In an era when the Irish sports book market is flooded with scissors-and-paste rush jobs and crushingly predictable ghosted autobiographies, the small Cork publisher Collins Press has had a remarkable year.
For starters, they released the latest two books from the one-man industry that is Boston College sports historian Mike Cronin. Both GAA County by County, co-written with Paul Rouse and Mark Duncan, and Places We Play, a history of Irish sporting venues co-written with Roisin Higgins, were not just superbly entertaining, informative and exciting reads, they were also strikingly handsome hardbacks of a type rarely seen anymore.
Collins Press followed this up with a book which slipped somewhat under the radar but happens to be one of the most interesting studies of the GAA ever published.
Cormac Moore's The GAA v Douglas Hyde dealt with the removal of Ireland's first President as patron of the GAA following his attendance at a soccer match and also functioned as an utterly intriguing history of The Ban, setting it perfectly in the social and political context of its time. Anyone with an interest in the GAA would benefit from reading this one.
And they won't go too far wrong with Collins' final sports offering of the year. A history of the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cups might not strike you as the most promising idea but Donal McAnallen fills The Cups That Cheered with such a wealth of anecdote that he renders the subject utterly absorbing and has made at least one third-level-competition sceptic reconsider his prejudices.
The sports fans of Ireland will awake on Christmas morning to find in their stockings a variety of undistinguished volumes selected by well-meaning relatives on the grounds that, "he likes sport, doesn't he? I can never think what to get him." In reality, these books will get about as much use as the ganseys, soap on a rope and Brut gift sets of yore.
Collins Press, on the other hand, in an era when Paddy Obvious – My Story written by Seamus Slipshod is the order of the day, have struck a blow for real sports books.
Remember, a book is for life not just for Christmas.
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The huge interest that was shown in the sports capital programme this year revealed just how desperate sports clubs in Ireland are to continually better their facilities. A lot of clubs which applied for grants were ultimately unsuccessful because of the sheer volume of applications.
But there is good news for rugby clubs, who have been offered the opportunity to enter Ulster Bank RugbyForce, an initiative which provides them with the opportunity to win support packages for upgrading and renovation work. The return of the scheme was marked last week when Mike Ross, Fergus McFadden and Sean Cronin joined club players from the Ulster Bank League and rugby ambassador Alan Quinlan to launch the initiative in UCD.
This year, five clubs will receive a €5,000 support package, with one coming down to a public vote. One lucky club will also be chosen to receive a special training session from an IRFU coach and two Irish players. Last year, RugbyForce received entries from almost 100 clubs across the country, with 54 clubs receiving funding and hundreds of volunteers from the clubs and communities taking part in the designated Ulster Bank RugbyForce Day. It encourages supporters, their friends and families to give something back to their local community and rugby club by volunteering to undertake renovations to clubhouses and grounds. The first 50 clubs to register will receive €250 towards their event. Clubs must register online by Friday, April 12 2013. See ulsterbank.com/rugby
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WITH the recent increase in the popularity of running, it's no surprise that, as people grow more adventurous, triathlon is one of the fastest growing sports in the country. According to the latest Triathlon Ireland figures, there's been a 20 per cent increase in membership numbers in 2012 to 7,340. That's a staggering increase of over 800 per cent since 2005. In just five years, the number of sanctioned events and clubs across the country has grown from 74 events and 24 clubs in 2007, to 168 events and 71 clubs in 2012.
That's a lot of blood, sweat and tears.
Eamonn Sweeney, John Greene and Fergus McDonnell