‘It shows the generosity of people’ – Roscommon GAA side unite to support Ukrainian team-mate

THE MANAGER OF the Roscommon minor footballers says he is “very proud” of his squad who have united to show solidarity with one of their team-mates who comes from Ukraine.

Nikita Berzins is an emerging defender from the Kilmore/Shannon Gaels club who has family that are based in the centre of Ukraine. Following the Russian invasion of his home country, the Roscommon team and management joined together to send over vital supplies that will help Ukrainian people through this time of conflict.

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James Duignan, who was appointed as manager of the side last November after previously working as a selector on the team, tells The42 that his squad wanted to do something practical for Nikita after the violence began in Ukraine recently.

“After the first few days [of the invasion] myself and the management team were worried about Nikita. His own club chairman, Chris O’Dowd, is very good and he brings him to training every night.

“So, we were just kind of wondering, ‘What can we do?’ 

“We were playing a match last Saturday and the minor county board chairman, Shay Galvin, came to me and said that a friend of his called PJ Fallon & Sons runs a tool equipment business in Roscommon town and that he was sending over a container to the Ukraine.

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“He [Shay] suggested we do our own collection. So, I put the message out on Saturday night after we all came home and the response was absolutely massive from all the players and the parents. It showed the generosity of the Roscommon people, just brilliant straight away jumping on it.

“We gathered at training on Tuesday night. I got a van from work and we filled it. We left it off then that night at PJ Fallon’s and as of this morning, the container is in Poland on the way to Ukraine.”

Duignan also spoke to Nikita to get his permission before proceeding with the collection, and made a speech to the players about the significance of their project.

“It was emotional even for me giving the speech,” Duignan adds. “And looking down at him, he got very emotional but I think he couldn’t believe the response on Tuesday. And he’s so thankful. If we can bring any joy to his life in such a difficult time, we were willing to do it.”

The items that were gathered in the collection included important medical supplies, cleaning products and general material that have everyday uses. Duignan, along with other members of the backroom team, also made a contribution of supplies for babies.

“I have a four-year-old girl,” he explains, “and just from a human level, you never think you’d be going in to get bottles, baby toothbrushes, and you’re numb for a few hours after doing that shop.”

Duignan added that Nikita is coping well despite the horrific scenes that are unfolding in Ukraine. He was offered some time off to process everything, but insists that he prefers to be at training and have some release from the worries of what is happening abroad.

The players, Duignan says, were the driving force for this collection effort, and he is heartened by their sense of initiative in such a precarious time for one of their team-mates.

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“He’s [Nikita] an awful resilient young man and he’s absolutely brilliant. He’s brilliant within our group and he has a great personality.

“I’m very conscious when you’re managing young boys that they all have their voice and all speak. Even before this invasion, he would have been seen as a good character and a really hard trainer. 

“But, he would say himself that the GAA is just an outlet to get away from it for a while.

“People talk about the youth of Ireland and so many people give out about them. I have to say this bunch of young men, every single one of them would have a quiet word with Nikita at training.

“For them to come and fully embrace this along with their parents, they’re a fantastic group and I’m very proud of them.”

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