Let’s hear it for the girls

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Ballymena Showgrounds will host a women’s international featuring Northern Ireland and the Republic on Saturday as a curtain raiser to the Dale Farm Milk Cup.

Organisers hope the game will further enhance the appeal of the international youth tournament which sees matches staged in the Ballymena area next week, culminating with finals night at the Warden Street venue on Friday week.

Down the years the highly successful international youth tournament has occasionally staged women’s games but now the organising committee are looking at the possibility of incorporating an official competitive event within their tournament.

“It is not a new venture in the sense we have had women’s matches before over the years but we have been exploring ways of introducing an annual competition,” says tournament chairman Victor Leonard.

“The rise in popularity of the women’s game over the past decade is fantastic and we have long felt that our event should reflect that.”

Committee members are working with some of the organisers of the Carrickfergus International Ladies Football Festival which successfully ran for several years in East Antrim and attracted teams from across Northern Ireland, the UK and beyond.

Ballymena Showgrounds will host an Under-17 friendly between Northern Ireland the Republic of Ireland this Saturday at 3pm as a potential pre-cursor to a future women’s competition.

“We are hoping the match will be supported by the public,” says Victor who points to the increase in popularity of the women’s game in recent years and the success of the recent World Cup in Canada.

“I think it is important that our tournament incorporates an element of the women’s game.

“The excitement generated by the Women’s World Cup was impressive and merited by the high standard of matches.”

The 33rd Dale Farm Milk Cup tournament officially begins with the traditional parade of competing teams through Coleraine on Sunday, July 26, concluding with finals night at Ballymena Showgrounds on Friday, July 31.