He may be in the form of his life for club and country, but Jacob Stockdale hasn’t forgotten where he comes from.
The Ulster and Ireland rugby star has found time to help out with a grassroots project with his local club – Lurgan – who are aiming to build positive relations with 16 schools in the area.
The 22-year-old, who will line up for Ireland in the upcoming Six Nations having scored a sensational try in the team’s only defeat of the All Blacks on Irish soil last November, has already visited four schools to invite children to take part in a 12-week coaching programme at Lurgan Rugby Club.
Although he has never played for Lurgan, Jacob has given his affiliation to the club and acts as an ambassador for the club’s junior section known as the Tigers.
He is also the undefeated coach of the club’s Under-20 team.
Gavin Warwick, the club’s Peace IV project manager, is amazed but not surprised at Jacob’s enthusiasm: “He’s doing this on his days off. He is very focused on where he comes from. He’s very keen to do the right thing in helping to build positive relations through sport. He doesn’t seek any kudos for it.”
He added: “After the formalities of the presentations Jacob is probably spending another hour with the kids, signing autographs and taking selfies.
“I don’t consider myself old but I’m more than twice Jacob’s age. When you are in your late forties speaking to an assembly of school kids they look at you thinking you’re old.
“Jacob is 22. They’re looking at him thinking he’s not much older than us. He speaks the same language as them, they can relate to him.
“It’s nice to have an accessible sporting star.”
Although Jacob was born in Newtownstewart, he moved to Lurgan as a schoolboy, going to school at Wallace HS in Lisburn. Up until very recently he lived with his mother and father in Lurgan, but has now moved to Belfast.
Gavin said: “Lurgan is a very polarised town. The overriding aim of the project is to reach the hand across the community. Although Lurgan is the lead club we’re engaging with local Gaelic clubs – Eire Og and St Peter’s.
“We have a sport like rugby which is played on an All Ireland basis and we have an individual who could make it into a world XV team on our doorstep and who is willing to turn up at school events. It is just fabulous.
“It’s fantastic for the profile of the club and grass roots rugby in general,” said Gavin.
As well as the club’s 12-week coaching programme for school children in the area, Lurgan will also be working alongside local GAA clubs and organising educational cross-border trips.