2014 - 2015

Mini soccer kicked off in September at its YMCA base. The ever intrepid Neil Donaldson was joined by two parents, Eamon Leonard and Conal Keown and, of course Judy McAuley again. He was also joined by twenty five children, then some more, then another couple until by the end of September there were nearly forty little ones mini soccering on a Saturday morning. Thankfully two more parents, Damien Duffy and Brendan Tabb, stepped forward and the show remained well governed.

Mini soccer ran, as usual, from September to the start of December and then again from February to May. In between was the famous mini soccer Christmas party with games outside and indoors and selection boxes for all the children. Enjoyable as always, the children learned some skills, a trick or two and had, generally, a whale of a time and all walked away with their medals on club day.

Damien McAuley organised his new under 9 squad at Rathmore on a Tuesday evening. Joined by a gaggle of enthusiastic parents – Brian Friel, Niall Parkhill, Owen Gallagher, Neil Barr, Paul Clifford and Sean Bradley – he had some thirty five wee ones under starters’ orders. As in the past few years, the under 9s played in the IFA development centres at a range of venues across Belfast. The aim of the centres is to allow smaller children to play smaller sided games with fewer rules. Its also non-competitive, in that scores are not recorded, so we won some, lost some and had a lot of fun along the way.

Similarly, Lawrence Watson was back for more punishment with his under10 squad. Conor Cunmmins and Padhraic Conlon continued with their coaching role. The 10s also had a fairly massive squad and formed three nine a side teams in the development leagues. The squad also sent teams to various tournaments organised by other clubs.

The under 11s were also part of the development set up. Similarly, large numbers allowed three teams to compete on a nine a side basis. Co-ordinator, Maurice Delaney continued to enjoy the help of a committed band of coaches, Michael Gorman, Adrian Toner, Kieran McCooe, Brian Kavanagh and Paula Foy.

The 11s have a fairly strong first squad and the decision was taken to enter them in the under 11 nine a side NIBFA cup. Match one took place in December a couple of weeks before Christmas. The mighty midgets travelled down to Annalong and returned home triumphant. Their next game was a home one, against Killyleagh. It took place in early January at the DUB. Despite falling behind, the 11s came back strongly before falling to a late goal. Nonetheless, the boys enjoyed their NIBFA experience and it will, no doubt, stand them in good stead next year.

It actually stood them in good stead sooner than expected. The squad sent down a team to the Annalong tournament and the 11s came home victorious with the cup.

It might be described as a fairly frustrating start to their eleven a side careers for our new under 12 teams. The Aquinas team was taken by Pat McCauley and Michael Patterson. They were soon joined by Jim McCabe, formerly with St. Mary’s. Things didn’t start well and didn’t continue well either, if the truth be told. Victories were few and far between, although very enjoyable when they did come. The highlight of the season was the second match against Manor Hearts. Heavily defeated in the first match, the team’s first match at eleven a side football, the second match, in February 2015, saw the boys inflict just such a defeat on the Manor Heart’s lads. This was, undoubtedly, a reflection of the team’s growing maturity and confidence and also of the commitment and determination of Pat, Michael and Jim. Lesser coaches would have hit the drink long before Christmas! The team enjoyed quite a resurgence in the second half of the season, starting really to get into its stride. On the other hand, the small numbers of the squad resulted in many games having to be played without subs, with all the pressures and fatigue that that sort of situation can bring.

Nonetheless, the supplementary cup proved to be a further renaissance for the team. After impressive wins along the way the team found itself in the cup final. It was held at Bangor FC ground on Saturday 9 May. Straightaway, the team got into top gear and controlled most of the first half, scoring twice, thanks to Michael McDade and Ruairi McCabe, while at the other end keeper Jamie Patterson kept all random Newhill shots at bay. Newhill got one back early on in the second half and despite great pressure from the West Belfast men for a concerted period, the blue’n’black heads did not drop and slowly but, oh so surely, we clawed our way back into control. A third goal, once again courtesy of Ruairi McCabe, settle dour nerves and the match and the final whistle was greeted by a roar of delight at a historic result, which saw the club net both cups that morning.

