Creggan man names new GAA club in Moscow after Poet Laureate Seamus Heaney

A Moscow meeting to raise a glass in memory of the late, great John Hume proved the unlikeliest of backdrops to the birth a new, distinctly Derry GAA club in Russia.

Saturday, 15th May 2021, 11:10 am
Michael Graham, Seamus Heaney's GAC captain in action against the Moscow Shamrocks GAC, during their recent friendly at FC Lokomotiv Moscow Stadium.

Creggan native, Brendan Henderson, alongside County Derry man, John Downey from Maghera, played major roles in the conception of the far-fetched success story that is Seamus Heaney’s GAC, Moscow.

Former Sean Dolan’s man Henderson emigrated to the Russian capital in 2016 to teach before being bitten by what has become a labour of love with the fledgling club who played an historic first friendly in April against Moscow Shamrocks at FC Lokomotiv’s Moscow Stadium.

“My good friend John Downey, who coached Down and DCU, and a few other friends who are all big GAA fans, we always talked about setting up a club but it was always kind of five pints into the night and we never had any kind of concrete plan,” laughs Brendan, looking back.

Mairead Haren along with youngsters Evelyn Carr, Conor Haren, Lucas Haren, Micheál Henderson, Niamh Henderson, Gabriel Kuchar and Brendan Henderson (Chairman Seamus Heaney's GAC), during one of the kids weekly training sessions.

“Now that my kids are a bit older as (Micheál is five and Niamh is three in July) I was thinking I wanted them to play sport while they are here in Moscow. Unlike back home, Russia’s lockdown lasted something like seven weeks and we have been back to normal since last June.

“Whenever we came out of lockdown, I think it was around John Hume’s funeral in August, a few of us Derry boys met up to toast his great life, got talking and started to put the plan in place to form our own GAA club.

“After around six months of planning via zoom meetings, one of the main topics was finding a name for our new club. We had the Derry connection via myself, Seamus Murphy and John Downey and all thought Seamus Heaney’s Moscow GAC was fitting because there aren’t many men who unite County Derry and Derry city.

“Also, there was no club named after him as far as we knew and we wanted to get Russians involved and such is Seamus’ legacy that everyone knows his name. We contacted the state of Seamus Heaney via email and they sent us a lovely reply back, giving us the right to be the only club in the world to use Seamus Heaney’s name.”

Seamus Heaney's GAC Moscow Ladies team left to right: Nadia Munkueva, Mairead Haren, Michelle Carr, Nikita McCoubrey, Clodagh Graham (Ladies Captain), Sinead Grady and Sophie Smith, who played the recent friendly against Moscow Shamrocks GAC, at FC Lokomotiv Moscow Stadium.

While it was the Derry man’s dream to start his own club, he’s the first to admit he was only one cog in the machine that finally brought that dream to reality with key figures such as Downey, who is the Vice-Chairman and coach, Treasurer and chief organisers, Colm Rowan and Nikita McCoubrey from Westmeath; fellow Derry men Seamus Murphy and Stephen Barrett; inaugural club captains Michael and Clodagh Graham and star player and underage coach, Darragh Murphy from Newry - all of whom played major roles in getting the club off the ground.

“I came here in 2016 and my son Micheál was born in April. There’s already a club here called ‘Moscow Shamrocks’ and they are a great bunch of guys, but it’s difficult to play games etc if there is only one club in the city,” he confirmed.

“I would have played GAA when I lived in Barcelona and was always involved back home. I was a steward at Celtic Park but drifted away from Dolan’s because my shoulder was wrecked. However, I went to a few sessions here in Moscow because I had loved it when I first went to Barcelona because playing with Barcelona Gaels was the focal point for the Irish community there so I always wanted to try that here in Moscow.

“It’s worked well so far but one of the things that I’m most proud about of is the inclusivity. We have a brilliant girl from Shankill Road, Nikita McCoubrey, playing for us and it’s only ever about the game and the friendship without any of the nonsense that you sometimes get back home.

“We also have players from the Republic of Buryatia, Russian players, Alex from Siberia, Gadzhimurad from Dagestan and Larissa from Orenburg and it’s great.

“Having both men’s and ladies’ teams is great and the guys from Moscow Shamrocks were first class in terms of us setting up our own club. In fact we played them in April in torrential rain and after around four training sessions that was a massive achievement for us as both our teams won.

“We now have around 40 people connected to the club but we have a growing kids’ sessions. My favourite memory so far was during a kids’ session when my son, Micheál, was showing a Slovakian kid how to hand pass. Stuff like that is great and I feel we have built a good spirit off the pitch, which is really pleasing.”