Team Ulster footballers kick-start road to Ireland Games with support from NI sports star Keith Gillespie

Special Olympics Team Ulster footballers and coaches with former Northern Ireland and Manchester United footballer, Keith Gillespie (centre) at a recent training session in the Antrim Forum.

Former Northern Ireland and Manchester United footballer Keith Gillespie surprised Special Olympics Ulster athletes at a recent training session in the Antrim Forum.

Keith joined members of the Team Ulster football teams as they prepare to compete on a national stage at the Special Olympics Ireland Games, which take place in Dublin from June 14 to 17 2018.

A total of 36 Team Ulster footballers across three squads will participate in the Ireland Games this year, which is set to be one of the largest and most prestigious sporting events to take place in Ireland in 2018.

A total of 277 Team Ulster athletes will be amongst the 1,600 Special Olympics athletes from across the island of Ireland that will travel to compete at the Games this year.

Selected athletes from these Games will go on to represent Team Ireland at the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi.

Speaking at the training session, Keith said: “It was fantastic to meet the Team Ulster footballers and their families today and to hear all their amazing stories and get the chance to take part in their training session.

“Their passion, excitement and enthusiasm is so inspiring. As training ramps up in preparation for the Ireland Games, the pressure is on, but they are geared up and ready to go; I have no doubt they will do Ulster proud.

“I'm looking forward to following their progress and cheering them on.”

Shaun Cassidy, regional director, Special Olympics Ulster added: “To have a Northern Irish sports star like Keith supporting Team Ulster is such a thrill for our athletes as they make their preparations for these important Games.

“We are extremely proud of all of the athletes who will be representing Ulster at the 2018 Special Olympics Ireland Games in Dublin and will be counting on lots of home support to make the 2018 Ireland Games a real success.”

Special Olympics Ulster will host its annual Collection Day on Friday April 20, which is sponsored by eir.

Money raised will go towards the maintenance and development of the Special Olympics programme, which gives adults and children across the Island of Ireland the ability to participate in sports and events. To register as a volunteer, make a donation or keep up to date with Special Olympics Ulster events and athletes, visit

About Special Olympics Ulster:

• Special Olympics is a charity that provides year-round sports training to athletes with intellectual disabilities.

• Special Olympics was established in Ulster in 1978.

• Special Olympics Ulster offers training and competitive sporting events in 15 sports: Athletics, Aquatics, Badminton, Basketball, Bocce, Bowling, Equestrian, Football, Golf, Gymnastics, Kayaking, Pitch & Putt, Table Tennis, Floorball and Alpine Skiing

• Special Olympics Ulster is a year-round sports training organisation and is supported by Sport Northern Ireland.

Special Olympics Ireland Games 2018 – Facts

• Date: Thursday 14th – Sunday 17th June 2018

• Host City: Dublin

• 1600 athletes

• 600 Coaches

• 2,500 Volunteers

• 9 sports venues

• 2 accommodation venues

• The overall cost of hosting is €2.335m.

• Selected athletes from these Games will go on to represent Team Ireland at the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi

Team Ulster Facts

• 277 athletes from across Ulster will compete at the Games, assisted by:

o 87 assistant coaches

o 21 head coaches

o 5 management team members

o Total delegation 390 people

Special Olympics Ireland Games - Sports Venues

Morton Stadium: Athletics

National Sports Campus: Badminton; Basketball; Bocce; Gymnastics, Motor Activities and Swimming

FAI facility (National Sports Campus): Football

Leisureplex Blanchardstown: Bowling

Cherry Orchard Equine Centre: Equestrian

Saint Margaret's Golf & Country Club: Golf

Salmon Leap, Leixlip: Kayaking

To be confirmed: will be a sea swimOpen Water Swimming:

IWA - Clontarf: Table Tennis

Accommodation: Dublin City University (DCU) and University College Dublin (UCD)

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