2015 - 2016

Once again, mini soccer kicked off at its usual spot at the YMCA, Saturday morning, 9.30am to 11.00am. Neil Donaldson was still at the helm with Judy McAuley at his right hand. Eamon Leonard and Conal Keown were also there for their second year in harness and they were soon joined by Damien Duffy, Paul Skeffington, Chris Luter, Justin Smith, Roger Griffith, Paul Jordan and the indispensible Eve Donaldson.


Despite seeing some thirty boys float off, as it were, to the new under 9 team, numbers were very soon approaching fifty each Saturday. This would climb steadily to just under sixty before Christmas and remain at that level for the rest of the year. Once again, the boys were put through basic skills training and were able to show off what they had learned in the five a side small sided games in the second half of the slot each Saturday.


Mini soccer continued to take its winter break, stopping in mid December with the Christmas party and picking up again in February through to June. Before the end of the season, Michael Flanagan and Dwyer Magee organised a group of under 7s, the 2009s from mini soccer, into a panel for the Clonduff tournament. The boys brought home the tournament cup after a penalty shoot out to record their first silverware win of what hopefully will be a long list.


Neil, of course, also organised the Easter and Summer camps this year – again! These camps have been very successful both as fundraisers for the club and as programmes to develop further the skills of our youngest players. Each year some 60 to 80 children flock to the camps at the YMCA.


The new under 9 squad sent out, originally, two teams in the IFA’s seven a side small sided games centre and, after Christmas, three teams. The under 9 coaches were mentored by Michael Flanagan and along with him were Peter Mulgrew, Michael Heery, Martin Robinson, Paddy Cunningham, Joey McKavanagh and Gabrielle Mickelburgh.


The teams had a useful and enjoyable introduction into the development leagues and the coaches and boys must have done something right as they hovered up cups at the end of season Rosario and Clonduff tournaments. The team will continue to pay in the IFA centre next year, at under 10.


The under 10s under the watchful eye of the vastly experienced Damien McAuley and his assistant, Brian Friel – no, not that one – entered two teams in the IFA’s nine a side league. The teams, similarly, had reasonably successful years and look forward to the switch to the SBYL’s small sided league next year.


The under 11s continued to be marshalled by Lawrence Watson, Conor Cummins and Padhraic Conlon. Playing mainly at Blanchflower, the boys continued to improve and the stronger squad put in an impressive portfolio of results. The squad finished its playing in style, going to the St. Mary’s tournament and bring back the cup at their age. Well done lads!


The new under 12s, under the watchful eye of Michael Gorman, Brian Kavanagh and John McCooe, took to eleven a side football like a duck to water. Joseph O’Sullivan scored the club’s first goal of the season, at one minute past nine in the early kick off on day one of the season, at Strangford. The team had a mixed year, winning some and losing some but, overall, had an impressive start to their eleven a side career and with continued careful management should have an enjoyable time in the years ahead.


The 12 Star team, under the management of Maurice Delaney, Paula Newton and Adrian Toner, started the season with a torrent of goals. Adam Kane scored three hat tricks in his first three games, the first Aquinas player to do so. However, the goals dried up and Adam departed for another club and the team started to struggle. Eventually, Maurice felt that their continued development would be better in smaller sided set up and they entered the nine a side league. This worked, enthusiasm and esteem was restored and the team won their way through tot eh Supplementary Cup final.


The final was played at the Harland and Wolff Welders’ ground on 14 May, the morning of club day. The lads got off to a slow start and we were two nil down by half time. The hairdryer must have worked because it was a new, urgent, rejuvenated Aquinas Star that took the field for the second half. Captain Reuban Marshall, playing a captain’s role got us one goal back midway through the half. However, despite a late chance for sub Joe Moore, an equaliser could not be found and, alas, there was no cup to bring to club day for the 12 Star.


The eleven a side 13s, Aquinas and Aquinas Star, continued to struggle due to the size of their squads. These had been kept smaller that would have been prepared to allow the third team, Aquinas Colts, to operate at the smaller sided development league. The two eleven a side teams also struggled to find managers with Pat McCauley left to cope with the Aquinas team on his own and Jason Donnan in the same position with the Star.

Nonetheless, it wasn’t all doom and gloom as Pat’s team battled their way into a title challenging position in the first half of the year. However, a couple of bad results in December and January, their first defeats of the campaign, knocked them out of contention. Ha, that’s what the other teams thought, but not Pat and his Patricians and the team battled its way back into contention with their second long unbeaten run of the season.


