Wednesday 28 September 2016

The write stuff - Your guide to the the best sports books this Christmas

This has been a bumper year for the publication of books on sport, particularly autobiographies from stars in a variety of codes. Once again, the staff at the Irish Independent Sports Department present their assessment of some of the selection of books on offer

Published 19/12/2015 | 02:30

A selection of some of the sports books published this year Photo: Kyran O'Brien
A selection of some of the sports books published this year Photo: Kyran O'Brien

They just keep coming, book after book after book, and we sports fans and supporters are all the better for that, particularly at Christmas 2015.

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Autobiographies by sporting heroes across the whole spectrum of professional and amateur codes; lighter but entertaining publications such as John Scally's Odd Balls; analysis and investigation into the corruption of FIFA by Andrew Jennings; searingly honest autobiographies by John Dub Sub Confidential Leonard and Frank Greally (Running Full Circle), and much, much more.

The Irish love their sport. We love talking about it, thinking about it and analysing it - and thankfully, reading about it.

Our knowledge of some of the big stars is enhanced by the personal stories of such luminaries as Henry Shefflin, Jim McGuinness, Brendan Cummins, Tomás Ó Sé and our own Tony Ward.

Space permits only a selection of books to come under our review process. We again utilise our Star Rating system which ranges from one star * for 'rubbish'; two ** for 'average'; three *** for 'good'; four ('very good') to five stars ***** for 'excellent'.

Athletics

Running Full Circle by Frank Greally (Ballpoint Press, €14.99)

THEME:

Frank Greally, of Irish Runner Magazine fame, was a talented athlete - he still holds the Irish junior 10,000m record, which he set in 1970.

Greally reveals a different side to his character as he recounts in vivid detail his battles to cope with depression and alcohol abuse and how his great friend Ray McManus from Sportsfile probably saved his life.

The author has been sober for 12 years now; his depression is under control and he has essentially rebuilt his life.

The book has its lighter moments as well, including wonderful anecdotes about early days in Ballyhaunis, his experiences on an athletic scholarship in East Tennessee State University and his love of country and traditional music.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL?

Athletes and Irish Runner readers.

GOOD READ?

Fascinating and well told. Well worth a buy.

STAR RATING: ****

(Sean McGoldrick)

Boxing

Punching Above Their Weight - The Olympic Boxing Story by Sean McGoldrick (O'Brien Press)

THEME:

A timely offering, given the recent split in the boxing camp and the departure of top coach Billy Walsh. The author's in-depth and well told narrative combines the human stories of the boxers who brought glory to the nation via their Olympic exploits. He does not shy away from the boxing politics, both national and international, which are an intrinsic part of the story.

GOOD READ?

Yes. It does what it says on the cover, telling the story of our Olympic boxing exploits, including Katie Taylor's rise to world fame. He combines facts, reportage, interviews and analysis to good effect.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL?:

Boxing fans will enjoy it but should appeal to the wider sporting public.

STAR RATING: ****

(Liam Kelly)

GAA

Until Victory Always by Jim McGuinness (Gill and MacMillan)

THEME:

The life and times of Jim McGuinness, who inspired a dramatic regeneration of Donegal football with a second All-Ireland success in 2012. A very personal account, it details, with such evocative recall, the deaths of his brothers Charles and Mark and the profound impact they had on his life.

GOOD READ?

Already a winner of one Sports Book of the Year award, it is a magnificent account, step by step, of how Donegal picked themselves off the floor in 2010 to mould themselves into champions two years later. He touches on most of the controversies, and, late on, makes an extraordinary admission. When Colm McFadden was presented with a very late goal opportunity that would have levelled the 2014 All-Ireland final against Kerry, McGuinness admits standing on the sideline thinking 'I don't want the goal'. "I didn't want it because it would have felt shallow, Nothing we stood for was in our performance," he expanded later.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL?

McGuinness' ways have divided opinion on how Gaelic football should be played but this book should appeal to everyone who wants a greater insight into how to maximise potential in team sport and life in general.

STAR RATING: ***** (Colm Keys)

Dub Sub Confidential by John Leonard (Penguin Ireland)

THEME:

The life of a Dublin footballer as you've never imagined or heard about in interviews. Hill 16 and the glory of All-Irelands and Leinster supremacy pale into insignificance compared with the damage John Leonard inflicted on himself via drink and drugs.

The dark side of Catholic Ireland had a major influence on him as he was sexually abused by Fr Ivan Payne when he was an altar boy.

Through it all, Leonard had the talent and the ambition to get on the Dublin squad of the early and mid-2000s. His problem was that he was a goalkeeper - and Stephen Cluxton barred the way. The story evolves to a positive place in which the author finds sobriety.

GOOD READ?

Very good. The reader is taken inside the Dubs set-up of the last decade or so, and apart from the personal battles with drink and drugs, Leonard highlights the forgotten heroes of all county teams - the panellists who are wholly dedicated but who rarely get a place in the starting 15 on big occasions.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL?

