Football legends launch coaching scheme to encourage new players into the game

Two Northern Ireland football legends have launched a new coaching scheme to encourage the next generation of stars to play for fun.

International manager Michael O’Neill and goalkeeping great Pat Jennings were urging parents to sign their children up for the free introductory sessions to the game at an event in Belfast.

The Irish Football Association (IFA) has teamed up with McDonald’s to deliver the Fun Football programme across Northern Ireland. O’Neill and Jennings put children from Fane Street primary school in Belfast through their paces after the launch at Windsor Park.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill, bottom, and former international goalkeeper Pat Jennings at the launch
Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill, bottom, and former international goalkeeper Pat Jennings at the launch (Matt Mackey/Press Eye/PA)

The free “turn up and play” sessions are designed to introduce thousands of children, aged five to 11, regardless of gender or disability, to football for the first time.

They are part of the overall Fun Football programme which will see 250,000 hours of coaching and games delivered to more than 75,000 children from across Northern Ireland.

The programme is part of McDonald’s four-year partnership with football associations across the UK.

“I am proud to be involved in this programme which will deliver increased inclusivity and footballing opportunities for children to enjoy the game across the country,” O’Neill said.

“I would actively encourage parents whose children are not associated with a local football club to get involved and try out the new programme, and with more than 700 free football sessions for five to 11-year-olds happening over the next month across the UK, now is a great time to get involved.

“As a father myself, I know how important it is to encourage a lifelong love of sport and an active lifestyle.

“Through the McDonald’s Fun Football programme, we want to provide over five million hours of football for children, introducing more than half-a-million new players across the UK to the game by 2022.

“I hope the coaches and children have enjoyed today as much as I have.”

Jennings, who is a McDonald’s Football Ambassador and Northern Ireland’s record cap holder, added: “It is a great honour to work with McDonald’s and the IFA to bring footballing opportunities to thousands of children across Northern Ireland.

“Fun Football is another hugely positive boost for the local grassroots game and I’m delighted to be involved in this initiative which is integral to the overall partnership between McDonald’s and the IFA.

“Inclusivity is at the heart of all McDonald’s football programmes and Fun Football will really deliver upon this vision for the next few years.”

For further information visit or follow @FunFootballUK on Twitter and Instagram.

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