Iraqi-born hurler Zak Moradi revels in 'proudest' day
An Iraqi-born hurler said helping County Leitrim to all-Ireland victory at the weekend was like "winning the lotto".
Zak Moradi, 28, scored a vital point for his team in extra-time at Dublin's Croke Park on Saturday.
He said winning the Lory Meagher Cup for his adopted county was the "proudest day of my life".
Mr Moradi was mesmerised by the speed of the sport when he arrived in Ireland as an 11-year-old Kurdish-Iranian refugee.
He recalls the difficulties adjusted to a new life with his parents and 10 siblings.
But hurling helped him integrate into the community in Carrick-on-Shannon to such an extent that his life now "revolves around the GAA".
"It was very difficult when we were leaving Iraq," he told BBC News NI.
"We had relations and friends and we left everyone behind."
He remembers being struck by the smells in Ireland.
"Our country was a desert, all you could see were oil tankers and all you could smell was oil," he said.
"Everything was different in Ireland, the countryside, everything had changed.
"I remember the smell of grass when we arrived and then after a while it became normal."
Mr Moradi said there were few opportunities in his early childhood to play sport although he remembers "kicking a ball around when there was one".
He started out with football in Carrick-on-Shannon, before being was drawn to hurling.
Although hurling is now second nature to him, he said it remained unusual for his family members in Iran and Iraq.
They thought he was "stick-fighting" when they saw photographs of him in action.
"I remember hurling being played and I tried and couldn't hit the ball," he said.
"I like a challenge so I just kept hitting and kept trying."
'Language of football'
Zak's first football coach Cormac Flynn remembers the determination of the young new arrival.
He said he simply threw himself into every training session.
"I remember this little fella landed, he didn't have any English whatsoever," he said.
"He couldn't understand if you told him which position to take or where to go, but he spoke the language of football.
"He was so athletic, he was good at everything and then he started swinging a hurl. He just ran and ran with it. He was gifted."
Mr Moradi, who now lives in Tallaght, County Dublin, travels to County Offaly and County Westmeath for hurling training twice a week.
"My loyalty is always with Leitrim - I am stuck with them," he joked.
"All those years we travelled for training and we mightn't have won a game all year. It shows when you put in a lot of effort it pays off.
"It's like winning the lotto. We will be celebrating this for the next couple of weeks."