Friday 26 May 2017

Brought to book

THE festive season is ideal for sports fans to take some time out and delve into one or more of the many books covering all sports that are on the market this Christmas.

In this article, our Sports Department team have reviewed a variety of the offerings that are available and present our verdict for your perusal.

To spice it up we've used a rating system as a guide to the reviewer's opinion of the book.

(H poor; HH average; HHH good; HHHH very good; HHHHH excellent)

GAELIC GAMES

This is Our Year -- A season on the Inside of a Football Championship (Ballpoint Press) by Declan Bogue

THEME: The genuine inside story of the 2011 Ulster championship campaign by eight footballers -- Paddy Cunningham, Stevie McDonnell, Mickey Conlan, Kevin Cassidy, Aidan Carr, Barry Owens, Dick Clerkin and Ryan McMenamin -- and two managers, Val Andrews and Terry Hyland of Cavan.

The book received widespread publicity due to Kevin Cassidy being dumped out of the Donegal panel by manager Jim McGuinness because he felt Cassidy had revealed too much of what went on in the Donegal camp.

Cassidy's contributions are spread throughout the book as are the others in a taut, well-written narrative that provides a wonderful insight into the demands, the challenges, and the human side of top level gaelic football.

GOOD READ? Excellent. Refreshing honesty from the players and managers featured. There's humour, pain, tragedy in the case of Tyrone and Michaela Harte, and even joy for Kevin Cassidy and Donegal in the Ulster final.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL: GAA fans around the country will enjoy it.

STAR RATING HHHHH

Life, Death & Hurling (Irish Sports Publishing) by Michael Duignan (with Pat Nolan)

THEME: This is not a 'sports book' in the strictest sense -- it is much more than that as it is a hugely emotional human-interest story, which runs parallel with Duignan's successful hurling career, as well his colourful days in club rugby.

It lures the reader in immediately as Duignan outlines in the opening sentence how his wife, Edel, was diagnosed with breast cancer, and the different hurdles he had to negotiate, along with his two sons, as the family tried to come to terms with the fact that it was a battle she was not going to win.

The openness with which Duignan deals with how he tried to cope with her fight for life and how he struggled internally to deal with her death make this a book which will be read by as many women as men in your average GAA house.

For instance, the picture he presents of the couple sitting down to tell their two young boys that their mother was going to die is stark and powerful. Of course, there's also plenty of GAA anecdotes about his long career -- the best of which are contained in his recount of a roller-coaster 1998, which ended with an Offaly team full of mercurial characters claiming the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

GOOD READ? Most definitely. Credit must go to ghost writer Pat Nolan for crafting a well-written beginning and maintaining a true depiction of the Duignan's life and times.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL: Will be gobbled up by all true fans of the 'small ball' game, but others will also be drawn in by the raw telling of a poignant tale.

STAR RATING: HHHH

Without A Shadow Of A Doubt (ISP) by Joe Kernan (with Martin Breheny)

THEME: The football and life-story of the straight-talking former Armagh player and manager. It opens with Kernan outlining how he was declared bankrupt after his property development business went bust in the recession and covers everything from his playing days, his management of Crossmaglen, leading Armagh to historic All-Ireland in 2002 and his one-year tenure in Galway.

GOOD READ? It rocks along and was one of only five books short-listed for Sportsbook of the Year. Kernan has always been a hugely candid character, who apparently doesn't seem to take offence at anything, so there's little new or revelatory here, but it is very entertaining.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL: Any GAA fan, and especially those from Ulster. Also anyone interested in team management, as Kernan gives a lot of insight into his managerial methods.

STAR RATING: HHHH

Doyle (Irish Sports Publishing) by John Harrington

THEME: The story of Tipperary hurling legend, John Doyle, winner of eight All-Ireland and 11 National League medals in a remarkable career during which he played in 19 championships.

This is essentially a new departure in GAA books, which tend to concentrate on recently retired players or managers, as Harrington revisits the life and times of one of hurling's most celebrated figures, whose career spanned the 1940s, '50s and '60s.

