Young hurler wants to emulate his Waterford heroes
GAA club in Tramore reaches out to direct provision centres for new recruits
Esdras Irabizi: He got to line out in two county finals for the club recently. How did he get on? “Ah, not too bad. We were up against tough teams and lost both unfortunately.” Photograph: Patrick Browne
Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh’s old line about Seán Óg Ó hAilpín’s parentage is a favourite of hurling fans.
It still holds true too. Whether coming from Fiji or Fermanagh, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from once you’re out on the pitch.
This continues to be seen in GAA clubs across the country, with Micheál MacCraith GAA club in Tramore, Co Waterford, just one example. With two direct provision centres in the seaside town, the club has been trying to offer an outlet to residents in recent years.
We call it conscription,” says Tom Cullen, vice-chairman, “and we make sure every kid in Tramore is introduced to the GAA. We provide the gear and everything just to introduce them to the sports
One boy who has become a staunch member is Esdras Irabizi. Hailing from Congo, his mother, Aimé, has been trying to find better opportunities for him and his brother. That brought them first to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, when he was seven, and then to Dublin three years ago.
The family were then transferred to Ocean View House in Tramore through the direct provision system in the summer of 2017. The family has since been able to leave direct provision and they now live in an apartment near the beach.
The 14-year-old is in second year at Ardscoil na Mara and has settled comfortably in both his studies and at Gaelic Games. His introduction to the sport came about in primary school.
“It was in fifth class, I didn’t really know anything about GAA and most of the others just always played it at break. They’d just go out with their hurleys and play. And one of the boys just asked me to come out and play with them.”
He credits one coach, John Mackey, with teaching him how to get to grips with the technical nature of the game, while a student at Fenor National School outside Tramore. He now plays as a forward and in the middle. “It’s actually a fabulous game,” he says.
A ‘natural sportsman’
Although a latecomer, he’s described by the club’s vice-chairman Tom Cullen as a “natural sportsman with loads of ability and a wise head”, and has been well able to adapt to both hurling and Gaelic football.
Even if he does find the skilful nature of the hurl and sliotar trickier to manage – having not had them thrust into his hands as a youngster like his counterparts in Ballygunner – he got to line out in two county finals for the club recently. How did he get on? “Ah, not too bad. We were up against tough teams and lost both unfortunately.”
As a Sligo man, Ardscoil principal Padraig Cawley admits hurling is “foreign” to him, but with Liam Cahill’s men progressing towards the All-Ireland final in recent weeks, he’s seen “a huge lift in kids bringing their hurls to schools”, something that’s raised the spirits in a difficult time for schools.
Esdras wants to try emulate the local heroes taking to Croke Park on Sunday, but, if there’s a scheduling clash in years to come, he’s adamant he will be putting studies ahead of sport.
“I really like science, and would like to do more sciences, like biology, chemistry, and physics [for the Leaving Cert],” he says, adding he has ambitions to become a neurosurgeon or a cardiologist.
Tramore GAA has been working at making inroads with families and their children in the town’s direct provision centres. Children from the houses are invited to its camps in an attempt to make them feel welcome - and also to find the club new members.
“We call it conscription,” says Tom Cullen, vice-chairman, “and we make sure every kid in Tramore is introduced to the GAA. We provide the gear and everything just to introduce them to the sports.
“It’s getting the kids to come out and play and be part of the camps, and hopefully develop and enjoy the game. It’s a win-win for everyone.”