This man, a Kurdish refugee, will line out for Leitrim in Croke Park

Zak Moradi arrived in Ireland aged 11 and will make his Croke Park debut on Saturday

Zak Moradi arrived in Ireland aged 11

Zak Moradi arrived in Ireland aged 11

 

The Lory Meagher Cup final on Saturday will be noteworthy for a number of firsts.

It will be the first time a Leitrim senior hurling team has played in Croke Park and most likely the first time an Iranian-Kurdish refugee who was born in Iraq will line out in a national GAA final.

The road to Croke Park has been a long one for Leitrim hurlers who take on Warwickshire in what is the final for the weakest counties in hurling.

For corner-forward Zak Moradi (26) it has been an odyssey. It has taken him from Ramedi, a city all too familiar to those who have been following the tragedy in Iraq since the Gulf War of 1991, to Ireland.

Zak Moradi: ‘When you play GAA, you become part of the community and part of the culture’
Zak Moradi: ‘When you play GAA, you become part of the community and part of the culture’

The story begins during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s when Zak’s parents fled to Iraq to escape persecution in Iran, but found themselves a marked community too in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and sought refuge in Ireland.

In 2002, at the age of 11 Zak arrived in Carrick-on-Shannon as part of the Kurdish relocation programme. He could speak no English and knew nothing of the GAA.

In the subsequent decade, more than 100 Kurdish refugees were settled in Carrick. He was introduced to hurling by Clement Cunniffe, Leitrim’s greatest ever hurler and son of the present Leitrim manager Martin Cunniffe.

“It took me a year or two to get used to it,” said Zak. “I started later than everybody else. I was starting when I was 11. They were starting when they were six. Gaelic football is much easier because it’s like soccer.”

He only spent four years living in Leitrim but it was enough to forge bonds of friendship and sporting ties which have endured.

He plays club hurling for the Thomas Davis club in Tallaght and has a marked Dublin accent, but his sporting loyalties are all Leitrim. In that respect he is no different to many of his teammates who are scattered across the country and gather for training every Tuesday and Thursday in Tubber, Co Offaly.

“I never lost the connection. I have a lot of friends down there in Leitrim. It’s an historic day for everybody in the team not just me,” he said.

He was named on the Lory Meagher all-star team last year and has gained a reputation for himself as a fairly prolific corner-forward.

“I remember we used to be beaten by 20 points. Our goal was to get to Croke Park. All it takes is commitment. I have a hurl in my hand three or four times a week,” he says.

“Warwickshire have improved as well. They’re all from Tipp, Waterford and Antrim so we’re up against it.”

Moradi said “there is some amount of ethnics” playing GAA in Dublin and it will not be long before appearances like his will go unmarked. He feels at home in Ireland as a Kurd, more so than he ever did in the Middle East thanks to sport.

“When you play GAA, you become part of the community and part of the culture,” he says.