"Fearless, flamboyant and utterly unique in an age of hurling giants when none stood taller," is Harrington's opening description of Doyle.

The author proceeds to skilfully present a picture of the fascinating life and times of Doyle as seen through Tipperary colleagues, opponents and family.

GOOD READ? Unquestionably. Well researched and well written by Doyle's fellow-Tipperary man.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL: Hurling people everywhere, especially those of a certain age who recall the Doyle era.

STAR RATING: HHHH

RUGBY

Engage (Simon & Schuster) by Paul Kimmage

THEME: The title comes from the 'Crouch-touch-hold (or pause)-engage prelude to scrums in rugby. This is the harrowing story of Matt Hampson, formerly of Leicester Tigers and the England U-21 team. Hampson had everything to live for -- he was 20 years of age, had a beautiful girlfriend and was on his way to the top level of his sport.

And then, one day, in March 2005 during training for England U-21s, the scrum collapsed and the tight-head prop suffered a horrible spinal injury. He woke up in Stoke Mandeville Hospital paralysed from the neck down and since that day can only breathe with the help of a ventilator.

In an instant, life changed for Hampson, his family, and his girlfriend. Hampson could have given up, but chose instead to live as fully as he can. The book won the William Hill Irish Sports Book of the Year award.

GOOD READ? Difficult subject to deal with, but it's imaginatively crafted by Kimmage. Hampson's emotions are laid bare, but his courage and determination shine through the narrative. He has founded the Matt Hampson Foundation which aims to help those with similar serious disabilities.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL? Hard to tell. There's plenty about rugby, but it's as much about the human spirit rising magnificently above adversity as it is about sport.

STAR RATING: HHHH

Joking Apart (Transworld Ireland) by Donncha O'Callaghan (with Denis Walsh)

THEME: A thoroughly human account of O'Callaghan's life and rugby career to date. Expertly crafted by Walsh, this book tells the story of O'Callaghan coming to terms with the loss of his father, who died when O'Callaghan was only five-years-old, with the importance of family a central theme. Another is the battle to overcome adversity and O'Callaghan speaks eloquently of his struggles to make his rugby breakthrough.

The Corkman got there in the end through a combination of perseverance and toil and went on to establish himself in the Munster and Ireland second-rows as well as gaining selection on two Lions tours. Although never a drinker, O'Callaghan has always enjoyed himself off the pitch and out of the gym and anecdotes abound in his story, revealing the sense of mischievousness and wit that has made him one of rugby's most colourful figures.

But more powerful are the insights into the insecurities that beset the professional rugby player and O'Callaghan's determination to overcome them.

GOOD READ? Enjoyable and insightful, this is a proper rugby read that gives an inside account of some of Irish rugby's seminal moments and a window into one of its finest performers.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL: Munster fans and rugby fans in general.

STAR RATING: HHHH

Leo Cullen: A Captain's Story (Irish Sports Publishing) by Leo Cullen

THEME: A diary of Leinster's Heineken Cup-winning 2010/11 season through the eyes of their captain.

All the detail is here, from the mayhem of Leinster's half-time dressing- room in Cardiff, when they frantically sought a way back from their 16-point deficit to Northampton in the Heineken Cup final to their earlier emergence from the 'Group Of Death' containing Clermont, Racing Metro and Saracens, and knock-out wins over European heavyweights Leicester and Toulouse.

Cullen's own story is woven into the narrative, taking us through his schooldays in Blackrock, early days with Leinster, his decision to try his hand in England with the Tigers and return to his native province.

Cullen also deals with his efforts to save his career from a shoulder injury that threatened to end it, as well as an eye-watering account of the groin injury he sustained last season.

His, ultimately frustrating, efforts to nail down a starting place in the Ireland second-row are also chronicled as are dealings with major Leinster figures such as Michael Cheika, Joe Schmidt and Brian O'Driscoll.

