The youngsters from Ballymena and Clontarf who took part in a combined festival at Castle Avenue recently learnt more about the ethos of rugby – it is as much about friendship off the pitch as rivalry on it.
Last weekend Ballymena Youth Rugby and Clontarf Rugby Club continued with their groundbreaking cross-border initiative.
The two clubs have become partners in an effort to secure closer cross-border links and show their young players that rugby brings people together in a way in which they can compete but still make new friends.
The event was organised by Clontarf’s Youth Director Rory Ryan. He had brought West of Scotland and Suttonians to the club and all four youth teams competed in a round robin competition.
The highlight of the day for the coaches and players was a match where Clontarf and Ballymena formed two teams made up from players of both clubs.
This saw Ballymena boys pull on Clontarf jerseys and Clontarf players put on the famous Ballymena black shirt. It may well have been a friendly fixture but the boys on both teams held nothing back and the tackles were soon flying in.
Indeed, it seemed that both teams enjoyed making big hits on their own club-mates as much as anything else.
The match actually did see some great rugby played which showed how the boys from both clubs bonded together and were able to perform to a high level.
In the clubhouse, Clontarf President Jim McIlveen welcomed all the boys but had a special word for the boys from Clontarf and Ballymena.
He was delighted that this initiative had been undertaken and believed it showed that ‘the future of rugby both north and south is in good hands.’
He told a large audience that several Presidents from other Ccubs had contacted him to hear more about the initiative and that they hoped to follow the lead set by the two Youth sections.
The Suttonians President echoed McIlveen’s words and he said that many clubs were impressed with the efforts being made by Clontarf and Ballymena.
Tom Wiggins, Ballymena’s Youth Convenor, thanked Clontarf for the hospitality but then turned his attention to the boys. He said that since the initiative started, the boys had shown fabulous enthusiasm and their willingness to compete and make new friendships would put many adults to shame.
He told the boys he hoped to run a tournament next season at Ballymena where Clontarf and Ballymena would join together to put two joint teams up against four other teams. This would truly be a first in Irish rugby, with joint Youth teams playing in a competitive rugby tournament.
The day was a great success and another important step in the development of this exciting initiative. Ballymena RFC would particularly like to thank Glens of Antrim Potatoes who have both supported and sponsored this very worthwhile endeavour.
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