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Aquinas boss McCormick hails title-winning heroes

Aquinas celebrate following their promotion to Division 1B after winning Division 2A in their first season as an Intermediate side Aquinas celebrate following their promotion to Division 1B after winning Division 2A in their first season as an Intermediate side
By Paddy Tierney

ONE year ago, Aquinas sealed Intermediate football after wining promotion from Division 2A as runners-up to Tullycarnet.
Some 12 months on, the South Belfast club have secured back-to-back promotions following their runaway Division 1C success.
Aquinas have only lost one game this season and are 10 points ahead of second-placed Bangor Amateurs.

John McCormick’s side actually made a lacklustre start to the season, drawing with Suffolk in their opening time before losing 1-0 to Woodvale.
Since then, their form has been stunning their remarkable run has surprised even their manager.

“We probably didn’t think we would win the league so emphatically, we were hopeful we could compete,” said McCormick.
“This was our first season in Intermediate football and we didn’t start the season well, we drew and lost in our first two matches.
“Since then, out of the next 23 games we’ve taken 63 points from a possible 69.

“That’s phenomenal. We just got a bit of momentum going and got our confidence going. In the cups, we didn’t do great, but we played well.
“That stood to us because we weren’t overloaded with fixtures and we were able to concentrate on the league.”

A promoted team will usually settle for consolidating their position the following season and that’s exactly what last year’s Division 2A winners Tullycarnet have done and appear destined for a mid-table finish. Aquinas, though, have romped to the title, winning Division 1C with games to spare.

When asked what has led to the continued improvement of his side, McCormick points to the development of the reserve team, who have mirrored the achievements of the senior squad by winning four promotions in five years and will end the season as Division 3C champions.

“I think last year, we were hopeful of winning the league, but we had five serious injuries in the run-in, said McCormick.
“That really halted us as we picked up injuries at the wrong time of the season. “This year, we’ve been lucky with injuries and we’d added a few players into the squad.

“Colm Davis joined us from Queen’s and Ryan Jenkins joined us from Donegal Celtic.
“The other big bonus for us has been the reserve players who have stepped up. The likes of James McKee, Ben Leonard, Conor Quigg have come in to the squad this season.
“If we retain the squad we have and maybe add one or two more, that’s all we are looking.

He added: “I’ve been at Aquinas now for four years and the improvement has come from the work that we’ve done with the players. It isn’t because we are bringing players in because we are moving up the leagues.
“Last weekend, both teams achieved promotion with 18 out of the 28 players coming through our youth system. We want to work with and improve the players we have.

“To have a good first team, you have to have a good reserve team and they won Division 3C. Both teams have had four promotions in the last five seasons in the Amateur League.”

The title victories come during the club’s 50th anniversary year with a series of events planned for 2019, including a gala dinner at City Hall.
Aquinas will complete this their season this Saturday with a trip to Clandeboye Road to take on Bangor Amateurs.

After that, McCormick will sit down with his coaching team of Ciaran Devlin, Noel McKee, Stephen McDonald and Lawrence Watson and begin planning for next year while reserve coaches John McAuley, Conor Cummings, Dermott Donaghy and Stevie Martin will do likewise.
He hopes to retain the majority of his squad for their Division 1B campaign next season, even though their remarkable rise through the NAFL ranks could attract the interest of some bigger clubs.

“If that’s what happens, players are always free to go,” added the Aquinas boss.
“The other side of that is, because so many players have come through the youth system, they want to play with the club. They like playing with the club, they like the coaching and the framework we have in place.

“They also like the style of football we play on a Saturday so they are keen to stay. If anyone gets a better offer, they would go with our best wishes, but we hope they are keen to stay.”

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