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breaking ground Boidu Sayeh on the challenges he has faced in GAA and how he wants to be a role model

Back in 2004, Boidu's uncle Ben and his wife Therese adopted the youngster who instantly stood out from the crowd.

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Westmeath footballer Boidu Sayeh. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Westmeath footballer Boidu Sayeh. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Westmeath footballer Boidu Sayeh. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

He has lived a life less ordinary after moving to Ireland from war-torn Liberia when he was a child, but Westmeath GAA star Boidu Sayeh believes he can now be a role model for black kids striving to follow in his footsteps.

It was back in 2004 that he boarded a plane headed for Ireland with little or no knowledge of the land he was moving to, after Boidu's uncle Ben and his wife Therese adopted the youngster who instantly stood out from the crowd.

He was the only black boy in his primary school and that experience conditioned him to a life in a country that was very different from his homeland in every way imaginable.

There were the inevitable snipes from uneducated kids in his school days, but that upbringing gave him a grounding for what was to come.

"When you walk out for a game and you are the only black player on the pitch, it's a tough one to deal with, but I've had that all my life," begins Sayeh, speaking exclusively to the Sunday World at an event to promote the Movember men's health campaign.

"I had the same thing at school. I was the only black kid in primary school, and that was a daunting experience.

"You do have a feeling that people are looking at you, but you have to get over it and I try to take it as a positive.

"When I talk about racism, I have to say that my life has not been affected by it too much.

"I am surrounded by a family that cares for me and racism has not been a massive issue for me," continues Sayeh.

"There have been times when the Irish humour has been an issue, with lads making comments that they say is only a joke, but it can be seriously offensive.

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24 October 2020; Jimmy Hyland of Kildare is tackled by Boidu Sayeh of Westmeath during the Allianz Football League Division 2 Round 7 match between Kildare and Westmeath at St Conleth's Park in Newbridge, Kildare. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

24 October 2020; Jimmy Hyland of Kildare is tackled by Boidu Sayeh of Westmeath during the Allianz Football League Division 2 Round 7 match between Kildare and Westmeath at St Conleth's Park in Newbridge, Kildare. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

24 October 2020; Jimmy Hyland of Kildare is tackled by Boidu Sayeh of Westmeath during the Allianz Football League Division 2 Round 7 match between Kildare and Westmeath at St Conleth's Park in Newbridge, Kildare. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

"While racism has not been a big problem for me, when I speak to black lads who I went to college with and hear their experiences, it's clear that it is out there."

As one of the more prominent black GAA players, Sayeh is hoping the example he is setting with Westmeath can inspire the next generation to follow in his footsteps.

"Hopefully, what I'm achieving in GAA is giving a few black kids inspiration for what they could do," he continues.

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"The way I see it, my presence on the field is giving black kids a chance to see that they can make it in this great sport.

"If I can be a guy for other black kids to look at and try to emulate, then that would make me proud.

"It took me a while to grasp that I could be the guy other black kids could look up to, but I have got it in the last few years and there is a sense of pride that I could be a role model for the next generation of black kids who love GAA.

"I never had that person to try to emulate when I was growing up, because there was no one who looked like me playing GAA then, and I hope we see a lot more black kids playing this great sport in years to come."

Boidu admits he is fortunate to have a life in Ireland that would never have come his way if he had remained in Liberia, with his work as a fitness trainer complimenting his passion for GAA.

"I consider myself to be very, very lucky," he reflects. "I have brothers and sisters in Liberia who have a very different life to what I have in Ireland.

"I send them money sometimes because it's tough for them and I'm so grateful for the opportunities Ireland has given me.

"My family in Liberia haven't got a clue what GAA is all about. They just think I'm playing soccer and then they see me picking the ball up and they don't know what's going on!"

Sayeh was speaking at the launch of a campaign to encourage men to speak about their mental and physical health.

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16 May 2021; Ray Connellan of Westmeath during the Allianz Football League Division 2 North Round 1 match between Meath and Westmeath at Páirc Tailteann in Navan, Meath. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

16 May 2021; Ray Connellan of Westmeath during the Allianz Football League Division 2 North Round 1 match between Meath and Westmeath at Páirc Tailteann in Navan, Meath. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

16 May 2021; Ray Connellan of Westmeath during the Allianz Football League Division 2 North Round 1 match between Meath and Westmeath at Páirc Tailteann in Navan, Meath. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

After his Westmeath team-mate Ray Connellan spoke out about his mental health battle in an RTÉ documentary earlier this year, Boidu believes men are more open to share their experiences and seek help.

"In the GAA community, people are willing to talk about mental health issues and that might not have been the case in the past," he added.

"Ray Connellan (inset) spoke about his mental health problems a few months back, and the support he got from everyone in our dressing room was complete.

"We didn't have a clue that he was going through stuff like that - and we have all rallied around him and made sure he is okay.

"To go on TV and admit he was having these problems was huge, and I have total respect for him.

"The issue is men don't tend to be comfortable talking about their problems and hopefully that attitude is changing now."

Movember is the leading charity changing the face of men's health on a global scale. The charity raises funds to deliver innovative, breakthrough research and support programs that enable men to live happier, healthier and longer lives.

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