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William and Kate join Windsor Park kickabout during Belfast visit

The couple are on a two-day visit to Northern Ireland.

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The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge playing football with children during their visit to Windsor Park, Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge playing football with children during their visit to Windsor Park, Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge playing football with children during their visit to Windsor Park, Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge joined a kickabout at the home of football in Northern Ireland at the start of a two-day visit to the region.

William and Kate were on opposing sides during a high-energy game with local schoolchildren at Windsor Park in Belfast.

Having donned trainers for the occasion, both participated with gusto, running about with their young teammates, passing and tackling during the well-spirited encounter.

The tour of the recently redeveloped stadium marked the first engagement on what is the couple’s third official visit to Northern Ireland.

Later they were greeted by cheering children as they arrived at an outdoor activity centre in Co Fermanagh, and on Wednesday night they will attend an informal party for young people at Belfast’s famous Empire music hall.

On a day of competition for the royals, at the Roscor Youth Village Kate and William went head to head in a canoeing race on Lough Erne.

They were part of two teams which raced in Canadian canoes, with William’s boat crowned the winner, reaching the marker a few seconds ahead of Kate’s.

On the visit to the centre, which is run by the charity Extern, Kate also helped assemble a tent before taking part in a game of archery.

The duchess missed her first shot, but with some tips from the children hit the target on her second attempt.

Meanwhile, William’s balance was tested as he walked across a low-ropes assault course. Children urged him on until he made it to the end and they celebrated with a cheer.

On the Windsor Park turf, the duke and duchess both had a go at dribbling drills, to the delight of the young footballers.

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Kate comforts Jasmine Andrews after the youngster became overwhelmed by the occasion (Liam McBurney/PA)

Kate comforts Jasmine Andrews after the youngster became overwhelmed by the occasion (Liam McBurney/PA)

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Kate comforts Jasmine Andrews after the youngster became overwhelmed by the occasion (Liam McBurney/PA)

Kate ran around a marked-out square, keeping the ball under control, and also jogged up and down on the spot.

At one point, the duchess hugged and comforted nine-year-old Jasmine Andrews after she became emotional about the occasion.

Jasmine, a pupil at Fane Street primary school, later revealed how Kate had made her smile through the tears.

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The couple’s ball skills were also put to the test (Liam McBurney/PA)

The couple’s ball skills were also put to the test (Liam McBurney/PA)

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The couple’s ball skills were also put to the test (Liam McBurney/PA)

She said: “I got a little bit nervous and started to cry and she asked me was I a little bit shy, and I said ‘I am’, and she said that she used to be shy when she was little too.”

Igor Lackis, nine, said he had been impressed by the couple’s footballing skills.

“We were playing a football match together and they were pretty good, both of them were really good,” he said.

“I blocked the prince’s shots attempting to score.”

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The children involved said the royal couple’s football skills were impressive (Liam McBurney/PA)

The children involved said the royal couple’s football skills were impressive (Liam McBurney/PA)

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The children involved said the royal couple’s football skills were impressive (Liam McBurney/PA)

During their tour of the venue, the couple also met Northern Ireland footballing great Pat Jennings.

The former Tottenham and Arsenal goalkeeper is Northern Ireland’s record caps holder, with 119 appearances during a career that took in the 1982 and 1986 World Cups.

William and Kate were shown a bronze cast print of the stopper’s celebrated “safe hands” as they walked through the stadium’s heritage centre.

As William extended his arm to shake Jennings’s hand, he said: “Now there’s a man who needs no introduction.”

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William put his hands in the cast of Pat Jennings, watched by the former goalkeeper, centre (Liam McBurney/PA)

William put his hands in the cast of Pat Jennings, watched by the former goalkeeper, centre (Liam McBurney/PA)

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William put his hands in the cast of Pat Jennings, watched by the former goalkeeper, centre (Liam McBurney/PA)

William later put his own hands in the print, remarking to the record-breaking keeper: “You have really long fingers.”

Afterwards, Jennings praised the attitude of the royals.

“They are a special couple,” he said. “To come and do what they did today, entertained us and the kids.

“They have given not only us but the kids a day that they will never forget.”

Current Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill accompanied the couple on their tour of the venue.

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The couple were given a tour of the stadium by Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill (Liam McBurney/PA)

The couple were given a tour of the stadium by Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill (Liam McBurney/PA)

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The couple were given a tour of the stadium by Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill (Liam McBurney/PA)

O’Neill, who himself won 31 caps playing for Northern Ireland, has been credited with bringing the glory days back to the team during his tenure as boss.

He led the side to its first major tournament in 30 years at the 2016 European Championships in France.

Of the royal visitors, he said: “They are so personable, easy to chat to and made everybody feel relaxed.”

The national manager praised William’s football knowledge but joked that he should not count on his beloved Aston Villa making a return to the top of English football just yet.

“I don’t think he’s overly optimistic about watching Premiership football as a Villa fan in the near future,” said O’Neill.

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Kate chatted to the young girls taking part in the coaching session (Liam McBurney/PA)

Kate chatted to the young girls taking part in the coaching session (Liam McBurney/PA)

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Kate chatted to the young girls taking part in the coaching session (Liam McBurney/PA)

“He certainly knows his football and was very knowledgeable about how we had done and with the European Championship and the games that we face that lie ahead.”

During the visit, the couple learned more about the Irish Football Association’s community football projects and its work breaking down some of Northern Ireland’s traditional divides through sport.

They met people involved in an initiative aimed at encouraging more women into key decision-making roles within the game and also chatted to youngsters involved in the Goal programme – a project designed for those not in employment, education or training.

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The couple were given a T-shirt for each of their three children (Liam McBurney/PA)

The couple were given a T-shirt for each of their three children (Liam McBurney/PA)

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The couple were given a T-shirt for each of their three children (Liam McBurney/PA)

William and Kate also heard about IFA workshops and education courses that help students develop life skills.

They learned about the Stay Onside initiative, which works with criminal justice agencies in a bid to reduce offending rates.

The Cambridges also heard more about the game of Powerchair, an adapted version of football for wheelchair users.

As they left the stadium at the end of the visit, three school children presented the couple with three green Northern Ireland home shirts, with the names of their children George, Charlotte and Louis on the backs.

PA