CHRISTMAS WOULDN'T be the same without a fine selection of sporting books to whet the appetite for the action to come, and this year is no exception as our writers have discovered. Here's their verdict on some of the more popular offerings.
'Memory Man' by Jimmy Magee One of the most instantly recognisable voices and faces in Irish sports commentary has left it until the ripe old age of 77 to share with us the intimacies of a lifetime. For sports fans spanning several generations (he's been broadcasting with RTE for over 50 years) this is a captivating read.
The Louth man holds nothing back when detailing the highs and heartbreaks he has experienced in the world of sport, and in his private life. Premature death is a tragic recurrence throughout the book and plenty will shed a tear along with him upon hearing about losing his father, wife and son too soon.
In terms of sport, he picks and chooses wisely from a packed treasure chest of anecdotes which includes covering twelve Summer Olympics and twelve World Cups. A personal highlight is reading how he unwittingly became a part of the story of the horrific massacre of eleven Israeli athletes in Munich, in 1972. A book you will find difficult to put down, and look forward to picking up.
'Winners All' by Anne Holland When renowned racing writer, Anne Holland, was approached by her publisher and asked to write a book on the twelve best racehorses of all-time, she thought the task impossible; she argued that such a definitive list would forever be ripped to shreds by opinion.
Instead she tweaked the proposal, coming up with a book on 15 of the greatest animals to grace the Sport of Kings. From 'The Byerley Turk', whose lineage and influence on modern racing traces back to the late 17th century, all the way up to recent Cheltenham Champion Hurdle hero, 'Hardy Eustace', fans of horse racing will absorb the stories behind the facts and figures with relish.
'Cottage Rake', 'Nijinsky', 'Istabraq', 'Doran's Pride', 'Beef or Salmo'n... most of her selections qualify themselves. And of course it paves the way for endless bar-stool rants about the great horses that failed to make the writer's cut.
'We'll Leave It There So' by Bill O'Herlihy Cork journalist Bill O'Herlihy once ruled out the idea of a career in television as he thought he wasn't good looking enough to be put in front of a camera; thankfully someone persuaded him to change his mind. The RTE sports anchor, with the kind pair of eyes, tells the story of his life in an engaging and charming fashion from his time with the 'Cork Examiner' through to the establishment of his communications company, via Montrose.
In the early 1970s, a tribunal set up by the Government to probe a political programme on illegal money lending in Dublin on which he reported led to an unjust fall from grace. The rising star of RTE political coverage was transferred to the sports department, and has never looked back.
Read about his journey and the relationships established along the way including his bond with soccer's Holy Trinity that consists of Giles, Brady and Dunphy. He also reveals how lucky we are to still have him after several serious health scares, survival of which makes him cherish what life has served him all the more.
'The Great & The Good' by John Giles In the book's foreword, Eamon Dunphy explains why his friend and fellow RTE soccer panelist, John Giles, is qualified to write a book ' categorising' footballers that have graced playing fields throughout the world, from the post-War period all the way up to modern times.
Dunphy believes it is because the former Leeds United hard-man belongs among the playing elite also, and few will disagree with the oft contrarian on that. The purpose of the book is to allow Giles give his opinion on what differentiates a good player from a great player, using household names as case studies.
If hearing that ' David Beckham was brilliant at being a celebrity and was a good player but no John Robertson' tickles the hell out of you, then there is plenty more where that came from in this entertainingly delivered evaluation of the contribution of players from Matthews to Dalglish and Beckenbauer to Scholes. Not quite up there with last year's autobiography which is one of the best published in recent years, but intriguing nonetheless. 'All in my head' by
Lar Corbett Prior to this year, Tipperary hurler Lar Corbett was best known for his All-Ireland winning exploits in 2001 and 2010, with his three-goal blitz in the latter final singling him out as one of the best forwards of the modern generation.
2012 has definitely been a mixed bag though as it began with the Thurles man taking a premature break from the game before he decided to return for the championship.
However, it didn't go according to plan and his role in the tactical farce which marred the All-Ireland semi-final left him subject to ridicule. What better time then to hear Lar's side of the story as he gives his version of what happened on that disastrous day.
There was a time not too long ago when G.A.A. players waited until their retirement before releasing books, but Lar has followed in the footsteps of Donal Og Cusack and Oisín McConville by committing his deepest thoughts to paper when he still has much to offer as a player. With his club in an All-Ireland semi-final in February, he is set to remain in the spotlight for some time yet.
'The Cups that Cheered' by Donal McAnallen The Fitzgibbon and Sigerson Cups for third level colleges hurling and football have played a huge role in the development of so many inter-county stars down through the years.
Indeed, look at the credentials of most All-Ireland winning teams and you will find that several players have made their names in these prestigious competitions.
Thankfully, we now have a definitive historical account of their development, and indeed of the third level scene in general, thanks to this fine offering by Tyrone-born historian Donal McAnallen.
An added bonus is that this book is published by Collins Press in Cork whose output in recent years has been printed to the highest standards and beautifully illustrated. 'An Open Book' by Darren Clarke Triumph and tragedy have featured in the life of Dungannon golfer Darren Clarke in equal measure, and his autobiography doesn't shy away from the bad times while still devoting a large chunk to his Open championship success.
