Antrim ace Neil McManus is relishing exhibition clashes in Kenya as part of initiative to plant 1,000,000 trees

The big issue first.

e’s 34 now. Thirty four. It’s incredible for him and those who have watched him how the numbers keep creeping up through a career which has brought plenty of everything but mainly hardship and tests of his relentless pride and positivity.

In 2023, Neil McManus wants to hurl for Antrim. They will be playing at the highest level of hurling and he wouldn’t miss it for the world. We will come back to that, as first he has something that he suspects will be life-changing as he heads off to Nairobi.

McManus is one of 50 GAA athletes who are heading off to play an exhibition game at Nairobi Rugby Club, arranged by former Galway dual player Alan Kerins and his Warriors for Humanity group.

The game will be a showpiece occasion for sure, the first time a game like this has been hosted in Kenya. They will tie bamboo canes to goalposts to replicate GAA goals and players will play both a hurling and football game. It will give McManus a chance to kick a football for the first time since he used to play a bit of under-age for Glenraval.

But the main driver of their presence is the goal of planting 1,000,000 trees throughout Kenya. The trees will produce food, shelter and income in some of the most barren land and help rural Kenyan farmers.

Global warming, carbon emissions and drought have floored the most vulnerable people in the world, and they have contributed nothing towards their downfall.


Neil McManus is looking forward to major tests with Antrim in 2023

Neil McManus is looking forward to major tests with Antrim in 2023

To get there, each player had to raise €10k (£8,700). McManus put a call through to Fibrus, the internet service provider, to secure funding. By the end of his first call, they had already agreed to sorting his fee and going further by pledging the cost of 25,000 trees themselves.

“When I spoke to them, they said, ‘We are in. This is a brilliant initiative’,” McManus explained.

“Their reasoning was, ‘It gives us an opportunity to not just talk about sustainability, but to demonstrate our commitment to sustainability. It doesn’t matter where it happens in the world. It’s our planet and we want to be involved’. It was music to my ears.”

With Kerins continuing the kind of work that has previously helped impoverished communities in Zambia, all players going out have received a full appraisal of the problems in Kenya.

“They are experiencing flash flooding at times, but more than that, they experience really harsh drought,” said McManus.

“So these trees we are going to plant, and there are different trees for different regions in Kenya, but first of all they will provide a food source, because food is scarce.

“Two, it is going to allow them to regenerate the soil on their farms. They will have the plant crop, and that allows them to make some money.

“So it allows them to grow their way out of poverty, really.

“These trees are going to be here for 50 years, so it is generational change really. They just don’t have access to funds and that’s the problem.

“You forget just because you are a GAA player what you can potentially do. It’s probably the most worthwhile thing I have used my position to do.”

Some of the other names heading out include Tyrone’s All-Star Conor Meyler, who will surely relish the opportunity to visit the phenomenon that is the Iten running camp at high altitude.

McManus will be accompanied by Antrim hurler Paddy Burke, camog Jane Adams, former county goalkeeper Chris Kerr and Down All-Star footballer Kevin McKernan.

Others to go over include Offaly’s Brian Carroll, Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea and Tom Parsons, Colm Begley of Laois, Kilkenny camog Grace Walsh, Cork’s Laura Treacy and Aisling Thompson, Matthew O’Hanlon, Jack O’Connor of Wexford and Clare dual star PodgeCollins.

Kerry legend Tomás Ó Sé, Dublin hurling goalkeeper Alan Nolan and vastly-decorated Limerick hurler Sean Finn are also on the mission.

There is a slight regret for McManus in that he will not be able to meet Dunloy native Fr PJ McCamphill.

In recent months McManus has become a father to Aoibhín, with his wife Aileen, from Dunloy, and Fr PJ did the baptizing duties.

But several flights back to Kenya were canceled this week due to a pilot strike and he will not be there.

“He’s been a massive support to Antrim GAA and someone I would be very close to after almost a couple of decades playing for Antrim,” McManus commented.

In 53 years as a Missionary Priest in Kenya, he has given the place a bit of the feel of the Antrim Glens.

“There is a school just a couple of hours from Nairobi in memory of Frankie McMullan, a well-known former Antrim and Dunloy hurler. It is a nursery. The benefit it has had is unreal and I would have loved to have got out and seen it with Fr PJ,” explained McManus.


Alan Kerins (third left) and his Warriors for Humanity group have organized the initiative in Kenya

Alan Kerins (third left) and his Warriors for Humanity group have organized the initiative in Kenya

©INPHO/Bryan Keane

Alan Kerins (third left) and his Warriors for Humanity group have organized the initiative in Kenya

When all of this is taken care of, it will be back to the rain and muck and gutters of winter training.

Having first played for Antrim at senior level in 2007, McManus has put down almost two careers with the Saffrons in mainly trying times.

But their upswing in fortunes under Darren Gleeson has him as keen as ever to get back.

He explained: “If my body is in good enough shape, I couldn’t see a situation where I wouldn’t play. And everything is good with my daughter and Aileen is incredibly supportive, so I have no reason not to.

“The decision wasn’t a hard one to make.”

In the National Hurling League, Antrim are in Division 1B along with Tipperary, Waterford, Kilkenny, Dublin and Laois.

The last time they were at this level they acquitted themselves well with a win over Clare and a draw with Wexford, both coming in hectic games in Corrigan Park. They were relegated after a defeat away from home to Laois, in the one game they would have targeted as one to gain points from.

They will also be playing in the Leinster Hurling Round-Robin Championship.

He has also been lucky enough to escape any long-term muscular or joint injuries.

“You get these injuries,” he said.

“I have had broken fingers and a broken hand, broken cheekbone and eye-sockets.

“You get these impact injuries, going back 10 years. You are going to have impact injuries if you are playing a contact sport, the odd torn hamstring.

“But I feel good. I get up in the morning and I don’t need anyone to put my socks on for me. That’s probably testament to the people I have had looking after me, in particular the last three years such as Brendan Murphy, the Antrim strength and conditioning coach. He couldn’t give you a wrong steer.

“Antrim are competing at the very top level this coming year in the League and Championship and I want to be involved in that. You want to play at as high a level as you can and I want to test myself this year.

“It’s just, ‘Can we swim?’ That’s the question.”

Comments are closed.