Info and events Northern Ireland manager and Belfast Lord Mayor on the ball for launch of Extern’s Fun Cup 2019 Northern Ireland senior men’s international football manager Michael O’Neill and outgoing Belfast Lord Mayor Deirdre Hargey have ‘pitched in’ together to launch the Extern Fun Cup, one of the biggest and brightest youth footballing tournaments to hit the city this summer. The competition, organised by leading social justice charity Extern, will see around 200 young people aged 11 to 18 from across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland competing in a special series of matches at Girdwood Community Hub in north Belfast, on Thursday, August 1st. The teams are drawn from Extern’s youth projects across Northern Ireland and the Republic, and the talented youngsters will be showing off their skills in the hope of taking the title of Fun Cup Champions 2019. Many of those taking part will have benefitted from Extern’s diverse range of youth work projects aimed at tackling mental health issues, developing educational and employability skills or those living in the care system, among others. This year's tournament host is the Pieces Project, whose team were last year’s victors at the Fun Cup in Limerick. The Belfast city centre-based project promotes positive mental health and well-being for young people as part of Extern’s Youth Engagement Services (YES) programme. Meeting some of last year’s Fun Cup stars at the launch of the tournament Michael O’Neill highlighted the vital role sporting events play in bringing young people together: “There are a lot of tournaments now for kids throughout Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, but the Fun Cup is special because it brings people together from both sides of the border,” he said. “Going back to my own days at school, sport always helped bring together kids from all backgrounds. It was great to see the young footballers at the launch and I’m sure this will be a great tournament which Extern can continue to build upon, year on year.” The event is also being supported with a hospitality grant from Belfast City Council, and outgoing Lord Mayor of Belfast Deirdre Hargey said she was delighted the event will bring so many young people to the city, many of them for the first time. “I’m looking forward to seeing teams of boys and girls from across Ireland coming into Belfast to enjoy the game and meet new friends,” she said. “The Fun Cup will be a brilliant experience for these young people, as it will allow them to harness their skills in a sport that they enjoy. And, who knows, we may have some international stars in the making!” She added: “This is the sort of work Extern does so well in terms of engaging young people, whether it’s those living in the care system, or those who maybe find themselves tackling mental health issues or who feel isolated or excluded from other organisations. Extern really reaches out to them and develops their skills so they can become leaders within their own communities and across the city. Using sports as a way of engaging with young people is great because it cuts across all barriers and divisions; you’re there as a team and it helps create memories that you will take with you into adulthood. With events like this the young players will make friendships they can cherish for years to come.” Extern CEO Charlie Mack said: “The Extern Fun Cup is much more than a football tournament. Each year, for the young people involved, it is a cornerstone from which they can begin to glimpse a view of a brighter future, as they begin to realise there is ‘more out there’ than that which they have been predominantly exposed to in their lives. “Also, for our staff, the Fun Cup also acts as one of the key vehicles they use each year as a conduit for the delivery of our life-changing psychological and social care interventions. “In short, Extern knows that when children are enabled to have fun and are able to park their worries, then they begin to open up to our staff that little bit more, their confidence begins to increase, they realise that losing or being unsuccessful doesn’t mean that they can’t try again, and that there are always other options available.” The Extern Fun Cup will take place at Girdwood Community Hub, Belfast, on August 1st.