He has managed to find happiness again following the death of his wife, Heather, from cancer, marrying Alison Campbell last April.
A man with strong opinions on the game of golf and life itself, in this book he deals candidly with issues such as being bullied at school, narrowly avoiding an IRA bomb at the height of the Troubles, what he thinks of his fellow players and the use of coaches and golfing psychologists. An intriguing read for all golf fans.
'Cliffs of Insanity' by Keith Duggan Keith Duggan is the type of writer who can make any subject appear interesting, and that is a rare gift. Many people's first instinct when they buy ' The Irish Times' every Saturday is to look for his column on the back page of the sports section, and the Donegal man has a wonderful way with words.
While his two previous books dealt with Gaelic football, he has drifted away from the mainstream on this occasion as 'Cliffs of Insanity' gives an insight into how the surfing scene has developed on the west coast of Ireland in recent years.
Duggan concentrates on the story of a group from Co. Clare whose lives revolve around the pursuit of Ireland's wildest waves, while he also outlines the story of Mayo man Fergal Smith, and Mickey Smith whose breathtaking surf photography has heightened awareness of the sport. If you're looking for something a little different for your reading material over the holidays, this may be the book for you.
'The GAA v Douglas Hyde' by Cormac Moore The history of the GAA's infamous Ban has been well documented over the years, and in these more enlightened times most people will agree that it did the Association a complete disservice.
Douglas Hyde was installed as Patron of the GAA on his inauguration as the first President of Ireland in June, 1938, but a mere five months later he attended a soccer game between Ireland and Poland and his led to a hysterical reaction from GAA hardliners.
The GAA hierarchy declared that he had broken Rule 27 by attending a 'foreign game' and was duly removed as Patron one week before Christmas. Cormac Moore presents a balanced account of this extraordinary sporting saga and offers both points of view, letting the reader decide if the GAA was completely out of order or if they did have a valid point. If you like your history as well as your sport, you will enjoy this book.
'My Beautiful Obsession' by Weeshie Fogarty Kerrymen love their football, of that there is no doubt, and their passion for the sport means that their musings on the game are lapped up by avid readers far removed from the Kingdom.
Weeshie (what a wonderfully evocative name!) Fogarty has done it all as a former goalkeeper, referee and now a long-time broadcaster who is regarded as an authority on Kerry football.
He's also well able to tell a story, and he veers into interesting territory far removed from the playing fields too as he is a retired psychiatric nurse. Don't be put off by the strong Kerry slant as this is an entertaining read.
Katie Taylor - 'Journey to Olympic Gold' Katie Taylor warmed our hearts on her journey to Olympic glory, and this picture book recalls that magical journey which brightened the Irish sporting summer.
Jason O'Toole provides the accompanying text to give the background to each snap, and Katie's exploits should ensure that this volume will be found in many Irish households this Christmas.
'Triggs: The Autobiography of Roy Keane's Dog'
You've got to hand it to Paul Howard for ingenuity: the man behind the Ross O'Carroll-Kelly character tells the story of Roy Keane's faithful companion and how she viewed his many trials and tribulations.
If you want a laugh this Christmas, some light-hearted reading and nothing too heavy, then this could be the book for you - particularly if you happen to be a Manchester United fan or a disciple of the great Corkman who continues to divide opinion but who could never be accused of being dull or predictable. 'Christy - From Rough to Fair
Ways' Another golfing book, and another Irish star of the sport who has been forced to deal with tragedy away from the greens.
In the case of Christy O'Connor Jnr. it was the death of his 17-year-old son Darren in a car crash mere yards from his Galway home. Christy also managed to walk away relatively unscathed from a helicopter crash, while he candidly admits that he didn't make the best use of his talent during his 'wasted years' when partying came before practice.
The O'Connor family name is synonymous with golf on these shores, and this is an engaging story which will appeal to many. 'The Irish Majors: Irish Golf's Magnificent Seven' Philip Reid of 'The Irish Times' continues the golfing theme, albeit in a more general way with this look back at how Irish golfers have annexed an incredible seven Majors since 2007.
At the time such an achievement appeared fanciful, as the country had just one such title to its name be fore Pádraig Harrington opened the floodgates a t Carnoustie.
S ince then his lead has been followed by Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and man of the moment Rory McIlroy who must be the most photographed man in Irish sport right now, not to mention the most successful.
As a golf correspondent with access to the players, Reid looks behind the scenes and gives an interesting insight into their mindsets on those Major-winning weeks. 'Robbie Keane: The Biography' by Paul Lennon Does Robbie Keane get the credit he deserves for his goalscoring exploits?
That's a question that will divide opinion, just as there seems to be two camps in relation to the Tallaght man and his exploits in an Irish international jersey.
The bottom line is that he has rattled the net 53 times in 115 appearances with the international team and is his country's leading goalscorer.
Yet, that doesn't seem to be enough for some and he hasn't exactly been the fans' favourite in recent times as the Trapattoni era has lost its earlier gloss.
Devoted followers of the number ten will hang on every word in this book though which has a foreword from an ex-striker of note, Niall Quinn.
So that's it from our annual sports book review and that's only the tip of the iceberg as we have concentrated solely on Irish titles.
One piece of advice if you really love your sport: try to get your hands on a copy of 'The Best American Sportswriting 2012' edited by Michael Wilbon as you won't be disappointed.