GOOD READ? Interesting. Provides only a fleeting account of Cullen's career, speeding through potentially fascinating episodes such as his time with the Tigers.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL: It will appeal primarily to die-hard Leinster fans as a souvenir of a wonderful season.

STAR RATING: HH

SOCCER

The official book of the FAI Cup (Liberties Press) by Sean Ryan

THEME: Every FAI Cup final since 1922 -- when it was the Free State Challenge Cup -- to 2010 is accorded its own chapter with some fascinating and entertaining insights. Ryan has dug out some great yarns to augment the results and facts of each year's Cup competition. This book is a much-needed and timely updated version of an earlier project that went up to 1985.

GOOD READ? Absolutely. The Cup competition retains an enduring magic and Ryan's observant eye brings it to life in these pages.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL: Fans of Cup final winning teams, and home soccer followers in general.

STAR RATING: HHH

CYCLING

Inside the Peloton (Transworld Ireland) by Nicolas Roche (with Gerard Cromwel)

THEME: "If John Gadret is found dead in his hotel room in the morning I will probably be the prime suspect".

Nicolas Roche has been grabbing our attention for the last three seasons on these pages, with his revealing warts-and-all Grand Tour diaries.

Now, in 'Inside the Peloton', alongside a full archive of his Irish Independent diaries, Roche tells the story of how he followed in the pedal strokes of his famous father to the top of professional cycling.

Being the son of a Tour de France winner could cast an unwelcome shadow over most sportspeople's attempts to make it on their own, but through his impressive achievements on the road and his remarkable candour off it, Roche has become one of the most fascinating Irish sports stars of the modern age. Roche describes a childhood and formative years split between the influence of his French mother and Irish father; switching homes between the two countries and the break-up of his parents' marriage.

He also describes the difficult path to make it to the professional ranks including the conflict over which country to ride for.

Roche's bluntness, confidence and outspokenness are rare qualities in Irish sport and contribute to a fascinating read.

GOOD READ? More brilliant insight into the exotic (and sometimes not so exotic) life at the head of the peloton.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL: The diaries attracted fans of cycling, sport and beyond and the book should interest a similarly wide spectrum.

STAR RATING: HHHH

Racing Through the Dark: The Fall and Rise of David Millar (Orion) by David Millar

THEME: One of the most thoughtful members of the modern peloton had to reach so low before he could truly save himself. Scottish cyclist David Millar had everything he had ever dreamed of: a celebrity lifestyle of a cycling World Champion, a dream home in the French city of Biarritz, money to burn and the respect of his peers.

But it had been largely built on a lie, and on the performance-enhancing drug EPO.

The sad tragedy of Millar's story is that he had the talent to make it to top without the use of illegal drugs. But the Scot tells how his will to resist the temptations of doping, in an environment where it was commonplace and sometimes discreetly encouraged, was worn away by what he describes as the 'white noise' of the peloton.

But from the ashes of a ruined career and bankruptcy, Millar was able to claw his way back to the top and spread a message of reform for a tainted sport. The book has some brilliant anecdotes too from when Millar crossed paths and sometimes swords with Lance Armstrong.

GOOD READ? It's a remarkable read of simple human temptation and ultimate redemption -- even more special given that Millar penned the vast majority of the book himself.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL: A specialist read for cycling fans.

STAR RATING: HHHHH

GENERAL SPORT

Who Dares, Runs (Ballpoint Press) by Gerry Duffy

THEME: The story of an ordinary man, Gerry Duffy, who had his photo taken with Seve Ballesteros at Mount Juliet in 1995. He was 27-years-old and weighed 17 stone.

"Seve was instantly recognisable. It was the chap beside him whom I didn't recognise. Of course I was looking at myself, but I was stunned. No, more than that; I was shocked and disgusted," he writes.

In that moment of embarrassment, Duffy slowly, incrementally, changed his habits and his outlook on life. He became a runner; he lost four stone; he took on 10k runs, then marathons, triathlons and Ironman challenges.