The cup winnings quad was Michael McDade, Cathal Maguire, Ben McCauley, Josef Cullinan, Mark Canavan, Jamie Patterson, Con Wilson, Donal Bradley, Conor Boyle, Fionn Olilsby, Ruairi Mccabe, Oliver Marken (capt), Ruairi Murray and Paul Carty.

The other 12 team, Aquinas Star got off to a better start, notching up some impressive victories. However, to use a well worn cliché, it was a season of two halves and the wheels came off a bit in 2015. No matter, there were still some impressive performances in the second part of the season and with Fionntan McGarvey transferred in and notching up two hat tricks in two matches, coaches Paul Boyle and Jason Donnan can look forward with some confidence to next season.

The 12 Star team also saw its potential fall into place in the Supplementary Cup competition. Like the Aquinas team, it fought its way unbeaten to the final and faced St. Mary’s at Bangor FC on Saturday 9 May. The Star team kicked off first, at 9.30AM. St. Mary’s scored in the first half and we equalised in the second half through a beautifully struck shot from the edge of the box from Con Wilson. Both goals were very different. Ours crossed the line. We’ll say no more on that score, if you pardon the pun.

With the score 1 – 1 at full time, the game went straight to penalties. Advantage St. Mary’s! They scored. We missed out first, over the bar. We scored our second. They stepped up for their second and could only watch in horror as it clambered back off the bar, to the relief of every blue’n’black heart in the ground. We scored our remaining three. They scored their remaining three. It went to sudden death. Whose nerve would crack first. Not ours. We scored our sixth. Nor did theirs. They scored their sixth. On their seventh, our keeper Adam Murphy guessed right. He got down, he got his hands to it and he pushed it past the post. Advantage Aquinas! Up stepped jack Donaghy. Cool as a cucumber and with ice in his veins, he slotted home. Celebrations from the blue’n’black, heart break for St. Mary’s. The celebrations continued as the team realised that they had become the first Star team to win silverware for the club.

The cup winning squad was Fionntan McGarvey, James Donnan, Aodhan Rogers, Thomas O’Loan, Pierce Carberry, Jack Donaghy, Owen Murray, Adam Murphy, Jack Boyle, Matthew Larkin, Cormac Devlin, Con Wilson and Niall McCarten (capt).

The under 13s, still under the guidance of Peter Lynch, Joe Moore and Sean Connor, started out fairly strongly. The team continued in the mix for the league title for most of the season but, unfortunately, a couple of silly defeats due, mainly, to staff shortages blunted their prospects a bit. Similarly, the lads went out of the Supplementary Cup at the semi final stage to the eventual winners, St. Mary’s, who also overcame us in the South Belfast cup. Nonetheless, the team remained strong and a feisty finish to the season saw us clinch third place. Peter and his management team remain committed, as do the boys, and the 2002s will be back among the challengers again next season.

For the under 14s it was a stop start season. Well, mainly stop and the starts tended to be a bit erratic. Michael Heery was joined on the touchline by Rossa Keown this year. There were some fine performances and many games were lost by the single goal. Wins before Christmas over Holywood, Cavehill Colts and Donegall Celtic were matched in the latter part of the season with victories over Carrick Colts and a particularly sweet one against second in the table, St. Mary’s, augured well for the future. The addition of key players, Ciaran Giffen, Conal Bohill and later in the season Kian Cruckshank strengthened the squad considerably. In addition, veteran players like Liam Donaldson and Shay Campbell flourished during the year and with the nippy and zippy Anton Filippov growing in confidence as the season reached its end, the team can look forward with renewed confidence to 2015/2016.

John O’Rourke’s and Paul Cullen’s under 14 Star also enjoyed a year of contrasting results, wonderful victories neutralised by disappointing and frustrating defeats. Nonetheless, with the addition late on in the season of a new keeper, the team can approach the new season with a greater strength in depth than this year. The team also saw some more than impressive results, the icing on the cake being ten goals scored in one game.

