Zak Moradi may have been the first Iranian Kurd to play in Croke Park but the Leitrim hurler is convinced that he won’t be the last.
Indeed Moradi believes that more and more youngsters from different nationalities will follow in his footsteps as the GAA becomes a hugely-important staging post for immigrants settling in Ireland.
Although he was born and raised in the Iraqi city of Ramadi, Moradi’s family were originally based in the mountainous region on the Iranian side of the border with Iraq.
Since his arrival in Ireland at the age of 11 — the family settled in Carrick-on-Shannon before relocating to Dublin — the Kurdish population in Ireland has continued to expand.
Speaking yesterday at Croke Park (where Leitrim’s Nicky Rackard campaign was launched alongside the Joe McDonagh, Christy Ring and Lory Meagher Cups), Moradi expressed hope that his exploits will help grow the game.
“There’s about three or four thousand Kurds in Ireland. They hear about me playing, and now they’re sending their kids up playing hurling and football. It’s great,” Moradi remarked.
“They talked about me on the Kurdish television channels in Iraq, as the Kurdish man who left. It’s great for my family and great for the Kurdish community in Ireland. Everything has been going good so far.
“Hopefully we’ll get a lot more different nationalities playing the sport. It would be great.” Using his current club Thomas Davis as a prime example, he feels this sea change will continue over the next decade.
“Even in the last couple of years, you’ve a lot of multi-ethnic backgrounds in this country and they know GAA is the number one sport.
“Hurling and football is number one in this country. I see it in Thomas Davis — I go up there the odd Saturday morning (for underage) and you’ll have different ethnic backgrounds playing. And that is happening in very other club in the country. You’ll see different faces now in the next 10 years.
“You’re going to see a lot of other lads like myself playing inter-county, which will be great for the sport.”
Despite living in the capital since his mid-teens, Moradi has always had allegiances to Leitrim. With so many of his close friends still residing in the county, it is a place that remains close to his heart.
“I’m nearly down there [Leitrim] every week or second week, when you have matches. I was always down there. I’m still playing with the same lads on the team with Leitrim hurling that I’m friends with and I grew up with. “It’s amazing that way.
“When I moved to Dublin, to Thomas Davis, it was the same. I made a lot of friends there and started playing hurling there. We won the Intermediate Championship last year, which was great. We’re after winning the last two Senior ‘B’ Championship games in Dublin, so it’s a good start for us.”
Despite coming off second best to Warwickshire in that Lory Meagher decider, the advent of the Joe McDonagh Cup means Leitrim will operate alongside Donegal and Tyrone in Group Two of this year’s Nicky Rackard competition.
Because the playing resources within the county are limited, Moradi accepts another promotion charge is a long shot for the Connacht men. “I think we’re a long, long way away. Basically, we only have about 45 hurlers in Leitrim. It’s not many if you compare it to other counties. It’s tough, because if a player gets injured, it’s very hard to replace them.
“We just go by the same lads we have all year round. There’s good work being put into the juvenile section in Leitrim, so hopefully we get a few of them the next couple of years.”
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