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'New Gaels' documentary shows where we all belong


By John Harrington

Last year the GAA launched a manifesto which was summed up by the statement ‘GAA – Where We All Belong’.

Those words are made flesh by an excellent RTE Documentary due to air this Thursday at 10.15pm on RTÉ One.

‘New Gaels’ will tell the story of four GAA players who were born in other countries and embraced Gaelic Games when they moved to Ireland.

They, in turn, were welcomed with open arms by the GAA community which helped in no small part to make their new country of residence feel like home.

Three of those taking part in the documentary will already be familiar to many GAA supporters.

Westmeath and Rosemount footballer, Boidu Sayeh, Leitrim and Thomas Davis hurler Zak Moradi, and Mayo and Ballaghaderreen footballer, Shairoze Akram.

Westmeath footballer Boidu Sayeh (left) and Leitrim hurler Zak Moradi are both featured in the RTE documentary 'New Gaels' which airs on Thursday night. 
Westmeath footballer Boidu Sayeh (left) and Leitrim hurler Zak Moradi are both featured in the RTE documentary 'New Gaels' which airs on Thursday night. 

The fourth participant is Jeannine O’Brien, a native of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who plays Gaelic 4 Mothers & Others with the Monaleen GAA club in Limerick.

Her personal story of how she first started playing Gaelic Football is a great example of the ethos of inclusivity that is at the heart of the GAA.

“I went to drop my eldest to camogie training and I was just waiting for her to finish and then my coach Finbarr came to me and asked me would I like to join them,” says O’Brien in ‘New Gaels’.

“I was like, ‘What are you talking about? Are you asking me to play football?!’ I had never kicked a ball before.

“It’s just an amazing place to be because when you have had a busy day the training is just good for yourself just to go out for your wellbeing.

“I would say to all mothers that you don’t need to start playing the game when you’re six, you can be any age. We have people over 50 who are still playing. It’s all about having fun, making friends, and just enjoying yourself.”

The GAA’s Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Ger McTavish, also features in the documentary.

In her role she is responsible for the considerable and ongoing efforts to address racism on behalf of the GAA, the Ladies Gaelic Football Association, and the Camogie Association.

Sayeh, Moradi, and Akram have helped her with various initiatives at different times along the way, including the Association’s Responding to Racism (R2R) education and awareness campaign.

Mayo footballer Shairoze Akram (far left) and the GAA's Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Ger McTavish (far right) pictured at the Responding to Racism Workshop that took place last March. 
Mayo footballer Shairoze Akram (far left) and the GAA's Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Ger McTavish (far right) pictured at the Responding to Racism Workshop that took place last March. 

In ‘New Gaels’, Akram is filmed speaking at an R2R workshop where he detailed his own experience of racism to give the attendees a better idea of the impact it can have and how best it can be exposed rooted out.

“I would have had racism through football and outside of football growing up,” says Akram. “To be honest, I wouldn’t have paid any heed to it myself at the start but sometimes it does get to you.

“We were playing an U-21 match once and I had a racist remark made to me. I actually ended up losing my cool that day which wouldn’t be like me. The guy involved actually didn’t mean it.

“People at times don’t pay notice to what they’re saying, they just say it. And afterwards they regret what they said. I met the guy involved in the incident afterwards and he apologised and we’ve since moved on.

“The club in that instance were very helpful. They stepped in and played their part and supported me all the way through and it was very nice to see that.

“Thankfully since that incident I haven’t had a lot more of it which I’m grateful for.”

The Irish population is an increasingly diverse one and more and more migrants from many different countries are now getting involved in their local clubs and playing Gaelic Games.

Scoil Dara pupils pictured at the launch of the GAA's 'Responding to the Racism' awareness campaign at Croke Park in Dublin.
Scoil Dara pupils pictured at the launch of the GAA's 'Responding to the Racism' awareness campaign at Croke Park in Dublin.

‘New Gaels’ vividly illustrates the power of sport bringing people together. It breaks down barriers and helps people see that we’re all the same regardless of any superficial differences like ethnicity.

“I have Kurdish blood with an Irish heart, as I always say,” remarks Leitrim hurler Zak Moradi at one point in the documentary.

“We’re always hearing the bad things about refugees in this country, we’re not hearing the good things. Just go to Tallaght hospital – all the people working there are refugees and immigrants, all the doctors and nurses, it’s all mixed.

“You’re never going to get rid of racism in this world, you’re going to get it in every country in the world. You’re going to get that small minority and the problem is we can’t let the small minority ruin it for everyone else.

“At the end of the day we’re all human beings. The only difference is I’m probably a bit more tanned than you!

“My life revolves around the GAA.

“After matches, playing matches, lose or win, a few pints, have the craic. I’m working here, I’m happy where I am. This is my home.”

The GAA is as much a community organisation as a sporting one which is why it is so important that social inclusion should be at the core of its ethos.

And what comes across very clearly in ‘New Gaels’ is that there is so much to be gained from extending the hand of friendship to everyone in our community.

Boidu Sayeh, Zak Moradi, Shairoze Akram, and Jeanine O’Brien all have their own unique stories to tell.

But the common thread running through them all is that diversity makes us stronger.

New Gaels, RTÉ One, Thursday September, 10.15pm.

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