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It's a real game of two halves as young GAA and rugby stars unite through sport

By Ivan Little

They may kick with different feet but the shooting stars from a rugby club and a GAA side from Lurgan will have their sights on the same goal next month.

For the town's under-12 rugby players and their opposite numbers from St Peter's Gaelic Athletic Club are coming together for an unusual game of two halves which they hope will lead to a new informal Lurgan United breakthrough.

Some 400 youngsters are expected to take part in the exciting new initiative on Saturday, September 9, at the rugby club in Pollock Park.

And after receiving coaching on how to play each other's games, the youthful sportsmen will line up for matches where the first half will be rugby and the second period Gaelic football.

As yet un-named senior stars of Ulster Rugby and St Peter's GAC will be attending the cross-community event to show off their skills and to sign autographs.

One of Ulster's hottest new stars, free-scoring full-back Jacob Stockdale - whose parents live in Lurgan - has agreed to become ambassador of the junior section of the town's rugby club, who are known as the Tigers.

But next week sport won't be the only name of the game in Lurgan.

For organisers hope that the special fun day will break down barriers in the often polarised town.

Raymond Acheson, events manager of the rugby club, said the idea is a follow-up to a series of pioneering tie-ups between the two codes in Lurgan.

He added: "Our communities need to be closer together. And we are very keen to help facilitate that."

Youth teams from the rugby club and from the Eire Og GAC in Craigavon have already met up in recent times.

Raymond said: "We've all been working very hard to undo the divisions that exist in Lurgan and we want kids from both codes to have an opportunity to try other sports."

It's estimated that over 2,000 youngsters are affiliated to GAA clubs in the Lurgan area while only a tiny fraction of that number play rugby.

But Raymond insisted: "This isn't an attempt on our part to poach GAA footballers. I think the Gaelic clubs are comfortable with the fact that there's very little overlap between their season and the rugby season.

"We would also like our players to be involved with Gaelic football clubs too.

"We just want to give all the youngsters a flavour of the two codes, and we hope it'll be the first of many such community-based events.

"All the kids who attend will go home with a rugby ball with both crests on it."

St Peter's GAC executive committee member Jimmy Magee says his club are also thrilled with the new relationship.

"Our clubs go way, way back. In the '70s we visited each other's grounds to play games which were more to do with social occasions than anything else.

"But we remained in touch and our thoughts centred recently on community relations and how we might bring our youngsters from the ages of six and 12 together.

"Research tells you that friendships which are formed in sport can last a lifetime. This game of two halves next month can only serve to bolster relations in Lurgan generally.

"And we plan to reciprocate with another event at St Peter's Park before too long."

A number of senior Gaelic footballers in Lurgan are reportedly poised to play rugby for the town's team after their GAA commitments are over. And it's anticipated that rugby players will also turn out for GAA clubs.

Raymond admitted: "It's changed times and that can only be good for everyone, a win-win for the entire community."

Officials from Lurgan Rugby Club and St Peter's had a series of meetings to explore the possibilities of a liaison.

Raymond said: "We quickly realised that there's a great synergy between the two sports which share a lot of skills, especially when it comes to ball-handling and positional play.

"Many rugby internationals played GAA sports before they ever turned to the oval ball game. And some stars who played for Ireland went back to their Gaelic roots after retiring from rugby."

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