Anyone interested in sport, not alone in the GAA, but also strongly recommended for general readership.

STAR RATING? *****

(Liam Kelly)

Standing My Ground by Brendan Cummins (Transworld)

THEME:

Absolute obsession courses through every syllable of this wonderfully insightful autobiography of the former Tipperary goalkeeper. Sometimes the detail of what he did is so minute it left you wondering: Can that really make a difference? But it did. And it left Cummins in the right frame of mind for just about all of his 73 championship appearances.

GOOD READ?

Just as he left everything on the field as a player, Cummins has left everything on these pages. No topic is compromised, he lets you into every room. From the vivid account of his demotion in 2007 to the "embarrassment" of 2012 All-Ireland semi-final second half, complete with Lar Corbett sideshow, there is candid honesty throughout.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL?

If Jim McGuinness' book serves the coach trying to maximise potential in a team, this performs the same function for the player.

STAR RATING *****

(Colm Keys)

Henry Shefflin - The Autobiography with Vincent Hogan (Penguin)

THEME:

The remarkable story of how a youngster from Ballyhale grew into arguably the greatest hurler of all time is told in precisely the same manner that made Shefflin so good. If you're looking for controversy, it's not here, but then Shefflin is not a contentious figure. However, he is a super-driven sportsman which, when mixed with the incredible range of other talents he brought to his craft, made him a special player for so long.

GOOD READ?

Excellent. It's the real Shefflin, expertly conveyed by Hogan.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL?

The book's appeal stretches well beyond the GAA world to a much wider audience, keen to share in the experiences of a legendary figure in Irish sport.

STAR RATING: ****

(Martin Breheny)

The White Heat by Tomás Ó Sé (Gill and MacMillan)

THEME:

Love of family, love of Kerry, love of the sport he played shines throughout this wonderful memoir of one of Gaelic football's most revered characters. The influence that his late uncle Páidí had on him is reflected by the devotion of some 28 of the 255 pages to "The Role Model". with "Family" soaking up another 18. Much humour works its way through these passages.

GOOD READ?

Tomás decided his story would not shine a light on the darker corners of the Kerry dressing-room he inhabited for 17 years. The book would be about him, his experiences and he "wouldn't be giving secrets away." Divided into three categories, he has opted for specific topics to tell his story. Chapters are devoted to relationships with Cork, Dublin, Tyrone, Armagh and Mayo. It provides a great insight into Kerry football mentality and their players' sense of place.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL

The popularity reach of one of the greatest half-back ever stretches into every pocket of Ireland.

STAR RATING: ****

(Colm Keys)

Keeping the Faith - The Autobiography of John O'Mahony, with John Harrington (Hero Books)

THEME

The story of the most successful football manager the west has produced takes him from his native Mayo to Leitrim to Galway and back to Mayo over two decades. O'Mahony led Mayo to their first All-Ireland final for 38 years, Leitrim to their first Connacht title for 67 years and Galway to their first All-Ireland title for 32 years, so he had plenty to work off.

GOOD READ?

Absolutely. There was always something calm and reassuring in the way O'Mahony went about his business as a manager, traits admirably reflected in this book.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL?

GAA fans generally, football lovers in particular. Will be especially interesting for aspiring coaches.

STAR RATING: ****

(Martin Breheny)

The GAA & Revolution in Ireland 1913-23, edited by Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh (The Collins Press)

THEME

Fourteen contributors in the field of modern Irish history and sport examine how the GAA coped during a period of great upheaval in Ireland. The impact on the Association of the 1916 Rising, the First World War, the War of Independence and the Civil War are all catered for in extensive detail from a variety of perspectives.

GOOD READ?

Yes. It's a different kind of GAA book, placing the Association in context during a remarkable decade in the history of the country.

READERSHIP APPEAL:

It's of interest both in terms of sport and history and how they intermingled at the time.

STAR RATING ***

(Martin Breheny)

Racing

Winner, My Racing Life by AP McCoy, with Charlie Connelly (Orion)

THEME:

With 11 of the 12 chapters bearing the name of a significant horse in the career of the iconic champion jockey and the 12th entitled "Schooling horses, Jackdaws Castle", this book does very much what it says on the tin, using the chosen steeds upon which to hang one or other aspect of the subject's legend.

Most of the content has been documented in McCoy's previous autobiographies, the preceding edition having been published in 2012. Still, there is new material covering topics such as his train of thought leading up to his retirement, and the awful paralysis suffered by friends and colleagues, JT and Robbie McNamara.

GOOD READ?

It's not nearly as candid or revelatory as its predecessor. For a man famously obsessed by numbers, this is a bio by numbers.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL?

Should appeal to racing diehards but newcomers and casual sports fans are likely to get more out of it.