The 15s saw the departure of the legendary Pascal Donnelly, whose duties with the seconds meant he could no longer give the time needed to the 15s. He was replaced by the ever durable Danny McGeown who linked up with the irrepressible Paul Crossey. The 15s were the team that came back from the dead! Seriously short of players at the start of the year, that it was impossible on occasions to field, a major recruitment exercise soon corrected that imbalance and the crazy gang were up and running. Now, as usual, the league was a bit of a roller coaster and avoiding relegation was, effectively, as good as it got.

The great strength of the 2000s has always been the cup, right from that magical night at Mallusk at under 10. Form once again reigned supreme as the team reached the semi final of the cup for the fourth time in six year.

15 Star lost one of the strongest players, Jude Mallon, to the 15 team early in the season. However, under the guidance again of Colm Rafferty, Jim Devlin and Kieran Matthews, they soon put that behind them and went on a string of five or six matches unbeaten. However, once again, it was a season of contrasts, lovely wins, frustrating defeats that could have been prevented and some tankings to boot. Nonetheless, the team remain a solid and well gelled unit with a great camaraderie and can look forward to better times in the years to come.

The 16s were joined by Luke Kelly as coach, to augment Garry Cullen and Kevin Kerr. Michael Quinn departed to enjoy a sabbatical year as merely a parent. The coaching staff was further augmented with the arrival of UEFA A student James McCabe. The team had narrowly avoided relegation at the end of their under15 year so a massive recruitment programme had been instigated by Kevin over the close season. What a success it would prove to be. The O’Hanlon twins had already been recruited from the Star team in an eve of season coup and they were soon augmented by the arrival of Tiarnan Armstrong from the National league, Daniel Coogan, Malachy Doherty and the biggest goal keeper in the world, Simon Henry, which transformed the team from also ran to challengers. They were joined soon after by Peter Franklin from Glentoran and Dylan Strong.

The season didn’t get off to the greatest of starts to be fair with wobbly results at Larne and Albert foundry. However, as the 1999ers got into gear, the season took off, and win after win was notched up. The first major campaign success came on a cold wet January morning at the Donegal Celtic ground. Having battled their way to the final of the Supplementary Cup, Ardoyne were despatched fairly straightforwardly in the final, 3 – 0 to win the club its first silverware of the year, and season, of course.

Returning to league action, the task of stopping the mighty Roses from the Ormeau road did seem to represent a difficult task. Rosario had dominated at this age group since under 13 and had won the league with comparative ease since that age. Even a dramatic win over the arch rivals in the first meeting of the clubs in the season, in March, with Aquinas legend, Rory Cullen scoring the vital goal in the second half and an almighty save from Simon Henry late on still seemed to be not quite enough, despite it representing our first win at this age over Rosario since under 10.

However, when the going gets tough, the blue’n’black metal starts to show as opponent anfter opponent were ground down or, simply, blown away. Going out of April and into May the statistics were simple. If we won all our remaining games before the last game of the season against Rosario, we would be level in points with the light blues and that final match would decide the title.

In April a succession of top half of the table teams were despatched. That left us Loughside on 2 May and the roses at the Oval on Thursday 7 May. Loughside were put to the sword to set up a title deciding last match of the season. However, before this match could be played, there was the minor matter of the South Belfast Cup.

The 16s, having won the Supplementary Cup were also hard at work in the South Belfast Cup. The final was reached with a handsome win over Harland Youth to set up a contest with Ards, who put Rosario out on penalties in the other semi. The final was held at the Harland and Wolff Welders ground on the evening of Tuesday 12 May. In truth, in front of a great blue’n’black crowd, it proved to be a bit of an anti climax. Despite a slow start, Ards could not punish us and goals from Oran Boyle, Ethan Carleton and Malachy Doherty saw the cup directed home to South Belfast to join the already won Supplementary Cup.

