On Sunday 22nd January, the Aquinas U16 girls team travelled to Carrickmacross, Co. Monaghan, to compete in their first ever All-Ireland qualifiers. Up until four years ago, there had not been a girl’s basketball programme in the school. Recognising the potential for developing a club-link Mary Matthews, Queen’s Basketball Club, volunteered to work alongside Marie McCool, Head of Girls P.E., in order to set up a weekly after school programme to give girls in Aquinas an opportunity to play basketball.
History of Ballers
Aquinas Grammar School, situated on the Ravenhill Road in Belfast, has a proud history of producing some excellent basketball talent. Some of you may remember Connall Mallory, Mark ‘Robbo’ Robinson
or Chris Moore [Editor: Apparently not. Thanks Conor Lilly]who were tremendous schools’ basketball players. Let’s not forget Ben Horner, currently studying and hooping in Brighton, or Ciaran Ashe and Joe Burns, who are both playing for Belfast Star in the Superleague. Despite never getting the opportunity to play school’s basketball, Ainé Lenaghan was a terrific junior player while Ulster Rockets’ very own ‘road-runner’, Aisling Murray, is a well-respected basketball player throughout Ireland.
Not only has Aquinas produced basketball talent but Joe McAufield, Head of Boys P.E., has generated a culture around the game that lead to the creation of Belfast Storm, which included junior boys teams and a senior men’s squad. The setting up and management of the former club team included another Aquinas alum, Conor Lilly, Competitions Officer for Basketball Ireland.
As a new team to the All-Ireland schools’ ‘C’ competition, no-one could predict how Aquinas’ girls would perform against the reputably strong competition from across the border. The tournament was hosted by Colaiste Oriel with three qualifying games for each team played in the Phoenix Centre, Carrickmacross.
Aquinas vs Colaiste Oriel (Co. Monaghan)
The first game tipped off at 9.30am with Aquinas competing against the host team, Colaiste Oriel. The Aquinas bench played a significant role in securing the team’s first victory with contributions coming from Magee, Carlin and Murray. Colaiste Oriel boasted two very strong players, who compete in the BNI junior leagues with Donagh, Ni Chleire and Ni hAmaill. The final score: Aquinas 37 Oriel 22.
Aquinas vs St Tiernan’s (Co. Mayo)
The Aquinas team gained some confidence entering into the second game against St Tiernans who were without Kearns who picked up an injury in the previous game against the Kilcullen-side. Aquinas’ shooting guard, Short, made some excellent decisions in the half-court which helped put the team up 33-13 going into the second half. Defensive pressure by Boyle, Madden-McKee and Carey sparked transition offence for the Belfast team. This helped Aquinas secure a comfortable second victory with the final score: Aquinas 61 St Tiernan’s 20
Aquinas vs Cross & Passion (Co. Kildare)
To close-out the day, Aquinas would need one more victory against an athletic and talented Cross & Passion team who travelled with a bus load of loyal supporters. Having witnessed both teams pick up two comfortable wins, this final game would be the most competitive of the tournament as both teams were fighting for their spot in the semi-finals of the All-Ireland ‘C ‘competition. Cross & Passion put up a solid 2-3 zone defence which forced the Belfast-side to shoot from the outside. Although Aquinas struggled to knock down shots, hustle from McKeever and Murray, kept the team in the game with tremendous offensive rebounding. Aquinas were able to remain composed the final two minutes of the game with tremendous leadership from point guard, McFarland. The final score was: Aquinas 36 Cross & Passion 32.
Aquinas U16 girls advance to the next round and will compete in a semi-final against Kinsale CS in early March.
The Courtside Collective wish Aquinas U16 girls the best of luck for their upcoming game.
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