STAR RATING **

(Richard Forristal)

Rugby

Twelve Feet Tall by Tony Ward (Simon & Schuster)

THEME:

Tony Ward didn't want to face the prospect of writing this book. Despite his iconoclastic place in Irish sporting life, he has no ego and hence did not feel anyone would want to hear about his life. Mercifully, his co-author strenuously contradicted him. We should be glad. There is sympathy within these pages for an individual persona which was far different from the public perception.

GOOD READ?

We are indebted to Justin Doyle for finally cajoling Ward to do this book.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL?

The young who think they know everything should ignore any concept of this being ancient history; much of it is still relevant. For everyone else, there is more in here than just sporting reflection. Humanity resides here.

STAR RATING: **** (David Kelly)

No Borders: Playing Rugby for Ireland by Tom English (Birlinn General)

THEME:

Tom English has carefully crafted the recollections of current and former internationals and coaches into a compelling narrative that recalls the key moments, crises and triumphs in the oval ball game.

There is the joy of the 1948 and 2009 Grand Slams as seen by Jack Kyle and Brian O'Driscoll. The tensions brought about by the Troubles and the frustration of the 1990s as well as the disastrous World Cup campaigns of 1999 and 2007 are well chronicled.

Yet there is so much more depth to this book, with the retelling laced with humour, and the contrast between the amateur old days and the thorough professionalism of the modern game laid bare.

GOOD READ?

Very good indeed.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL?

It is a must-have for rugby fans, but it is also worth reading for the casual sports enthusiast.

STAR RATING: *****

(Ruaidhri O'Connor)

Soccer

Dalymount Park - The Home of Irish Football by Colin White (Currach Press)

THEME:

A pictorial history of the iconic Dalymount Park, which is still the spiritual home of Irish soccer. Excellent reproduction quality of photos through the decades, from 1901 to present day. John Giles writes a heartfelt foreword.

GOOD READ?

Not so much a 'read' in terms of text. Nostalgia reigns, and that's no harm.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL?

Nice present for soccer fans.

STAR RATING: ***

(Liam Kelly)

I Believe in Miracles by Daniel Taylor (Headline)

THEME:

This is a book brought out in conjunction with a film of the same name that chronicles the remarkable rise of Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest from Second Division also-rans to back-to-back European Cup wins.

GOOD READ?

Taylor is an excellent storyteller. Aided by interviews, he profiles the motley crew of characters that made up a special Forest dressing-room, including current Ireland boss Martin O'Neill and his long-time pal John Robertson, the overweight left winger who made them tick. He also details Clough's unique approach to management: the pre-match drinking, the trip to Amsterdam's red light district on the eve of a European Cup semi and training days of walking through nettles.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL?

The nostalgic element makes it attractive to older generations, but this really should be embraced by any football fan who wants to learn how an extraordinary manager made an unfashionable club the strongest team in Europe.

STAR RATING: *****

(Daniel McDonnell)

My Story by Steven Gerrard, with Donald McRae (Penguin)

THEME:

This is Gerrard's second autobiography and is largely built around his final two seasons at Liverpool. He details the topsy turvy nature of the title challenge that ended with his slip, and then explains how he dealt with the emotion of preparing to say goodbye as his last season under Brendan Rodgers petered out.

GOOD READ?

Ghostwriter Donald McRae is a superb interviewer, and explained in a summer blog how publishing demands meant that the whole process of putting this book together took just 100 days. In the circumstances, he did a fine job, but the overall product suffers as excerpts that offer real insight - into Gerrard's character as well as Rodgers, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge - are mixed with painfully long descriptions of goal celebrations and on-pitch gestures which appear to have been researched via YouTube.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL?

This book will do extremely well because of Gerrard's status in the eyes of Liverpool fans, but will not go down as one of the great sports books.

STAR RATING ***

(Daniel McDonnell)

The Dirty Game - Uncovering the Scandal at FIFA by Andrew Jennings (Century)

THEME:

Andrew Jennings has spent 15 years exposing the ugliest side of the Beautiful Game and played a key role in uncovering the FIFA scandals that have brought the association to the brink of collapse.

The BBC journalist charts the tales of FIFA corruption from former president Joao Havelange with his connections to the Rio de Janeiro crime gangs, Jack Warner, who audaciously turned his presidency of Concacaf into a licence to print money while his right-hand man Chuck Blazer, or 'The Belly', gorged his way through a lavish lifestyle with football footing the bill.

This cosiest of cartels drained money from the game with dodgy grants and lucrative kickbacks that include £100m in corrupt payments from ISL, the sports marketing company that owned the TV rights for the World Cup.

As the FBI and Swiss prosecutors close in on Sepp Blatter and his cronies, Jennings documents, with a mix of colourful humour and forensic detail, how they almost got away with the greatest heist in world sport.

GOOD READ?

Jennings' playful style makes even the forensic detail of the bungs and backhanders an easy read. Includes brilliant background to the current scandal, but with the wheels of justice currently in motion, this will need to be updated again very soon.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL?

Soccer supporters who are interested in more than the action between the white lines.

STAR RATING ****

(Ciaran Lennon)

Irish Independent

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