William and Kate join Belfast kick-about at Windsor Park during Northern Ireland visit

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge joined a kickabout at the home of football in Northern Ireland at the start of a two-day visit to the region.

William and Kate were on opposing sides during a high-energy game with local schoolchildren at Windsor Park in Belfast.

The Duke & Duchess of Cambridge visit the National Stadium Belfast, home of the Irish Football Association

The Duke & Duchess of Cambridge visit the National Stadium Belfast, home of the Irish Football Association

Having donned trainers for the occasion, both participated with gusto, running about with their young teammates, passing and tackling during the well-spirited encounter.

The tour of the recently redeveloped stadium marked the first engagement on what is the couple’s third official visit to Northern Ireland.

Later they were greeted by cheering children as they arrived at an outdoor activity centre in Co Fermanagh, and on Wednesday night they will attend an informal party for young people at Belfast’s famous Empire music hall.

On the Windsor Park turf, the duke and duchess both had a go at dribbling drills, to the delight of the young footballers.

Their Royal Highnesses learnt more about the IFA�"s community Football projects, and how sport can play a role in bringing communities together.

Their Royal Highnesses learnt more about the IFA�"s community Football projects, and how sport can play a role in bringing communities together.

Kate ran around a marked-out square, keeping the ball under control, and also jogged up and down on the spot.

At one point, the duchess hugged and comforted nine-year-old Jasmine Andrews after she became emotional about the occasion.

Jasmine, a pupil at Fane Street primary school, later revealed how Kate had made her smile through the tears.

She said: “I got a little bit nervous and started to cry and she asked me was I a little bit shy, and I said ‘I am’, and she said that she used to be shy when she was little too.”

They met groups and representatives from the Female Football Leaders, the Goals Programme, Education Programme, Stay Onside, PSNI, DoJ and Probation Service and members of Powerchair.''Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

They met groups and representatives from the Female Football Leaders, the Goals Programme, Education Programme, Stay Onside, PSNI, DoJ and Probation Service and members of Powerchair.''Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

Igor Lackis, nine, said he had been impressed by the couple’s footballing skills.

“We were playing a football match together and they were pretty good, both of them were really good,” he said.

“I blocked the prince’s shots attempting to score.”

During their tour of the venue, the couple also met Northern Ireland footballing great Pat Jennings.

The former Tottenham and Arsenal goalkeeper is Northern Ireland’s record caps holder, with 119 appearances during a career that took in the 1982 and 1986 World Cups.

William and Kate were shown a bronze cast print of the stopper’s celebrated “safe hands” as they walked through the stadium’s heritage centre.

As William extended his arm to shake Jennings’s hand, he said: “Now there’s a man who needs no introduction.”

William later put his own hands in the print, remarking to the record-breaking keeper: “You have really long fingers.”

Afterwards, Jennings praised the attitude of the royals.

“They are a special couple,” he said. “To come and do what they did today, entertained us and the kids.

“They have given not only us but the kids a day that they will never forget.”

Current Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill accompanied the couple on their tour of the venue.

O’Neill, who himself won 31 caps playing for Northern Ireland, has been credited with bringing the glory days back to the team during his tenure as boss.

He led the side to its first major tournament in 30 years at the 2016 European Championships in France.

Of the royal visitors, he said: “They are so personable, easy to chat to and made everybody feel relaxed.”

The national manager praised William’s football knowledge but joked that he should not count on his beloved Aston Villa making a return to the top of English football just yet.

“I don’t think he’s overly optimistic about watching Premiership football as a Villa fan in the near future,” said O’Neill.

“He certainly knows his football and was very knowledgeable about how we had done and with the European Championship and the games that we face that lie ahead.”

During the visit, the couple learned more about the Irish Football Association’s community football projects and its work breaking down some of Northern Ireland’s traditional divides through sport.

They met people involved in an initiative aimed at encouraging more women into key decision-making roles within the game and also chatted to youngsters involved in the Goal programme - a project designed for those not in employment, education or training.

William and Kate also heard about IFA workshops and education courses that help students develop life skills.

They learned about the Stay Onside initiative, which works with criminal justice agencies in a bid to reduce offending rates.

The Cambridges also heard more about the game of Powerchair, an adapted version of football for wheelchair users.

As they left the stadium at the end of the visit, three school children presented the couple with three green Northern Ireland home shirts, with the names of their children George, Charlotte and Louis on the backs.