Once upon a time, legendary RTÉ GAA commentator Micheal O’Muircheartaigh referred to Cork hurler Sean Og O’Hailpin: “His father’s from Fermanagh, his mother’s from Fiji - neither a hurling stronghold.”
At Letterkenny Gaels’ underage awards night the weekend before last, club chairman Dan Harnett paid special tribute to the U-10 hurling manager for the great work he’s been putting in.
Arkadi Baissangourov moved to Letterkenny in 1999 from Vladikavkaz, the capital of Republic of North Ossetia–Alania, which is in south-western Russia. It’d be fair to say that it’s not a hurling stronghold.
“I’m originally from Beslan and lived there until I was eight before moving to Vladikavkaz,” Arkadi says.
“I’m from a teaching background and did a BA in management at the University of Vladikavkaz before deciding to go to Letterkenny to study in 1999.
“I was a foreign exchange student and completed a BSc Honours in Computer Services Management. I felt at home in Ireland. Well, it wasn’t really home but it felt right so I decided to stay. I liked the country and its people.”
Arkadi, who is 36 now, lives in Meadow Hill in Letterkenny, and currently works as a programmer in SITA, having previously been employed in IT (information technology) in Foyle Health and Social Services Trust in Derry and then in Pramerica in Letterkenny.
At home, Arkadi remembers attending Spartak Vladikavkaz’s – now Alania Vladikavkaz - 1995 home fixture against Liverpool in the Uefa Cup, whilst also having an interest in basketball and ice hockey.
However, the strongest sports in the area are individual ones like judo and particularly wrestling, with local Soslan Petrovich Andiyev winning gold medals in the superheavyweight division in the 1976 Olympics in Motreal and then again four years later in Moscow.
Makharbek Khadartsev was a five-time world champion between 1986 and 1991 and Olympic light-heavyweight gold medallist at Seoul in 1988 and Barcelona 1992.
“Our republic is most famous for Olympic wrestling and everyone has to do wrestling at school,” Arkadi adds.
“In Ireland, I used to watch Gaelic football on the TV and even though it was called ‘football’ they were using their hands! Then, hurling, well I couldn’t even see the ball!’
Arkadi, though, developed an interest in Irish sports, especially when his son, Aaron, now 10, began to play.
Father and son used to go to Letterkenny Gaels but Aaron was more interested in hurling than football.
“He loved the helmets and the hurl,” Arkadi adds. “I was always taking Aaron to training and to blitzes and he was coached by Dan Harnett in U-6, Roisin Kerr in U-8 and by Paul Murray and myself at U-10.
“I was asked to help out so did a foundation course – both theory and physical - in coaching at Errigal College and enjoyed it so I am now with the U-10 team.
“In the GAA, I like the whole set-up with the volunteerism and people play because of their passion, love and tradition. They’ve got pure devotion and it’s not all about money.”