Wednesday 24 January 2018

Managers, legends and how to lose millions. We review the top sports books this Christmas

REAL books, real stories. Thankfully, the digital revolution has not yet deprived us of the pleasure of getting a book in hand and settling down for a good read.

A selection of the sports books on the shelves for Christmas Arthur Carron/Collins
A selection of the sports books on the shelves for Christmas Arthur Carron/Collins
DJ – A sporting legend
Rory McIlroy is one of 13 men to have led by four or more in the final round of the Masters
Alex Ferguson
Rala – A Life In Rugby
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

As usual there is a plethora of sports books on the market this Christmas, and our Sports Department team has reviewed a selection of the 2013 offerings.

We present our verdict for your perusal and applied a star rating system to each review, which is as follows: *= poor; ** = average; *** = good; **** = very good; ***** = excellent. But don't just take our word for it; get out there and check out the bookshelves for yourselves


PÁIDÍ -- A Big Life

(Hero Books) by Donal Keenan

THEME: "This is an Irish legend that happens to be true," writes Keenan in an introduction to the official biography of Páidí O Sé.

Long regarded as one of the most colourful characters in Irish sport, Páidí produced his autobiography some years ago, so it's wholly appropriate that a year after his death, his life and times, as seen through the eyes of family, friends, acquaintances and various others should complete the fascinating picture.

Keenan's problem was fitting in the many stories which abound about a man who lived life to the full inside and outside the GAA.

Naturally, the best insights come from his own family, especially his wife, Máire.

"A part of him was shy, a lot of people didn't see that. He was most comfortable in his own environment but he also loved Dublin," she says.

The book skilfully captures the essence of a man whose popularity extended well beyond the confines of his beloved west Kerry.

GOOD READ? Readers will feel they know a whole lot more about Páidí after reading this book, which is the test of any biography.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL? Kerry people everywhere; GAA people in lots of places.

STAR RATING: **** (Martin Breheny)



(Hero Books) by Philip Lanigan

THEME: Meath men Paddy 'Hands' O'Brien, Jack Quinn, Mick Lyons and Darren Fay are four of the best full-backs in Gaelic football history.

This is their story, combined in a four-way interview/profile pattern, which adroitly reflects their different temperaments and personalities as they plied their trade in careers which yielded a combined total of seven All-Ireland senior titles over a 50-year period between 1949 and 1999.

Gaelic football underwent many changes in that half-century but nothing could interfere with the basic principle that when you played full-back for Meath, the highest standards were required.

O'Brien led the way, providing the inspiration for Quinn who, in turn, set targets for Lyons.

By the time Fay came on the scene, he had a huge tradition to build on, which he did with considerable success.

Linking four Meath greats through the No 3 jersey works most effectively in 270 pages of lively tales.

GOOD READ? Getting four interesting stories for the price of one will be welcomed by readers.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL? The Royal constituency and those who like their full-backs to be real men.

STAR RATING: **** (Martin Breheny)


DJ -- A Sporting Legend

(Blackwater Press) by DJ Carey with Martin Breheny.

THEME: DJ Carey wore the black and amber of Kilkenny for almost two decades in a career that would identify him as, arguably, the greatest goal-scorer in the history of hurling.

But beyond the cold arithmetic of seemingly relentless match-winning contributions, DJ was also one of the best-loved and most charismatic figures in the GAA.

For years, he resisted the temptation to allow his story be represented in book-form, only to finally acquiesce this year under persuasion from Blackwater Press.

The result of that persuasion will be warmly welcomed by GAA followers everywhere as Carey, with the expert assistance of Irish Independent GAA editor Martin Breheny, pulls open the blinds on a life that, from the outside, occasionally seemed to belong in the realm of fairytale.

The reality, of course, was very different and DJ is open and candid about the other side of that fairytale.

GOOD READ? Yes, this encapsulates the kind of human tale that must, inevitably, reside behind the life story of any sporting legend.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL? Easy, natural flow, the ghost's voice never intruding upon the narrative.

STAR RATING? **** (Vincent Hogan)


THE MANAGERS -- the Tactics and Thinkers that Transformed Gaelic Football

(Hatchette Books Ireland) by Daire Whelan

THEME: It does what it says on the cover and presents a comprehensive overview of the men who shaped and influenced Gaelic football over the last five decades.

Daire Whelan's book is a timely offering, coming as it does at a time when the appliance of science has brought new sophistication to Gaelic football.

Very readable, and contains interesting insights from people who were central to football's evolution.

GOOD READ: Yes. Good information, good interviews and well presented.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL? GAA fans from all counties will enjoy it, and it has plenty to offer for young and old.

STAR RATING? **** (Liam Kelly)


HEFFO -- A brilliant mind

(Transworld Ireland) by Liam Hayes

THEME: A biography of Kevin Heffernan, the man who was at the heart of Dublin football success from the '50s through to the '80s as a player and manager. He was also a huge influence on St Vincent's GAA club for practically all his life.

His passing in January 2013 was a loss to Gaeldom, not only in Dublin, but to the sport as a whole.

GOOD READ? A tantalising subject, but a difficult one. Doesn't bring the reader to the heart of the man, probably primarily because Heffo didn't want a book written on him and did not furnish interviews or personal information to the author. The author clearly made a big effort and does a reasonable job, but as an informative biography, for me, it's just wide of the post.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL: Could probably do well as a Christmas present for Dublin fans on the basis of Heffernan's status as a Dubs legend.

