Syrian siblings shine for Sarsfields
* By John Harrington*
The heart-warming story of Ahmed and Renad Soda is a testament to everything the GAA should always about – community and inclusivity.
The Syrian siblings landed in West Belfast with their family in December 2015 after fleeing the war-torn city of Aleppo.
Soon after arriving they were invited to get involved with the Patrick Sarsfields GAA club, a challenge they both embraced with impressive enthusiasm.
Ahmed quickly proved himself to be something of a hurling and football prodigy, and now his younger sister has followed in his footsteps.
Sunday was a proud day for the Soda family as Ahmed and Renad helped Sarsfields win the boys and girls U-14 Antrim Féile titles and now both will represent their club in the John West Féile Peile na nÓg this summer.
Patrick Sarsfields Chairman Paul Barr says everyone in the West Belfast club is hugely proud of just how far the Soda siblings have come in such a short space of time.
“They're brilliant kids,” he told GAA.ie. “This is Ahmed's third year with us and Rena, his sister, just started there last year. We're honoured to have them with us, and it's helped them settle into the community.
“We're very heavily involved in the community, that's what we're always trying to achieve. Because of where we are, we need to make that effort to get people in.
“Ahmed and Renad came to us because one of our members actually lived next door to them when they were housed in West Belfast.
“Once they were settled and comfortable, we brought them around to the club and they haven't looked back since then.
“We have a few different nationalities playing for us. Anyone who wants to get involved, we help them to get involved.”
It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. The club’s spirit of inclusivity has helped many families settle more quickly in the community than they might have otherwise done, and the club has been energised in turn by new recruits like Ahmed and Renad.
“Starting off it was a bit of a challenge because language was obviously an issue - they didn't speak any English,” said Barr.
“The first few months were a bit challenging, but since then the kids haven't looked back.
“They're both super players. Ahmed hurls as well, he plays centre-back. He picked it up straight away, he was in the starting 15 straight away. No issues whatsoever, from the start he wasn't at all afraid to get involved.”
Patrick Sarsfields have made great strides forwards in recent years thanks to their hard work in the community and a focus on their juvenile structures.
“This will be our third boys Feile winning team in the last five or six years, but this is our first girls team to win Feile and go forward to represent the county," said Barr.
"We had won a girls' Antrim Feile before, but we couldn't represent the county because there was only one slot at the time.
“The girls teams have only been going for five years so we've made great progress in that time.
“We have big numbers, our juveniles are absolutely flying at the moment. Our numbers have never been so high and the people involved are doing great work.”
Long may it continue.