They are both famously competitive and have played their fair share of hockey and polo. But challenged to try some traditional Irish sports today, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge faced a steep learning curve. The future King and Queen became the first members of the royal family to ever visit a Gaelic Athletic Association club, gamely taking part in Gaelic football training drills and a hurling shoot out with young members of the Salthill and Knocknacarra club.
WATCH: William and Kate try hurling and Gaelic football
After a couple of botched attempts, both Prince William and Kate managed to connect with the sliotar – the ball used in hurling – and eventually score a goal each, to the delight of the huge crowds who had gathered to watch. The gesture was seen as hugely symbolic given the GAA's traditionally staunch Republican membership.
Speaking after the visit, Club secretary Conor McGauran said: "Symbolically it's a massive deal for us. The royals have never set foot in a GAA Club before. They're doing it in our club in Galway and in Salthill and Knocknacarra today. It's hugely emotional for us.
“It's history being made. Plain and simple. People have been in Croke Park before but they've never been in a GAA club before and I think it’s a massive indication from the royal family about their hopes and intentions to connect even further with the community of Ireland, not just parts of Ireland or the hierarchy. This is more than just symbolic, this is them playing our national sport, this is them getting involved in a community-based organisation that’s completely run by volunteerism, so to me it's a huge message of support for Irish-British relations."
The Queen at Croke Park in 2011
William and Kate's outing follows the Queen's momentous visit to Dublin's Croke Park stadium in 2011, which had been unthinkable just a few years earlier. The ground was the site of the shooting of 14 civilians by British soldiers in November 1920, sparking decades of anger and mistrust. But the British monarch's visit was hailed as a historic moment for Anglo-Irish reconciliation. The Prince of Wales managed to hit the sliotar on a visit to Kilkenny Castle in 2017. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex also visited Croke Park during their visit to Dublin as newlyweds in 2018.
Today, as the Cambridges lined up to take shots at goal on rival teams. Kate joined up with Niamh McGauran and Neasa Garvey, both 10, while William joined Devon Burke and Oisin Morrissey, also 10. As his wife, wearing a bright coral sweater and black jeans with New Balance trainers, stepped up for her first attempt, William gently teased her, saying: "You’re on camera. No pressure!"
After a couple of near misses, they both hit the sliotar over the posts – scoring a point each – before trying one more time and each getting it past the goalkeeper, throwing their hands up in celebration. A scoreboard recorded a narrow victory for Kate's team, winning 13 points to 10 over William's side.
Kate tries her hand at Gaelic football
Earlier, the Duke and Duchess were applauded as they stepped onto the pitch by crowds gathered along the sidelines. As they watched youngsters playing hurling and camogie they were talked through the action by Michael Howe, Juvenile Hurling Director, and Susan Murray, Camogie Director. Then they had a go at handling the hurl – or hurley, depending on which part of Ireland you are in.
William asked the youngsters: "Can you show us how to do the drills? Are you guys really good? I've never done this before. I’ve played hockey, but I've never done this before." The royals also watched children practising football skills before joining in with their drills, going "toe-to-hand" – running and kicking the ball into their own hands, again earning them cheers and applause from the sidelines.
Asked to comment on the royal visitors' sporting skills, Conor replied: “Their technique was excellent. I’m blown away. To be honest, I’m really impressed. I thought their efforts were immense. They connected straight away with the sliota, we train our kids from a young age but they just took to it. I could tell they had done sports like hockey and polo before, that’s where it comes from they had the hand – eye coordination.
"People had told the team they are slightly competitive, I would say the slightly should be removed! I would say they're very competitive as a couple – in a nice way! Every partnership should be built on competition as well, right? They had a lot of questions and they kept asking the children, which was the best way to go about it. They asked the children, 'how difficult is this? How should I go about it?' And particularly on the shots, I could hear them asking for advice. It's wonderful to hear adults asking children for advice."
William tries hurling
He also revealed the club had had a three-week makeover to prepare it for the royal visit, joking: "We've been wiping and painting for the last three weeks solid. We've had about ten years of upgrades and facility improvements in three weeks! It'll always be a memory that we'll have of the visit of William and Catherine."
The royal couple posed for a group photograph and were presented with three miniature club jerseys for Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, as well as a hurley and sliotar to take home.
The GAA governs traditional Irish sports including Hurling, Gaelic football and Camogie and has 2,200 clubs in all 32 counties of Ireland. In recent years the number of girls playing has increased significantly and there are now equal numbers with boys. Hurlers and Footballers are treated equally in the club as are all genders and ages and it has a focus on community identity, volunteering, respect and inclusion.
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