independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Books: Sporting lives less ordinary

We review biographies of cycling, GAA, gold and rugby heroes.

CYCLING

The Secret Race

by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle

( Random House, €15.99)

What happens when you try to transfuse a bag of your own blood and it goes horribly wrong?

Tyler Hamilton survived this ordeal and the murky world of the professional peloton to compose this gripping autobiography about cycling's darkest years.

Riding shotgun as a right-hand man and, later, rival to the disgraced former seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, Hamilton reveals, in more detail than ever before, one of the sport's greatest conspiracies.

While insight into Armstrong's cheating may have grabbed the headlines, the complex networks of secret phones, svengali doctors and double lives are equally shocking.

And that's before you mention the fear of getting caught at doping control. Hamilton admits a medically-enhanced training programme involving the use of EPO, testosterone and blood bags become so part of their day to day regime, they regarded it as normal.

'The Secret Race' at times reads more like a Mario Puzo novel than a sporting autobiography. None of the gory details are spared.

Hamilton writes about the night during the Tour de France, when his attempt to transfuse a bag of his own blood in his hotel room goes wrong.

The Tour contender spends the night between the toilet, where he urinates now defunct red blood cells, and his bed. As he lies awake, shaking, he clutches the lifeline which is his mobile phone in case he needs to call for an ambulance.

The next day, he somehow manages to climb back on his bike to complete another gruelling stage of the Tour.

Cycling is the theme, but this story is definitely not about the bike.

Ciaran Lennon

Gaelic Games

Teddy Boy: The Teddy McCarthy Story

with Donal Keenan

(ISP, €15.99)

TEDDY McCarthy's name resonates in GAA history as the only man to have won an All-Ireland medal in football and hurling in the same year. His story, as comprehensively told to Donal Keenan, is absorbing and reveals that behind the glory and the kudos of that 1990 peak achievement with Cork, life was never easy.

The death of his father, when Teddy was four; and of his brother Michael; the situation of his sister Ellen, who remains in permanent care following a car accident in 1982; the breakdown of a marriage and loss of his business; are realities of McCarthy's story.

It would be interesting to have had sports science analysis done on McCarthy's body when he was at his peak, because his energy was phenomenal.

At one stage, when he was 17, the Glanmire man was playing for NINE different teams. Not so much a dual player as a multi-team player. He was 21 when he won his first All-Ireland – the 1986 Liam MacCarthy Cup decider against Galway, and life was a roller-coaster from then on, especially after his retirement from the games which consumed him for decades.

Liam Kelly

The Godfather of Modern Hurling: The Fr Tommy Maher Story

by Enda McEvoy

(Ballpoint Press, €14.99)

And now to another remarkable personality – Fr Tommy Maher. Could anybody outside Kilkenny hurling cognoscenti fully appreciate his outstanding influence on generations of Kilkenny teams, and on Noreside hurling success?

Enda McEvoy is the man to tell us why we should do so. McEvoy's lyrical prose, his quirky insights to personalities, and eye for detail, presents a compelling and readable narrative. A book to treasure for anyone who loves the ancient game.

Liam Kelly

Golf

Christy – From Rough to Fair Ways: The Christy O'Connor Jnr Autobiography with Justin Doyle

(Paperweight, Dundrum €19.99)

FIRE and brimstone almost scorch the pages of Christy O'Connor Jnr's autobiography as the Galway native brands the failure to appoint even one Irish captain in the history of the Ryder Cup as "a huge miscarriage of justice".

Insisting "a long line of disgraceful wrongs can be put right" if Paul McGinley is named skipper of the European team at Gleneagles in 2014, O'Connor insists "anti-Irish bias" was at play in the past.

Especially when it came to Christy O'Connor Snr, his legendary uncle, who played in 10 Ryder Cups, but was repeatedly passed over for the captaincy.

In fairness, the processes behind several Ryder Cup appointments were 'pro-British' rather than 'anti-Irish'.

Yet O'Connor Jnr, who wielded the most famous two-iron in Ryder Cup history to beat Freddie Couples and the US on 18 at the Belfry in 1989, deserves credit for pinning his colours to the mast throughout a lively, engaging and insightful book.

Surprisingly, Darren Clarke, the only man standing between McGinley and the captaincy in 2014, doesn't rate a mention from O'Connor Jnr!

Karl MacGinty

Darren Clarke – An Open Book: My Autobiography

with Martin Hardy

(Hodder & Stoughton, London, £20)

Clarke too has just published his autobiography. There are poignant parallels in the story of two Irish golfers celebrated as bon vivant by their peers on Tour, but each of whom has had to overcome unimaginable tragedy.

O'Connor lost eldest son Darren in a car crash in 1998, but found the strength within to soldier on, counting back-to-back British Senior Open victories in 1999 and 2000 in a glittering career in Seniors golf.

Yet the courage and resolve shown by Clarke in satisfying the wishes of his late wife Heather and representing Europe at the 2006 Ryder Cup at The K Club within eight weeks of her death from breast cancer is utterly astounding.

Tears coursed freely around the golfing world as Clarke brought an amazing weekend to a winning climax on the 16th that Sunday at The K Club and those harrowing times are touchingly recounted.

Followed by his subsequent march to victory at the 2011 British Open in Sandwich, the Ulsterman's story is one of the most dramatic in sport this century.

Yet if O'Connor, with nothing to lose at age 63, gives full vent, Clarke (44) inevitably is compromised by January's Ryder Cup captaincy vote.

So, his autobiography doesn't read like an 'Open Book' on one of the most passionate and, after his 2011 British Open victory, most accomplished individuals in European golf. It may be a couple of years before the Ulsterman can reveal himself in full.

Rugby

The Bull – My Story: John Hayes

with Tommy Conlon

(Simon & Schuster, €18.99)

Sometimes the best harvested tales come from the stoniest of soils.

What would be the point, you wonder, of penning a book with someone whose reticence to talk to the media was so commonplace, it was a wonder he never said "no comment" when you bade him good morning?

John Hayes was the Greta Garbo of Irish rugby. But his enduring legend was created on the field, not off it.

Hayes developed a passion for rugby despite being bred in hurling land; Tommy Conlon, who developed a passion for Gaelic football while growing up in Leitrim, discovered the perfect subject matter with which to develop his recent commitment to scribbling of a rather different nature.

Hewn over Hayes' kitchen table over two months, often for eight hours a day, five days a week, it is a sumptuous presentation of quiet over-achievement, underplayed. It is a book of a man who represents a magnificent ordinariness.

David Kelly

The Outsider: Geordan Murphy

with Gavin Cummiskey

(Penguin, €18.99)

Unlike Hayes, Geordan Murphy's is a story that divides many rugby and general sports fans.

Either he was an oval ball George Best, cruelly denied a truly great Irish career as an attacking back three player by an autocratic coach. Or, alternatively, an overly enigmatic dilettante whose reluctance to tackle aroused natural suspicion.

Perhaps the best way to make up your mind is by reading this worthy tome from Gavin Cummiskey. There are decent anecdotes and a wealth of new information, such as the hitherto unrevealed stint with the Kildare minor football team.And his description of friendship with Jimmy Ferris demonstrates just how fate plays its role in every sporting life.

David Kelly

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