After much tooing and froing which saw the last league match planned for the Oval on 23 April, only to be cancelled at the last moment as the pitch had cut up during the Irish cup final the previous Saturday. It was re-scheduled for Seaview on Saturday evening of 23 May. In front of a massive crowd, Aquinas were slow out of the blocks. Nonetheless, despite shading it in the first half, Rosario did not trouble big Simon in nets at all and it was Aquinas who had the better of the chances, forcing a couple of good saves out of the Roses keeper. His best came when Aquinas were awarded a penalty, which he pushed past the post. Consequently, sty half time, the deadlock remained very much nin place.

The second half began brighter for the blue’n’black and our pressure was soon rewarded when Tiarnan Armstrong sent a thirty yard rocket flying over the head of the Rosario keeper and into the back of the net. Rosario, as you might expect, were not deflected from the task in hand and forced their way back into the game from a free kick. In addition, A slow agonising crawl over the line when Simon could only parry a later Rosario shot saw the Ormeau Road men take the lead half way through the second half. As Rosario confidence grew that, maybe, just maybe, they were going to weather the storm and with five minutes left on the clock, former Rose Peter Franklin delivered a wonder free kick fron twenty five yards out. Hit well, hit strongly, hit accurately, it flew into the top of the net to level the score again to set up a play off at solitude on Friday 5 June.

A large crowd had gathered in North Belfast on they night. Aquinas started much quicker than at Seaview and we could have been ahead in the first minute following a great burst down the left. The first half saw continuous Aquinas pressure and with barely twenty on the clock, it was rewarded with a well taken goal by Oran Boyle. Boyler did it again seven minutes later when he withstood light blue pressure to turn the ball into the net from a crowded area. Aquinas could have put it beyond Rosario’s grasp before the whistle but a coupel of good saves kept the score 2 – 0 at the break.

As might have been expected, Rosario had no option but to come at us early in the second half. And they did! Despite some tense moments and some desperate defending, the blue’n’black withstood the onslaught in the first period of the second half. Football, as some might have told you, is a funny ond game, and just as we were beginning to look reasonably comfortable again, a quick break from Rosario saw the otherwise perfect Simon in goals mistimed his dive and the referee blew for a penalty. Rosario converted and with the score now 2 – 1 it made for a nervy last ten minutes. Rosario pressed for the breakthrough that would drag them back into the match. However, despite some, at times, frantic play from Aquinas, it was the blue’n’black who came nearest to scoring when a long ball was slid just past the post of a beaten keeper.

Aquinas started to look in control again, but with only one goal in it, a mistake would have undone all our good work and, consequently, when the referee blew for the end of the game, the blue’n’black joy, mingled, no doubt, with relief could be heard back in South Belfast. The 1999 lads become only the second team in Aquinas history to win the treble and write their names #among the immortals of the club. Guided throughout the eyar by Kevin Kerr, Luke Kelly, James McDade and the old faithful Garry Cullen, the treble winning squad was: Rory Cullen, Ethan Carleton (capt), Oran Boyle, Methembe Khumalo, Paul O’Hanlon, Mark O’Hanlon, Ryan Shaw, Tiarnan Armstrong, Luke O’Sullivan, Dylan Strong, Daniel Coogan, Simon Henry, Malachy Doherty, Peter Franklin and John Toner.

The treble victory also provided another unique moment for the club as Rory Cullen, who had been a part of the first treble winning squad, the 1998s way back in 1999, became the only player in our forty six year history to win two trebles. To mark the occasion, a special trophy was presented to him at club day.

16 Star saw the trio of Brendan McCann, Eddie Agnew and Marty Robinson back in harness for another, they would have told you, difficult year. The team saw some good, hard fought wins but also saw a lot of frustrating losses along the way. To an extent, the team was handicapped from the start by the loss of the O’Hanlon twins to the Aquinas team and with no obvious or immediate replacements it was always going to be a challenging year, to express it euphemistically. Nonetheless, the team finished its fixtures, will pick itself up and with Michael Quinn joining the management structure next year to replace Marty Robinson who is bowing out after four years, it can look forward to competing again in 2015/2016.

