Syrian refugee shining as young GAA player in Belfast

An 11-year-old Syrian refugee who moved to Northern Ireland with his family is excelling as a young GAA player with a club in Belfast.

Patrick Sarsfields won their first juvenile hurling title for a number of years last month, and Ahmed Soda has helped the west Belfast club return to winning ways.

Ahmed Soda and his family, originally from Aleppo, arrived in Northern Ireland in December of last year.

The youngster took up Gaelic football at the club at the start of the year.

Trying out for a new sports team more than 3,000 miles away from home was not without its challenges, as Ahmed recalls.

As Ciaran Doherty, U12 Football Manager, explains, they took special measures to help Ahmed learn the game.

“The first session we had, unfortunately I was trying to give out orders to Ahmed, he was understanding some here and there,” he said.

“Unfortunately sometimes he was going backwards and kicking balls backwards so we had to have a translator in. It was something the players had never seen before, or the opposition teams and it worked in our favour.

“Hopefully he’s a future Antrim star. I believe with his determination and his big heart hell go far no matter what he does.

Ahmed then took up hurling in June at Sarsfields and just last month helped the club win their first Under-12 hurling title, with Ahmed probably the first Syrian national to win a hurling title in Antrim and perhaps even in Ireland.

Déaglán Coleman, U12 Hurling Manager, commented: “From the very first training session he was able to lift the ball and strike it out of his hand, which some kids spend three or four years learning to do.

“He’s a very brave young man, in terms of what he’s been through, but on the pitch he’s just unbelievable and the kids have really taken to him.”

After almost a year in Northern Ireland, the Soda family are well settled.

Ahmed's father Ali who didn't speak a word of English when he arrived - is now proud of everything young Ahmed has achieved.

“I want to say thank you to everyone who helped my son and now my son is a good player,” he said.