2017 - 2018

Some things never change. Like mini soccer, thank goodness! At it’s usual time and place, numbers shot up to record levels with up to eighty children attending. Neil and Maurice had their usual band of merry men helping them with the drills and small sided games, not mention setting up and putting away the site. Ah, the glamour of children’s football. Jurgen Klopp, what are you missing! Neil was joined this year by one of our older players, Eoghan Turkington, formerly with 2000 Star.

 

Once again, it ran from September to November, ending for Christmas with a brilliant trip to the cinema. Neil organised this for the mini soccer children and under 9s up to under 58s. He took us to see the emotionally charged, tearjerker, Paddington 2. And what a day it was, a private showing down in the MGM on Dublin Road, over 150 children rapt and quiet – NOT.

 

Mini soccer resumed in February and carried onto June, with a break for Easter and those few occasions when we were blessed with a bit of rain. Tournaments with other clubs were arranged every now and again to prepare the children who would be going into under 9 in 2018/2019 for the tempo and excitement of the modern professional game. Okay, I may have got carried away a bit there!

 

Once again, Neil and his small band of helpers, mainly our older players from under 16 and older ran a very successful and enjoyable Easter and Summer camp, the latter enjoying unheard of temperatures for an Aquinas event. August saw the football frenzy again, on a much larger scale than the previous, first, year. Over forty teams took part in the four day event and .. guess what .. the sun continued to shine.

 

Lots of new under 9 coaches donned their Aquinas coats and took to the sidelines with gusto. These coaches – Paul Jordan, Michael Morris, James Murphy, Laurence Higgins, Paddy McDonald, Gerry Carlisle and all the rest, because there was a multitude of them – were met by the old hand, Michael Flanagan. He had been coaching a couple of years with an older team and dropped down to take on this younger team. His experience was a great advantage.

 

Development football is non-competitive in the sense that scores aren’t recorded and there’s no league tables produced. The under 9s play seven a side on small sided pitches and they had a ball – lot’s in fact – all season. Saturday morning was much anticipated by the forty or so blue’n’black south Belfasters. The squad grew in ability and confidence throughout the year and enjoyed their football.

 

Paul Skeffington and his under 10 coaches, Adrian O’Connell, Shauna Hegarty, Kevin McGarrity, Gareth Ridgeway, Justin Smith, Damien Duffy, Eamon Leonard and any I have forgotten couldn’t wait to get back to early starts motoring all over Belfast on a Saturday morning. The under 10 players also played seven a side games and under their coaches enthusiastic guidance, they too developed as the year grew on and have grown into a handy couple of teams in their IFA sections.

 

The under 11s entered the SBYL for the first time, playing nine a side football and without the IFA’s two month winter break. We get cold in the SBYL!! Fielding two teams, Joey McKavangh, and Peter Mulgrew looked after the Aquinas team, while Barry Burns, Liam Polley and Pearse Collins watched over the Star team. The SBYL proved slightly more challenging than the IFA set up but both teams proved themselves capable of holding their own, playing some nice football along the way and producing, I suspect, some Aquinas legends in the years to come.

 

Brian Friel, Neil Barr, Niall Parkhill, Sean Bradley and Owen Gallagher are old hands at this managing and coaching as they brought their two under 13 teams to the start of a new season. The boys played at a variety of pitches across Belfast and, again, more than held their own, chalking up some impressive victories, particularly the Aquinas team when the coaches had their full starting line up available. The team also took part in the competition organised at Rathmore when Paul Fay, our first Senior manager, now based in Manchester brought his under 12 Altringham team over.

 

Now, I know you have been reading patiently through all this and you’re wondering, when is the silverware going to appear. Well, fear not, it’s upon us. Sure, wouldn’t you know that our intrepid 2005 managers – Lawrence Watson, Conall McGarry, David McVeigh and Conor Cummins – are never too far away from the silver polisher! The Aquinas team won the league at this age group at under 12, so this time it was the turn of the Star team, who after a rampant season, dropping very few points, scooped their league reasonably comfortably. Nice one guys! Which of you are going to win it next year? No pressure, Lawrence!

 

Both 14s continued to play some good football and chalk up some notable successes, both in the league and their cup runs. As so often, though, other games , where the teams combated fiercely, saw the same old, same old frustrations with things just not going our way. At the end of the season the long standing managers of the Aquinas team, Michael Gorman, Kieran McCooe and Brendan Kavanagh stepped down after having been with the team since under 9. Thanks to them for their years of service.

