found the net first, relieved the tension, and then found the net again. Dan O’Hanlon, whose brother Cormac played for Aquinas, got one back for the Star in a goal mouth scramble to make it 2 – 1 at half time. Pundits get paid a fortune for saying things like “the next goal is vital”. It was. It fell to Aquinas who then started to turn up the pressure. Another goal sealed it for Aquinas and brought a showpiece spectacle for the club to an end.

This result set up a semi final fixture with Albert Foundry. Played at Ulidia on a M<onday evening in April, despite going 1 – 0 up from an own goal forced by a brilliant run by Matt Hughes, the blue’n’black never really got started and two dodgy penalties gave Foundry a victory they would cherish. Coming two days after the last match of the season, described below, in which the 18s would clinch the league title, it may be that the adrenaline for the climax of the league campaign had run dry. No matter, the doublw as not to be and Denis Kelly was spared having to gte an Aquinas tattoo!

Back in the league, the bad start, two losses in their first two games, with nine goals conceded, was soon put behind them as only one further loss, to Rosario, and two draws, saw the blue’n’black climb resolutely back into contention. For most of the season it was a three way fight between Aquinas, St. Mary’s and Rosario. A 1 – 0 win over the Roses not just re-balanced the earlier defeat but, effectively, took Rosario out of league contention. Now it would be a simple two way fight between us and the North Belfast men. The table topping match was played as the second last game of the season, on a Friday night at the Hammer. Whatever about the hype before the game, it proved to be a one sided affair as Aquinas put four past their rivals without reply. In truth, it could have been a lot more.

Going into the last game, we were two points clear of St. Mary’s. In the last game, St. Mary’s were due to play Braniel. However, Braniel had recently served notice that they could not play out their remaining fixtures which meant with the three points gifted to St. Mary’s, they would finish ahead of us, by one point if we lost our last game against Edie Irvine. A draw would set up a league play off.

The reality is that if Eddie Irvine were there to make up the numbers, no-one had told them and they proved to be difficult opponents, indeed harder in the view of many than St. Mary’s the week before. Aquinas got off to the dream start with the dynamo Hughes putting us one up after three minutes. The blue’n’black looked comfortable when Tom Maguire doubled the lead on seventeen minutes. Then Aquinas reverted to that traditional Aquinas approach of making it as difficult as possible for themselves. Edie Irvine got one back and had, undoubtedly, the best of the second part of the first half.

Tom struck first in the second half, to restore the two goal margin. In truth, we had a succession of chances to wrap it up throughout the second half, but could finish any of them. As a result, from a set piece, from which Eddie Irvin’s delivery had been brilliant throughout the match, they scored again, reducing things to a single goal once again with twenty five minutes still on the clock. Some tactical changes were made, Daire Rooney came on for Conor Leonard and Anto O’Doherty for Ciaran Mohan. This refreshed the Aquinas line and we started to dominate again, controlling play with a smooth passing game. Tom scored a fourth, and his third, following one of his trademark tricky runs which finished with a goal that couldn’t possibly have been scored at that angle. That’s Tom for you. Tom scores, grass is green and bears can be real scallywags in the forest!

The fourth goal effectively took the wind out of Edie Irvine sails and the momentum out of the game. Aquinas saw it out, but were still mightily relieved to hear the final whistle. We were champions. It was the first back to back title by an Aquinas team since the golden team of ’94 retained their title at under 11 back in 2005. It was also this team’s fifth piece of silverware in the blue’n’black colours.

The league winning and retaining squad was Kevin McGovern, Dan Rainey, Cealan Lynch, Paddy O’Boyle, Hugh O’Connor, Niall McCourt, Anto O’Doherty, Danny Hayes, Daire Rooney, Conor Leonard, Peter Morgan, Thomas Cafolla, Ciaran Mohan, Matt Carson (capt), Matt Hughes, Joe Cunnane, Tom Maguire, Enda Fitzpatrick, Cormac O’Hanlon and Conor Flynn.

Three nights later, the team played in the semi final of the South Belfast cup. Despite a great start when a determined run from Matt Hughes produced an own goal from Albert Foundry, in truth we showed signs of the adrenaline burn out from the league campaign and with the help of two very controversial penalty decisions, the cup final was not to be, with the lads going out 2 – 1 on the night.

The Supplementary cup proved to be an entirely different kettle of fish. Safely past Barn in the first round, the play off to reach the semi finals was held at Strangford. Once again, Aquinas failed to spark into life and trailing to Willowfield 1 – 0 with three minutes left on the clock, we seemed to be heading for the exit when one of those bizarre refereeing decisions actually went for us. The referee awarded us a penalty. The ever cool Matt Carson stepped up and converted. With the evening closing in, the game went straight to penalties. Willowfield missed one, Kevin saved one, we scored four and were through to the semi final 4 – 2 on penalties.

The semi final took place at the Hammer on Monday 28 April, against Newhill. It was a great match, fast, free flowing and very fair as both teams looked to show off their silky skills. Roller coaster wouldn’t describe the game. We were 2 – 0 up at half time, they pulled two back. With five minutes on the clock, the score remained stubbornly 2 – 2. Then we got another quick two to make it 4 – 2. Newhill, however, were not for lying down and with a high ball hoofed up to their big man up front, they pulled one back. As we restarted, the referee announced that there were twenty seconds left. When they got the ball, they did the same again – long, high ball to the big man. With the last kick of the game, he made it 4 – 4. Unfortunately, we missed a penalty, they didn’t and the under 18 season came to an end.

So, there was to be no double or even treble. Nonetheless, the title was retained and the boys of ’96 once more did the club and themselves and their managers proud. The semi final above proved to be the last match for some long serving Aquinas legends who will cross the sea to universities next year. In addition, it saw long standing manager Damien Hughes stand down after nine years with the team and a couple more in mini soccer, bringing to an end one of the most successful partnerships in the club. He and Denis Kelly formed one of the enduring management teams in Aquinas history.

Once again Adrian McCauley and Michael McGranaghan took the helm of the 18 Star team. This is one of the best Star teams that the club has produced and full praise must go to Adrian and Michael and, of course, Peter Lynch from under 13 to 16, for their handiwork. The team won most of its matches, drew too many and didn’t lose too often to record an impressive top four finish.

The Seniors found life in the Belfast and District League premiership more difficult than the lower leagues. No surprise, I suppose. Notwithstanding, they soon powered themselves into a league challenging position. However, without a win in November and out of the BDL and NI Cup and with a January defeat to league leaders, Cumann Spoirt an Phobaill, we needed others, notably CSP to drop points to let us back into the title chase. Unfortunately this did not happen and the seniors had to make do with a fourth place finish.

Likewise, the seconds, still under the watchful eyes of Pascal Donnelly and Stevie Martin, found the going tough in division two. Five defeats and five draws took significantly from the wins to ensure that, while a respectable position was achieved, division two is where we will remain next year.

Club day and award winners were;

Players’ Player of the Year Player of the Year
Under 12 Ronan Agnew Reuben Carleton
Under 13 Daniel Foster & James O’Rourke John O’Sullivan & Ross Murray
Under1 4 Cealan Magee & Eoghan Turkington Peter Henvey & Andy McGowan
Under 15 Ethan Carleton & Paul O’Hanlon Oran Boyle & Ruairi Lynch
Under 16 Daire McGarvey James Smith
Under 17
Under 18

Golden Glove: Kevin McGovern
Golden Boot: Tom Maguire
Des Brennan: Matt Carson