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ON THE BALL RTÉ presenter Jacqui Hurley wants to inspire even more girls to lace up and play sports

'Even if the book helps just a couple of kids to keep playing sport then it's been totally worthwhile'

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Jacqui Hurley with her new book.

Jacqui Hurley with her new book.

Jacqui Hurley with her new book.

A poignant letter that dropped through her letterbox overwhelmed RTÉ sports presenter Jacqui Hurley.

She had just released her first book Girls Play Too: Inspiring Stories of Irish Sportswomen, to encourage girls to keep playing sports, and it was getting a huge reaction from children and parents.

"The response was amazing. I got a lot of letters to my house and some of them really caught me by surprise," she admits.

"One that stayed with me for a long time came from a mother in Donegal worried about her 10-year-old daughter.

"She was at camp and basically she was the only girl there, and the boys wouldn't pass the ball, and she was coming home every night really upset.

"The mother asked me if I would send the daughter a book and I did, and a couple of weeks later she wrote back and said she had kept on playing because she had read the stories of some of the athletes and realised that playing with the boys was actually what made them stronger.

"Even though they wouldn't pass the ball, she was going to keep going back because she loved soccer and this was her dream.

"You have no idea what that letter meant to me," continues Jacqui, who's mum to Luke (7) and Lily (4). "That mother might have thought her daughter got something from the book but I got as much from that story because we have all been that child.

"All they need is a little encouragement and, when you realise the value of that to a child, that makes it all worthwhile.

"It really struck a chord with me. Even if the book helps just a couple of kids to keep playing sport then it's been totally worthwhile."

For that reason the 37-year-old Sunday Sport presenter has just published a follow up book called Girls Play Too Book 2: More Inspiring Stories of Irish Sportswomen aimed at eight to 14-year-olds.

It focuses on how 25 of Ireland's top sportswomen, including Sinead Goldrick, Caroline O'Hanlon, Sene Naoupu, Nicole Turner and Anna Geary, turned their dreams into a reality.

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Jacqui reveals the hardest part of the project was keeping the number to just 25 and getting a good selection of sports.

"There's a surfer in this one, Paralympians, there's a racing car driver," she lists. "I'm trying to show kids there are lots of sports out there and you really want them to try everything."

But even the author confessed she was shocked by some of the hardships the sportswomen had to overcome to make it.

"There's a lot of life issues - girls talking about suffering from anxiety and body issues. One of them has dyslexia.

"They are talking about issues that young kids have to overcome. They are all real people who have succeeded in something but they've all overcome obstacles, whether they be sporting obstacles or speech impediments or whatever it is."

Jacqui, who covered the recent Olympics for RTÉ, agrees gold medal boxer Kellie Harrington will be an inspiration for young girls for years to come.

"She was in my first book and it was amazing the amount of messages I got from parents who were doing bedtime stories of Kellie on the night of her fight," she smiles.

"I'm talking about hundreds of messages on my social media. It's just lovely because you realise kids are learning about her and then they are watching her at the games.

"All it takes is that one moment of inspiration. She is a proper superstar who is going to inspire so many kids who had never even heard of boxing before and suddenly they watch her win the Olympic gold and they're thinking, 'Maybe I could do that too.'"

And the television star hints there could be a third book in the inspiring series if this one takes off like the first: "That took me by surprise. When you do something like this you know it's worthy, but to get the messages I got from parents and kids after the first book was genuinely overwhelming."

Girls Play Too Book 2 is available in Lidl this week for €12.99 before launching nationwide on September 5th.

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