With three games left, three wins would deliver the under 13 league. Alas, the first of the three was drawn 0 – 0. Try as they could, in wave after wave, the guys couldn’t put the ball in the net. One loss, against the newly crowned league champions followed before a comprehensive 3 – 0 win in their last game with Carryduff meant the best they could achieve was third place. However, bring on next year!


In addition, the 13s didn’t finish the season entirely empty handed. Goal keeper, Donal Bradley, shared the Golden Glove award for the most clean sheets with the under 15 keeper.


!3 Star struggled for most of the season. The pressures brought on by the existence of the third squad hit them hardest, being squeezed from first and third for players. Nonetheless, there were some stand out moments, some wins, some great goals and a great determination to do better next year.


Damien Fogarty and Martin Blaney at the 13 Colts were joined in the latter part of the season by Hugh McKillop on the touchline. On the field, the lads made satisfactory progress, more than holding their own in the league and getting to the semi final of the cup.


The 14s had a strange season. They missed so many fixtures due to weather and the like that by the end of March they still had eight games left. Peter Lynch, Joe Moore and Sean Connor remained in charge, with occasional appearances by David Kerr, now teaching across the water. Not only did the team face a fixtures backlog, but the squad soon became one of the most dangerous places in the world to be as players broke collar bones, twisted this and that, strained muscles they didn’t even know they had and just when Ronan Agnew looked as if he might launch a late challenge for the Golden Boot, down he went with concussion and out for the rest of the season. The team, in the end were happy to limp – oh, yes, limp – over the line with a respectable top table finish despite all their travails and woes.


The new season brought a new start to the under 15s. The 2001s had struggled for a couple of years with a very small squad, which did not really allow the managers the squad selection flexibility that they might have liked on a couple of occasions. With the gallant Michael Heery and Rossa Keown stepping down from the team, we moved in the big hitters of Denis Kelly, Adrain McCauley and Michael McGranaghan to kick ass and kick start this team’s careers.


Denis and his henchmen were helped right at the very start by the return of some former players, Callum Webb and Paul Bradley leading the charge. They also picked up an unknown quantity in Joel Abraham. Joel had never played for a team before but we soon discovered that we had a natural centre half as he slotted into that position with ease as if he had played it all his life. Matthew Devlin, returning from  California further boosted the numbers and talent available to the new managers


Unfortunately, not all went well, personnel wise. Shay Campbell broke his leg in two places – Strangford and Hydebank. No, that’s a dodgy joke. Shay broke his leg in two places in a friendly – irony! – at Strangford which put him out for about four months. Then, soon after, the flying machine, Anton Filippov, ripped tendons, or strained something fairly nasty which ruled him out for most of the season. Tragically for Anton, on his debut back from injury, after only ten minutes or so on the pitch, he did it again and will be out for all of next season as well. Finally, to round off an injury prone year, Peter Mellon damaged his knee in February, which put him out too for the rest of the season.


Results wise, the team did okay. Some good results and even when the results did not go our way, some good performances augurs well for the future. Ciaran Giffen has settled in more than naturally to the captain’s role and the team can also boast the steadiest back line in the club, a factor which helped keeper, Thomas McCarney, share the Golden Glove for the most clean sheets in the season. Had the team not been let down by Gaelic players in crucial matches because of a clashing GAA croquet competition or digital landscape painting cul camp, it would have challenged for the title.


15 Star had a great pre-season, scoring 14 goals in a tournament. However, the hopes of the eternally optimistic John O’Rourke and the eternally hopeful Paul Cullen were tempered somewhat by a slow start to the league campaign. The team struggled to notch up its first point, although in the best traditions of irony, once it had done so it went on a decent run for a while. The highlight of the first part of the season was, probably, Patrick O’Neill’s free kick from thirty five yards out which bounced just in front of the keeper and shot past him for the equalising goal in a game, which despite the joy of the goal, the managers will have felt they should have won.


The second half of the season also saw a mixed bag of performances. It ended well with six out of the last seven games won, including a brilliant performance and win against the league winners. Once again, for this team, another year beckons. The managers will be hard at it over the close season trying to recruit new players to bolster the league campaign at under 16.


