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Arnas Irzikevicius Swans off to Swansea

Arnas Irzikevicius Swans off to Swansea

09 April 2014

Arnas Irzikevicius is the winner of PlayBall's Street Striker 2014. The talented kid will be jetted off to Premiership side Swansea City FC for a week’s trial in May.

Following the success of the last two years, PlayBall Street Striker is bigger and better, widening its scope to all of Northern Ireland including North, South, East and West Belfast; Derry/ Londonderry, Larne, Cookstown and Newry. The cross community programme targets budding footballers from age 14 to 17, with the aim of encouraging Northern Irelands youth from right across the political and religious spectrum to come together through the power of sport in a vibrant fun atmosphere.

Running for eight weeks each PlayBall Street Striker saw over 200 young football fanatics aged 14-17, come together across Northern Ireland to participate in a competition to showcase their football skills.

Each qualifier kicked off with a brand new good relations workshop, facilitated by local Irish League players Stephen Garrett, Cliftonville and Michael Gault, Linfield. The workshops explored how cultural expression can be celebrated and embraced. Stephen Garrett talk's about the workshop from his perspective;

'I am thoroughly delighted and excited to work as part of the PlayBall Street Striker Programme this year. I think it's a great concept for several reasons including developing young talent, providing opportunities that currently don't exist, improving community safety and encouraging positive social activity of young people. This year's programme included a new educational component aimed at empowering the participants with knowledge and understanding that will allow them to make informed, positive decisions.
The educational aspect took the form of a workshop designed to convey the experiences of both myself and Michael Gault on the topic of symbols, emblems and flags in local football. Coming from the Protestant community and Michael from a Catholic one, we have played football for clubs of a perceived different background. We have encountered some difficulties and issues but ultimately found that the power of sport and particularly football can overcome the barriers that divide our community. By talking about our experiences and how we overcame them we hopefully advised, informed and educated the next generation to do the same'.

PlayBall Street Striker involved competing in street soccer challenges including freestyle and events such as target shooting, boxes and obstacle courses, with the ultimate goal of landing the fantastic prize of a week's trial at Swansea City FC. The final provided an opportunity for budding footballers to impress both Stephen Garrett and Michael Gault.

Stephen Garrett said 'Over the course of the PlayBall Street Striker Programme I have been extremely appreciative of the ability to work alongside many young people from a range of diverse backgrounds. In my opinion the delivery of the good relations based workshops has made a real impact in terms of challenging the attitudes and actions of many at risk young people. There has been effective learning outcomes achieved and this highlights the power of sport and positive role models in creating positive change between divided communities. In regards to the assessment part of the programme I have been highly impressed with the standard of the applicants, many of which would put myself & Michael Gault to shame in terms of football skills. The organisation and delivery has been top notch and credit must go to PlayBall for delivering such an innovative and effective good relations and diversionary project. The final itself shaped up to be a great occasion and I'd like to congratulate everyone on making it this far. The competition was fierce and the eventual winner, Arnas is certainly a very worthy one'

PlayBall Street Striker is managed and delivered by Paul Shaw, Sports Development Officer at PlayBall, the state of the art football facility at The Pavilion, Stormont. The project was supported by a number of stakeholders such as local community groups, PSNI, Swansea City FC, McDonalds Dundonald and Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

Paul was delighted with the success of PlayBall Street Striker 2014, and said;

"For the 3d year running PlayBall Street Striker has made a real impact on local communities and I am happy to say that the primary objective, to encourage young people from different backgrounds to participate in a positive social activity, has been achieved. All of the participants have had the opportunity to learn from the experiences of two top Irish League footballers and will now have a greater understanding of the beliefs and cultures of other communities. I would like to wish Arnas the best of luck at his Swansea City FC trial and also say a huge thanks to everyone involved including the participants, community groups, judges and facilities that enabled the project to take place. I would also like to thank for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister for the funding to enable us to expand the project to cover eight venues in Northern Ireland. We hope to build on the momentum gathered from PlayBall Street Striker and start the planning process for PlayBall Street Striker 2015, with ambitions to reach more participants than ever before."

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