 

2016/2017 was a frustrating year for the 2003s and their manager, Pat McCauley. 2017/2018 would be the exact opposite. With new players brought in and a strengthened squad the team took to the pitch with rebnewed vigour and determination. Some results were disappointing – a very cantankerous affair at Wedderburn comes to mind – but it wasn’t long until the squad got into it’s stride, started gelling well and started banking up the points.

 

The Supplementary Cup was won at New Year and as league victory after league victory was recorded, it wasn’t long before the league title came into sight and was, similarly, brought to South Belfast to join the Cup in the club’s trophy cabinet – (which doesn’t exist).

 

15 Star continued to grow in confidence and ability. With Hugh McKillop now full time with the team, augmenting the experience of Martin Blaney and Damien Fogarty, the team enjoyed itself on the field and , indeed, pulled off some surprise coups along the way, taking the scalps of some teams who munderestinated the lads in blue’n’black. On top of that, the squad could also boast it’s own drone!

 

We started out with two under 16 teams but, unfortunately, the smallness of the Aquinas squad started to bite during the season and the team couldn’t complete the season. 16 Star benefited from some of the Aquinas team’s players to augment it’s already talented squad. In the league, the team finished very respectably, but it was ion the cup that it really shone, booking a spot in the final of the SBYL Bowl. The ngame played at the start of May saw the trophy on it’s way to South Belfast. Well done Jason and the lads. ... and, of course, Paul and Danny too, when called upon.

 

The 17s had been promoted back to the premiership last year, after several seasons in Division one. The first task of any newly promoted team is to avoid relegation and to cope with the stronger demands of the premiership. With five league titles behind him the canny Denis Kelly, aided as always by the big doc, Adrian McCauley and Michael McGranaghan,  set about strengthening the team even further. With a nice cup run and some great football and impressive scalps the aim was easily met and the team finished in a comfortable position in its first year back in the top tier. Denis will be plotting a title run next year!!

 

John O’Rourke and Paul Cullen picked up a few of Denis’s players and set out on the new season with the same gusto and irrepressible enthusiasm and hope that the boul’ John  brings to the touchline. It was another year of great and sometimes unexpected wins against top teams only to see games lost or drawn against lesser sides. In the end, the team finished in a respectable mid table position. It reminds you of an English team ... oh yes, Everton!

 

The under 18s this year were the 2000s mainly. We only ran the one team and despite key injuries, it performed well and finished strongly. Once again Paul Crossey and Danny McGeown managed the team.

 

The First’s had been promoted to Division 2A for the new season and relished the challenges it brought. They got off to a flying start and competed for the league in the early part of the season. However a couple of frustrating results with points dropped and a spate of injuries which, similarly, caused games that should have been won to be drawn, or lost, it looked as if the league had slipped from us.

 

However, you never underestimate the blue’n’black. As other teams also succumbed to pressures of injury and packed fixtures lists on balmy April evenings, a resolute attitude which saw the blue’n’black dig in and claw their way back into contention meant that we went into the last game of the season against Tullycarnet, at Dundonold knowing that we were promoted and that the winners of the game would take the league title. Unfortunately, it was one of those games! Nothing really worked. The smallness of the pitch constantly saw long balls overreach and its compact nature did not provide for expansive passing play. It didn’t happen and we had to be content with second place and promotion.

 

Promotion is not the worst thing with which to have to be content. Promotion was to the Intermediate league, the league just below the Irish league. The Seniors were set up in 2010. This meant that in eight years we had won six promotions, going from Division 3 of the Belfast and District league to the Intermediate league in that time.

 

It’s a tremendous achievement and the club applauds all those involved, from managers Noel McKee, Stephen McDonald, John McCormack, club captain Paddy Turley, a truly legendary servant of Aquinas Football Club, and all the many players who have donned the famous blue’n’black jerseys for the Seniors since that first match at the YMCA in August 2010.

 

The Seconds, under John McAuley, Conall McGarry and Conor Cummins, were not to be outdone by the Firsts. They had another great year, blasting most of those in front of them well out of the way. Although we had no success in the cup and although Division 3D, to which we had been promoted at the end of last year, wasn’t won we had that rising feeling again with promotion won to 3c for 2018/2019. Well done lads and John, Conall and Conor.

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