Turning to the next team, the under 17s, firstly let me quash the rumour that Rafa Benitez joined the management team of Paddy McCormack and Mark Johnston this year. I shall explain later. This team has been going from strength to strength since its return to the premiership at under 15. Aficionados and wags of the 1998s will know that premiership status was saved with only one game to play at under 15. The new management team of Mark and Paddy strengthened the team further at under 16 and with the further recruitment of new and exciting players the team faced into under 17 with some confidence and determination to make up[ for the years of frustration after one of the most promising starts made by an Aquinas team to eleven a side football.

However, after a couple of dodgy red cards and some unfortunate injuries the Rafa results started piling up. Draw after draw where we really should have won the game. Four draws in the first six games looked to have all but deflated the 17s even before Halloween. However, the 1998ers are made of sterner stuff and with the Paddy’s technical knowhow and Mark’s unremitting energy, drive and motivation, the 17s ran up an impressive string of wins which meant that until Easter they were the only unbeaten side in the league and had roared back into contention for the ttile.

However, then it all came unstuck, quite quickly. The first defeat of the campaign came at Holywood in the run up to Easter. With a difficult post Easter fixture list, unfortunately more losses were recorded against top teams and by the end of April, league aspirations were over. Defeat by a cruel last minute winner in the cup quarter finals against Newington had close down that avenue for glory so the season ended with a bit of a come down.

Nonetheless, there is always next year. Paddy McCormack bowed out of the team after two years as a coach. (he has been a supporter since under 10 and I doubt that’s going to change). John McAuley, ex Irish league player, was recruited in his place and he, Mark and D Fitz are determined to recruit one or two others who could further strengthen an already talented and attractive team and the lads of 98 are determined to recreate the early glory of their treble winning team. Watch out under 18s in 2015/2016.

The under 18s, fresh from their two in a row league titles entered the new season without several key players, such as the two Matts, Carson to university in London, Hughes to Cliftonville. Hugh O’Connor had jumped ship to the Grads and Daire Rooney and Conor Leonard were age barred. Similarly, long term manager, Damien Hughes, had stepped down in the close season. The ever present stalwart, Denis Kelly, was joined by those two other long time servants of the club, Adrian McCauley and Michael McGranaghan. Alas, despite good grounding performances and some fantastic wins and the sweet right foot of Tom Maguire still sweet, sure and satnav guided to the back of the net, a third title proved a step too far, although finishing third only four points off the title does make you wonder what might have been possible.

Nonetheless, while most of the team will, hopefully, go on to play with the same pride and commitment for the seniors, the end of this team marks the end of a major and glorious chapter in the club’s history. The team provided us with some of our greatest players and not a few legends both on the pitch and on the touchline. Denis Kelly has been one of our greatest and most successful managers. He has been at the helm of the 1996 team since 2005 and the club was delighted to hear that he and his two management colleagues this year, Adrian McCauley and Michael McGranaghan, have opted to stay on as a management team with the club and take charge of the under 9s next year.

Adrian and Michael might have been less successful with the teams they found themselves managing over the years, nonetheless they occupy the same place in the pantheon of Aquinas managers for their longevity and commitment to the club, nearly twenty years each, as Denis, or Pascal Donnelly and it is great to retain the services and commitment of experienced and talented coaches who remain blue’n’black to their bone marrow.

Anyway, back to the action, the team did make the final of the Supplementary Cup, but in a bitterly cold match at the Donegal Celtic ground just after new year, despite leading for most of the match, the lads were pegged back and the cup was lost on penalties. As always, the players who were there for the year did the club proud, yet again, with their commitment and although no further silverware was added to the team’s already impressive haul, the team departed from children’s and youth football with their heads high and the cheers and thanks of the club ringing in their ears. The seniors can look forward to next year with some satisfaction.

On the subject of the goal machine, Tom Maguire, he once again he scooped the golden boot with some style. The competition was effectively sorted from about the end of September as Tom added hat trick to hat trick, scored for both the 18s and the seniors on the same day on a couple of occasions, even once deciding to put five in the net in one game as well as scoring the quickest hat trick from the start of a match, nine minutes. Tom tore down two long standing Aquinas records, becoming both the only player to win the golden boot three times and the first to win it for three years in a row.

