Aquinas moving steadily towards glorious future
Aquinas may already look primed for a serious tilt at a second successive league title, but any early expectations are being played down, on the surface at least.
History has shown that the winners of Division 2C often follow up with a 2B title victory in the following season, and the south Belfast outfit have shown all the indications that they can continue the trend, having won all four of their league encounters to date.
Yet you won’t hear joint managers Noel McKee (pictured) and Stephen McDonald talking up their title chances - certainly not at this stage. In fact, the latter insists it is a case of ‘steady as she goes.’
McDonald told The Park: “Our initial aim when we set up the senior team six years ago was to get into the Amateur League, and we did that within five years. We won 2C in our first season and our reserves won 3F, and now we are taking it year by year.”
Part of that process has been employing the services of well-respected coach John McCormick and goalkeeping coach Lawrence Watson, and it appears the club are beginning to reap the benefits of their work already.
McDonald continued: “”The thing is that Noel and I know our limitations. John and Lawrence are doing things that we wouldn’t be able to do.
“Our aim this year isn’t necessarily to win the league, but to get promotion, and we feel the new coaches will give us a big chance of achieving that. It is going along well.”
Things are going very well indeed, with the side notching up 22 goals in four games. Their top-scoring striker Martin Ramsey, who hit 23 goals last season, looks well on the way to smashing that record, having hit seven already this term.
It is equally impressive at the opposite end of the pitch too, with goalkeeper Stephen Logan having so far only conceded five goals, and showing the strength in depth within the squad. He had high standards to live up to, with previous first team keeper, McDonald’s son Gavin, having conceded just 15 goals for the entirety of last season.
Logan has stepped up to the plate, with McDonald set to miss a large part of this campaign with a broken wrist.
The joint manager stated: “We have a great level of competition at the club, and in fact, the other night we had 38 players at our training.
“That was a big part of why we started the senior team. The club itself has been going for 45 years, with teams from Under-8s right up, but it seemed nonsensical that they were playing to senior age, and then finding somewhere else to play.
“Now we have a lot of players who could probably be playing at a much higher level, but they want to stay at Aquinas because everyone they know is here. There is a family feel to the place, and I think we have an advantage over other clubs who don’t have such a big youth set-up.”
One of the benefits of being in the Amateur League is the number of cup competitions the side are able to compete in, but it is clear that while the league will always remain number one to Aquinas, there is one other tournament that holds particular appeal to them.
McDonald added: “The Junior Cup is a brilliant competition. Last year we travelled to Greysteel, Irvinestown,and Coagh, and we got great hospitality everywhere we went.
“We beat Lurgan Institute at home in the first round this time, and play Magherafelt Sky Blues at home in the second round later this month. Hopefully we can get ourselves through and get an away draw in the next round.”
As far as journeys go, the road ahead for Aquinas may well hold plenty of memories and potentially more success in store.