Then he and friend Ken Whitelaw went for the Big Kahuna -- an amazing 32 marathons in 32 days during 2010 -- one in each county of Ireland.

GOOD READ? Very good indeed. Thought provoking, challenging and fascinating in the way the lads built up to this mad idea of running 32 marathons in 32 days and also how they achieved it.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL: Anyone who has ever laced up a pair of runners and jogged even a few hundred yards, and anyone who seeks inspiration in these challenging times.

STAR RATING: HHHHH

My Great Sports Memories (Lorcan O'Rourke) -- A Miscellany by 72 authors.

THEME: This is a fundraising compendium in aid of Chernobyl Children's International. It includes anecdotes and recollections from 72 sportspeople, including athletes, administrators and sportswriters from soccer, rugby, GAA, boxing, racing, tennis and much more.

GOOD READ? The format means it is very easy to dip into and that's the ideal way to read it, rather than from cover-to-cover.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL: Anyone with a sentimental streak or any interest in Irish sporting history from Ronnie Delany onwards; an entertaining reference book across a wide range of Irish sports.

STAR RATING: HHH

Born To Perform (Orpen Press) by Gerard Hartmann

THEME: The world-renowned Limerick physical therapist has treated hundreds of Kenya's top runners as well as Paula Radcliffe, Sonia O'Sullivan and Kelly Holmes and this tells how he went from an elite triathlete to this position and the philosophies that guide him.

GOOD READ? Yes, but not if you think he's going to reveal any treatment secrets. This is much more interesting because it explains how Hartmann recovered physically and mentally from a career-ending crash himself and the contagiously positive disposition and spirituality that guides his work.

Royalties from this book are donated to Console, the suicide support group.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL: Anyone interested in athletics or triathlon (Hartmann was involved in the sport at its genesis) or sports injuries.

STAR RATING: HHH

RaCING

My Autobiography (Orion) by AP McCoy (with Donn McClean)

THEME: A no-holds-barred insight into the life, determination and various neuroses of one of the world's greatest sportsmen, 16-time champion jockey AP McCoy (pictured left).

This isn't McCoy's first biographical tome, but it is surely his most revealing.

Predictably, he attempts to explain how it is that he came to be the stubborn, single-minded, uber-driven competitor that has ruled the unforgiving world of jump racing for so long. Sample quote: "This may sound ridiculous, but I think I have programmed myself to not get knocked out cold."

Unpredictably, a number of individuals come into his line of fire, and he also has a fairly withering swipe at racing practices here in Ireland.

However, the most arresting element of the entire book is McCoy's searingly frank account of how he once treated the woman to whom he is married.

Rarely do you read a sports biog and wonder if too much has been said, but readers are left with an illuminating portrait of the champion as a real man, one who struggles to come to terms with his at times irrational and destructive tendencies.

GOOD READ? A cracking one. McCoy doesn't come out of every chapter smelling of roses, which is what sets it apart from so much of this genre.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL: Sports fans in general will love it, while amateur psychologists could have a field day trying to rationalise the perennial champion's compulsive behaviour.

STAR RATING: HHHH

One Hell Of A Ride, (Paperweight Publication) by Paul Carberry (with Des Gibson)

THEME: Paul Carberry is Irish racing's answer to George Best. One of the most naturally gifted riders ever to have graced the saddle, the Aintree Grand National-winning jockey has led a colourful existence.

Here he recounts many of the drinking sessions and hunting escapades for which he is renowned, and he goes into plenty of detail about his brushes with the law, be it that of the land or the turf.

Some seemingly central issues are disappointingly glossed over or not addressed at all, but you, nonetheless, get a fairly clear picture of the man who was arrested and charged for setting fire to a newspaper on an aeroplane in 2005.

GOOD READ? It's not quite the revealing inquisition it might have been, but neither is it ruined by any contrived revisionism in light of his current abstinence.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL: Should appeal to racing fans.

STAR RATING: HH

Irish Independent

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