2016 - 2017
As in previous years, mini soccer took place at the YMCA, every Saturday morning, weather permitting, from September to November and from February to June. Neil Donaldson, still at the helm, always took a winter break to keep the little ones away from the worst of the weather 9.30am to 11.00am. Maurice Delaney returned full time to mini soccer as Neil’s right hand man. In addition to Maurice, and Judy McAuley for part of the year, Neil was helped by Conal Keown, Paul Jordan, Dwyer Magee, Dave McGeagh, Barry Kelly, Paddy McDonald,Barry Forde, Paul Kerr, Thomas McCorry, Roger Griffith, Charlie O’Neill, Gavin Kilbride, John Joyce, and James Murphy and the indispensible Eve and Maria Donaldson and Ciaran Delaney.
The pattern of recent years continued with the numbers attending once again hitting the seventies and even higher. The tried and tested programme of basic skills training followed by small sided games for the last half hour was followed again this year.
The outreach with other clubs continued this year with Carryduff sending four teams to the YMCA to play matches against the under 8s and us going to Loughmoss in February. In August Neil organised a football frenzy covering four nights, one for the new under 9s, 10s, 11s and 12s. Heck, one night it didn’t lash down!The Easter and Summer camps, similarly, took place, once again attracting between seventy and eight children.
The children born in 2008 entered the season in the seven a side Developmnent league run by the IFA as our under 9s. Under the guidance of Paul Skeffington and his merry band of coaches, we fielded three teams of varying strengths. The players all seemed to enjoy their year and the coaches wished it would never end!!
The Under 10 teams were managed by Joey McKavanagh, Peter Mulgrew, Marty Robinson, Barry Burns with several other coaches willing to help. We fielded three squads throughout the year and the level of support was gratifying. Many games were closely fought with victories celebrated and losses contemplated. The spirit of the Under 10 players was always high with an eagerness to develop their skills further.
The departure of Damien McAuley left a big gap in the management of the under 11s. Damien had been head hunted by Cliftonville to help with their youth set up and all at Aquinas wished him well on his new venture. The gap was more than admirably filled by Brian Friel and Neil Barr with one team and Niall Parkhill, Sean Bradley and Owen Gallagher with the other. The teams were entered in the SBYL’s nine a side small games league and competed well against some tough opposition. All in all, it was a successful year on the pitch for the 11s.
The under 12s entered two teams in the SBYL league. The Aquinas team played eleven a side football for the first time while the Star team was enrolled in the nine a side league. With the firsts under the very experienced eyes of Lawrence Watson and Conall McGarry and the seconds looked after by David McVeigh and Conor Cummings, it was hardly surprising that both broiugh home silverware.
The Aquinas team stormed to the league title, winning it memorably at fortress Rathmore one Saturday morning. Captain Thomas McKenna gleefully lifted the trophy to a massive cheer all round. The seconds, not to be outdone, scooped the nine a side supplementary cup on a glorious Saturday morning down at Bangor FC.
The under 13s, still looked after by Michael Gorman, Brian Kavanagh and John McCooe, had a decent enough second year at eleven a side football picking up the Mourne Cup along the way. 13 Star managers Paula Newton and Adrian Toner were joined by Philip McAteer, replacing the long standing veteran of the 2004s, Maurice Delaney. The team built upon their achievement the previous year of reaching the supplementary cup final by putting their experience and training to good use to bring home the league title, and done with some games to spare.
A restructuring at the 2003 set up saw one team merge with some 2002 players who hadn’t had a team for several years. The remaining players constituted two under 14 teams, both playing eleven a side football. For the Aquinas team the season was one of rebuilding after losing five players at the start of the campaign. Overall, it was a season of two halves with players settling into new positions before Christmas and the potential starting to shine through in the new year. The boys played some great and entertaining football and it was only a matter of time before it started to produce results. The latter part of the season saw the 14s lose only one of our last five games which included a comprehensive 5 – 1 win.
Manager, Pat McCauley intends to build on this impressive late run and had put steps in place, even before the end of the season to add more players to the squad. Here’s hoping for a more successful 2017/2018.
14 Star, managed once again by Damien Fogarty, Martin Blaney and Hugh McKillop struggled at the start of the season. However, by sheer dogged determination and hard work things started to turn around and the season ended with four wins and a draw, the high point being a 7 – 2 win against a team that had beaten them 8 – 1 earlier in the season.