The Seniors began the new season in a new league, the Northern Amateur Football League. The amateur league is the foremost league outside of the Intermediate and Irish league and it was great achievement for the club and, specifically, for all the hard ground work done by Noel McKee and Stephen McDonald before the summer. With up to fifty blue’n’black reporting for training in September, the two teams could look forward to their new adventure with some confidence.

Stephen and Noel continued as managers of the firsts with the ever loyal and committed Pascal Donnelly at the helm with the seconds. Both teams started as they meant to go on with a gusto and vigour that would propel them into league title challenges early on in the season. With the firsts competing in four cups, two of which, the Junior Cup and the Clarence Cup, we remained in until the end of January 2015, it was left to the seconds to blaze the league trail. Notching up wins after wins and losing only once at the hate filled Inverary Avenue, the seconds claimed their league title, division 3F, well before Easter.

The firsts were not to be outdone. They had dropped only ten points out seventy eight and went into the last three games masters of their own destiny. A surprise defeat to Finaghy in the third last match threatened to upset the apple cart bur with other results compensating, we were back again in control of our title challenge. A further win and the inability of Donaghadee to field for the last game of the season saw Aquinas crowned league champions of division 2C at Rathmore without a ball being kicked.

As with the seconds victory, an enthusiastic night followed in the Eg bar, the club’s senior sponsors. Thankfully, despite someone’s teeth being left behind the bar (!!!) everyone survived the night to look forward to a new campaign for 2015/2016. The challenge will be just as hard, but the blue’n’black seniors will, no doubt, respond as they have done throughout their short, but glorious, history. There will be more nights in dead man’s alley and the Eg. Bring them on!

The double league title winning squad led by captains Paddy Turley and Richard Murphy were, Deccy Owens, Simon and Martin Ramsey, Ciaran Smyth, D Fitzpatrick, Patrick McCauley, David, Donal and Mark Cummings, Matt Galwey, Peter McIlvenney, Colm Hicks, James McKee, Daniel Ramsey, Ruairi Taylor, Paddy Lowe, Eamon Vize, Michael McCambley, Liam Maguire, Tom Maguire, Gavin McDonald, Ben Leonard, Conor McKenna, Garret Cullen, Conor McCarthy, Chris Harrison, Conor Quigg, Jamie Henderson, Andy Sweeney, Gary Crossan and Mark Saulters.

Four managers stepped down this year, Paul Boyle from under 12 Star, Michael Patterson from the 12s, Martin Robinson from 16 Star and Paddy McCormack from the 17s. We thank them for their time and effort over many years and continue to be grateful to all our managers and coaches who are always there, battling away quietly, and not so quietly, week in, week out.

Club day was held at the YMCA on Saturday 13 June. The award winners were:

Players Player of the Year:

Under 12s: Callum Mickleburgh and Daire McSherry
Under 13s: Marcus Lynch
Under 14s Liam Donaldson and Ryan Austin
Under 15s: Niall McStravock and Lorcan McCartney
Under 16s: Mark O’Hanlon and Callum Copeland
Under 17s: Frank McCormack
Under 18s: Peter Morgan

Seniors: Martin Ramsey and Gerry Bogue

Player of the Year:

Under 12s: Oliver Marken and Finbarr Conlon
Under 13s: Jack Logue
Under 14s: Conall Bohill and James O’Rourke
Under 15s: Peter king and Peter Fitzpatrick
Under 16s: Simon Henry and Samuele Quattromano
Under 17s: Jake Morrison
Seniors: Gavin McDonald and Gerry Bogue

Golden Glove: Gavin McDonald
Golden Boot: Tom Maguire

Des Brennan: James Carson

Congratulations to all of them and hopefully we will see everyone back again, refreshed and with batteries charged come August for yet another year. The trophy haul this year of seven was the greatest in the club’s history.

 

Under 12 Supplementary Cup
Under 12 Star Supplementary Cup
Under 16 League
Under 16 Cup
Under 16 Supplementary Cup
Senior League
Seconds League

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