Iraq-born Zak Moradi is a hurling pioneer
By John Harrington
The journey that has brought Zak Moradi to the GAA GPA All-Stars awards in the Convention Centre in Dublin on Friday is a road less travelled.
Moradi has been named on the Lory Meagher Cup Champions 15 selection, which is a fair achievement for someone who was born in Iraq and didn’t arrive in this country until the age of 11.
His family were originally Kurdish-Iranians but moved to Ramadi in Iraq in the 1980s to escape the Iran-Iraq war.
Another impending conflict, the second Gulf War, once again forced them to uproot for what Moradi describes as ‘political reasons’, and this time they ended up in the very different surroundings of Carrick-On-Shannon, Leitrim.
That’s surely a big adjustment for an 11-year-old to make, but Moradi’s Irish assimilation was accelerated when he discovered a passion for Gaelic Games.
“Yeah, it was weird at first,” he admits. “I found Gaelic a lot easier to play at the start. Hurling was much harder and took me probably two years to get the skills, left and right and all of that.
“I would have played as well with the local club, St. Mary's in Carrick, and then I moved to Dublin at the age of 14 where hurling was a bit stronger there so that's where it really took off for me after joining Thomas Davis.
“I'm still playing with Thomas Davis now and I've gotten a lot better in the last couple of years. The more you train the better you get."
He might have only lived for four years in Leitrim, but the county clearly left an impact on him because he never fully cut his ties.
He developed as a hurler in Dublin, but he was always going to play for Leitrim to honour a childhood promise he made.
“When I first started playing in Leitrim either the Star or Sun newspaper came to the house to interview me about playing Gaelic because I was probably the only foreigner who was playing in Leitrim at the time," says Moradi.
“I said at the time in that interview that I wanted to play for Leitrim. So when the chance came years later to, I went for it.
“I still have that newspaper at home and I suppose I wanted to do what I said I would do whenever it was, 12 or 13 years ago.
“When I moved to Dublin I would have been on a U-16 football development squad, but I was always more into the hurling.”
A quick, skilful, and tenacious forward, Moradi scored in all four of Leitrim’s Lory Meagher Cup matches this year.
I'm very happy, to be honest with you. All the training over the past couple of years has paid off.
They won just one of those games but were competitive in all of them and only lost to eventual champions Louth by a point after conceding two late scores.
Moradi lives and works in Tallaght, Dublin, so it’s a serious commitment to continue hurling for Leitrim. That’s why it means so much to him to earn a Lory Meagher Cup Champion 15 award this year.
“I'm very happy, to be honest with you,” says Moradi. “All the training over the past couple of years has paid off. I'm living in Dublin so it can be hard to hurl for Leitrim because you have to travel for matches and take time off work and that.
“It was a good year, really. When we played Louth we only lost by a point and really should have beaten them and they went all the way to win the Final.
“And then in the Sligo game we were missing a few players and had a few injuries, so that made it difficult for us because we wouldn't have a deep pool of players to pick from.
“There's only four clubs in Leitrim, so it's always a battle to keep the thing going and just try to win a few matches every year.”
Leitrim aren’t the only county who are struggling for hurling numbers, but Moradi’s story surely suggests you don’t need to have a tradition in the game to be a success at it.
He hopes his example will encourage other non-native Irish living in the country to take up the sport.
“In fairness there are a lot more people from different backgrounds playing now, which is a really good thing,” says Moradi.
“But I think we could try to integrate more people into playing the games because there's a lot more foreign people now in Ireland than when I first arrived over here back then.”