For the first time since under 12, the club fielded two teams for the 2002s. Jason Donnan took some of his 2003 players and linked up with 2002 players keen to re-start their old 2002 Star team. Jason was joined on the touchline by Peter Franklin, one of the 1999 treble winning players and while winning some, losing some, some frustrating results and some moments of joy, the team played with enthusiasm and commitment.
15 Aquinas had a mixed season. Peter Lynch, Joe Moore and Sean Connor once more manned the touchline and encouraged the boys on as ever. The boys, mainly, responded but the season was not without its share of disappointments and frustrations. On the other hand, it also brought some lovely football and pleasing results in difficult circumstances. The season also saw on-fire striker Ronan Agnew become only the ninth Aquinas player to score 100 competitive goals for the blue’n’black.
The under 16s entered the new season with hope and a dynamism which had been built up the previous year by the legendary Aquinas manager Denis Kelly, Adrian McCauley and Michael McGranaghan. A stable team structure and the addition of some talented new players saw the team go undefeated in the league until 24th February and have excellent runs in the supplementary, league and NIBFA cups, exiting the latter in the quarter finals to the ultimate winners Coleraine. Team performances were consistently good in a league where anyone could beat anyone and the title was there for the taking.
This fine Aquinas team became a victim of their own cup run successes which resulted in a massively congested set of league fixtures at the end of the season. In fact, they played half of their league fixtures during the last 5 weeks! Such physical pressure took its toll in the form of matches drawn which should really have been won, creating daylight between the team and their nearest title rivals Hillsborough.
Aquinas only lost four out of twenty two league games as did their rivals, the difference being those drawn matches. Finishing second and achieving fifty one league goals for and twenty seven against, this tremendous group of lads deservedly won promotion back to the Premiership.
16 Star had it’s usual rollercoaster of a year, pulling off some stunning results and, at times, leaving manager John O’Rourke totally lost for words. No, honestly! John was assisted, once again, by Paul Cullen, who could also be rendered dumbfounded on occasions. Nonetheless, the team achieved a reasonable finishing spot and had the pleasure of seeing their top goalscorer, James O’Rourke blast his way into the 100 club, becoming the tenth player to achieve that milestone, and the second in this season.
Both 17 teams had mixed seasons. Aquinas, under the watchful eyes of Paul Crossey and Danny McGeown and Star, guided by Colm Rafferty, Jim Devlin and Kieran Matthews continued to play good, attractive football which sometimes brought with it the rewards of victory and on other occasions the frustration of things just not gelling in front of goal.
The club fielded two under 18 teams in the league this year, again. One team, largely of the 1999 births remained under the control of Kevin Kerr, Garry Cullen, Luke Kelly and James McDaid. The other, largely the 1998 were looked after by Mark Johnston and John McAuley. Both teams competed well throughout the season but silverware eluded them.
Once again the Firsts stared out with all guns blazing, notching up a fine set of wins in the league. However, as so often in previous years, December proved to be a frustrating month and with points dropped promotion seemed out of our reach with a third place finish. However, the blue’n’black never lose hope and with a decision to promote three teams that year, once more we were on the move up to 2A. Happy days!
The Seconds were determined not to be outdone by the Firsts this year! Pascal Donnelly had bid farewell to Eamon Vize from the dugout but was joined by John McAuley, helping with the Seconds as well as the under 18s. We don’t know what Mrs McAuley thought of that, but we were glad! The team got off to a flying start. Then it had a flying middle and ...guess what it did at the end of the season? That’s right, it flew. The team scored something like 120 goals, even more than Denis Kelly’s and Damien Hughes’s old 1996ers, who liked to bang them in. It was a goal scoring feat that will, probably never be beaten ... are you listening 2008ers? ... and it ensured us the NAFL Division 3E league title .. and then some! Well done guys.
Seriously though, it’s worth recording that the Seconds goal feast represented the highest number of goals scored by a team in NAFL history .. and it goes back until 1924. In addition, the team’s goal difference was the highest ever too. The team only lost two games all season. This is all the more impressive when we consider that, in total, forty five players pulled on the famous blue’n’black jersey during the season. Well done and thanks to all of them, and to Pascal and John. Great achievement.