'Andy Moran made me play gaelic football' - First Pakistani-born All-Ireland winner hails team-mate
Published 03/05/2016 | 02:30
One of Mayo's victorious All-Ireland U-21 winners, Shairoze Akram, has thanked his clubmate Andy Moran for forcing him to take up the game at the age of 11.
Akram became the first Pakistani-born player to win an All-Ireland medal as he helped Mayo to secure a hard-earned, five-point victory over Cork on Saturday night in Ennis, but none of it would have happened with the intervention of the Mayo senior captain.
There is a strong Ballaghaderreen influence in that Mayo U-21 team: manager Mike Solan and selector John Ginty both hail from the club, while Akram, Seamus Cunniffee and Ryan Lynch all represented the town in the U-21 panel.
And despite being a keen soccer player and basketballer, Akram - who moved to Ballaghaderreen at the age of four in 2001 - was inspired to join the local GAA club on Moran's orders.
"It wasn't me, I was persuaded to play the game. Andy Moran, I put it all down to him. I was sort of made go by him and it has taken off from there," Akram explained.
"I picked the game up when I was in sixth class about eight or nine years ago and I've been played ever since.
"He'd be one of the players I look up to in the club. He is a great mentor. He's the one who got me involved in football and he has helped me ever since.
"Anything I ever needed - he has been there for me since the start. I'd like to thank him for that and for everything."
As a former student of St Nathy's College in Ballaghaderreen, Akram was always likely to develop his game through his teenage years, so much so that he played as a wing-forward for the 2014 county minor team that lost the All-Ireland semi-final to Kerry.
Injury denied him a place in last summer's disappointing Connacht minor championship, but after Saturday's success, the DCU fresher is keen to progress further with the county.
"Hopefully down the line I'll make the seniors. You'd never know," Akram added. "But I have another year left with the U-21s anyway.
"I'm just out of minor since last year, and I would have two more years as an U-21 but they cut it back to U-20s, so I just have the one year left.
"This was an unbelievable experience. I can't describe it, it was just an amazing feeling. It's just hitting us now that we've won it.
"Standing up there in front of the Mayo supporters, it was hard to explain how good it felt.
"Hopefully it's the first of many for us, hopefully we can push on and get a couple of more in the next few of years and drive on from there."