The 16s didn’t want the season to end. After a frustrating start ... and middle  .. to the season Paul Crossey’s and Danny McGeown’s team went on an incredible winning spree as match after match wins and the odd draws were notched up. It wasn’t enough, however, to overcome the poor rest of the season and the team finished well down the table.


Colm Rafferty, Jim Devlin and Kieran Matthews of 16 Star had hope and confidence of a decent season and even a title tilt or, barring that, promotion. For most of the season the team challenged well but, as can often be the case, silly points dropped began to take their toll, the most notorious the last kick of the match loss to Colinvalley. In the end, despite a fairly safe top half finish, the twin aims of the start of the season proved to be just too far off for this group of hard working players.


The treble winning under 17s started off the season a little bit slowly, dropping some points in the early part of the season. The management team of Kevin Kerr, Garry Cullen, Luke Kelly and Jim McDade remained unchanged from the previous year and the treble seemed to be still do-able as the team started to notch up the wins in the league and reached the Supplementary Cup final at the new year. Unfortunately, we went down 2 – 0 to Rosario, which meant that the retention of the treble was no longer possible.


A further disappointment in the SBYL Cup, which saw the lads go out on penalties in the semi final meant that by March only the league remained in play. Going into the last two matches the situation could not have been closer. We sat top of the league, on 29 points, with Rosario and Ardoyne chasing on 28. We were due to play North Belfast on the Saturday at Rathmore. The team had been heartened by the result of the Rosario/Ardoyne clash the night before , a 2 – 2 draw. This meant that a win over North Belfast would leave us needing only a draw in the last match against St. Mary’s.


We took the lead in the first half only to see the North Belfast men draw level in the second period. As the game seemed to be petering out, with two vital points dropped, up stepped captain Marvel, Ethan Carleton to send a vicious corner ball straight into the net. 2 – 1 to Aquinas. Now only as draw would be needed in our final match on the following Friday night.


The match was played at the Valley. We needed a point to win the league, St. Mary’s needed a point to avoid relegation. The match started edgily enough, with both teams desperately wanting to avoid a mistake that could prove so costly. Aquinas nerves did not settle until Ethan Carleton – that man again – popped up to glance home a header, once again from a corner. Aquinas started now to stake their claim on the game, but still at half time, there was only the one goal in it.


Once the initial nerves in the second period disappeared and Aquinas again started to dominate possession and chances did the flood gates open and the large and loyal blue’n’black crowd on the touchline came to enjoy the game more and more as the goal tally mounted, 2 – 0, 3 – 0, 4 – 0 and finally 5 – 0 before the final whistle sounded. The league title had been retained with the 1999 team joining the 1993s and 1996s in the achievement of back to back league wins. Well done to the managers and lads.


The league winning squad was: Oran Boyle, Matthew McCarry, Ismail Obiyoko, Daire Larkin, Ethan Carleton (capt), Lorcan Fitzsimmons, Phelim Lennon, Ryan Shaw, Methembe Khumalo, Rory Cullen, Liam Markey, Mark O’Hanlon, Paul O’Hanlon, Tiarnan Armstrong, Daniel Coogan, Simon Henry, Dylan Stronge, Malachi Doherty and Peter Franklin.


The 18s continued to be managed by Mark Johnston and John McAuley, Paddy McCormack dropping out after two years. The 18s got off to a good start, remaining unbeaten well into November. The team also had a decent cup run. At one stage a league title had looked a possibility but a couple of unfortunate results put paid to that. Nonetheless, the lads bowed out of the Youth set up with a satisfactory top four finish.


 The Firsts’s promoted at the end of the previous season into Division 2B of the NAFL at the first time of trying welcomed John McCormack to their dugout. John joined the management team of Noel McKee and Stephen McDonald and brought a wealth of experience and passion to the role. Division 2B proved a tougher assignment that 2C, as you might expect, and despite good, solid entertaining performances week in, week out a couple of dropped points and frustrating results meant that promotion was not to be.


Pascal Donnelly also welcomed a new colleague to the dugout at the start of the season. Rosario stalwart, Eamon Vize walked in the light this year –(only joking!!) as Pascal’s right hand man. Unfortunately, the Seconds missed out on promotion but did make the final of the Templeton Cup, at Seaview. The match was against Suffolk who ran out 3 – 1 winners. So, it was not to be. No silverware for the old guys!