STAR RATING: *** (Liam Kelly)


MASTERS OF MEN -- Rory McIlroy, Ken Venturi and their epic journey from Augusta to Bethesda

(Arena Sport) by Liam Hayes

THEME: Rory McIlroy is, to date, one of only 13 men who have led by four shots or more going into the final round of the Masters at Augusta National.

Nine of them won; four blew it, Rory among them. The other three were Ken Venturi in 1956 (four shots), Ed Sneed in 1979 (five shots) and Greg Norman in 1996 (six shots).

Author Hayes links the stories of Venturi in '56 and McIlroy in 2011 as they each set out on the Sunday of Masters week seeking to defend their four-shot lead.

It all ended in tears, but there was US Open redemption for both men.

GOOD READ? Surprisingly, yes. On first glance it seems that a Venturi-McIlroy link is tenuous enough but Hayes has comprehensively done his homework, and it works well.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL? Golf fans should enjoy it. It's a good yarn, well told, and though he's still a young man, McIlroy is box office, so that will help attract interest.

STAR RATING: **** (Liam Kelly)


HENRY CECIL -- Trainer of Genius

(Racing Post Books) by Brough Scott

THEME: A comprehensive biographical account of the charismatic Henry Cecil, one of the most universally loved and revered horse trainers of all time.

Few scribes would have been worthy of doing justice to such a cherished legacy, but Scott would have been top of everyone's list.

His own personal experiences of and with Cecil date back to the start of it all in the 1970s, yet he doesn't skirt any flaws here, a tribute to his legitimacy that prompted Cecil to disassociate himself from the project at the 11th hour.

Of course, the fallout only adds to the appeal of what amounts to a definitive account of this knighted, quintessentially British genius, an enigmatic, rose-loving icon whose quiet dignity and spiritual affinity for horses inexplicably bridged yawning aristocratic and generational gulfs.

Published shortly before Cecil finally lost his long and dignified struggle with cancer, the weighty tome comes to a suitable climax with a chapter on the mighty Frankel, a freakishly talented horse that bestowed on Cecil one last glorious opportunity to guarantee his place among the immortals.

GOOD READ? Excellent. Scott's early tracing of his subject's regal heritage is weighty and possibly off-putting, but this is a complete and faithful biography of a complex legend that is worth persisting with.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL? All genuine racing fans and general sports aficionados with a desire to understand the diversity of life's virtuoso talents.

STAR RATING: **** (Richard Forristal)


Ronan O'Gara Unguarded: My Life In Rugby

(Transworld Ireland) with Gerry Thornley

THEME: Not even a subject as compelling as Alex Ferguson managed to pull off the considerable literary feat of being able to render two autobiographies of equal merit in such a short space of time.

Ferguson had 14 years between his efforts; Ronan O'Gara, Irish rugby's most consistently compelling and honest characters, had but four.

And still it doesn't feel as if there's any element of re-hash about the product; and this is said regardless of any personal dealings with the subject and his ghost.

This is less a description of a wonderful life lived but, in essence, a glimpse into a life that may yet be wonderful but one engaged upon in a completely different role in a completely different environment as O'Gara describes a new life as a coach in Paris.

It is fascinating to witness the humility with which O'Gara is embracing his new life and indeed the honesty of his assessment when he reveals that, if he doesn't feel he can be a good coach, he will quit and come home. He has never been a quitter, though.

GOOD READ? There is enough depth for the intelligent reader to be detained.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL? Beyond the obvious, anyone interested in life coaching or self-awareness will be fascinated by O'Gara's revealing and unabashed self-analysis.

STAR RATING: **** (David Kelly)


Becoming A Lion

(Penguin) Johnny Sexton with Peter O'Reilly

THEME: A year in the life of Ireland's fly-half, and what a 12 months to document as the Leinster star went through the mill of injury, became -- as the title suggests -- a Test Lion, crucially made his move to Racing Metro, where he linked up with Ronan O'Gara, and got married for good measure.

It makes for an interesting read, with the fallout between the player and the IRFU laid bare in the most fascinating chapters as the breakdown in the relationship is catalogued.

Sexton's relationship with some of his team-mates is also revealing, particularly his chippy exchanges with Eoin Reddan and Brian O'Driscoll. His dedication and passion shine through and, while the Lions chapters are slightly brisk and low on detail, there are still windows into his mind at crucial stages.

GOOD READ?: Yes, one of Ireland's more interesting sportsmen during a helter-skelter 12 months of his career.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL: Rugby fans will love it, but with the characters involved it is of general interest for the most part.

STAR RATING: *** (Ruaidhri O'Connor)


ALEX FERGUSON: My Autobiography

(Hodder & Stoughton) with Paul Hayward

THEME: Volume two of the gritty Glaswegian's fascinating life story.

The previous one closed with the epic 1999 Treble year.

In this book, Ferguson presents an honest view of events at Old Trafford during the last 14 years of his reign at one of the world's biggest football clubs.

The extracts recently presented in newspapers hyped up the 'controversies' but looked at in context, the decisions taken on players such as Roy Keane and David Beckham seem less dramatic and more pragmatic in an industry that is very short on sentiment.

GOOD READ? Absolutely. Who can fail to be fascinated by a man whose longevity and success at United will be unmatched by any manager at any club?

READERSHIP POTENTIAL? Wide-ranging. Man Utd faithful obviously, soccer fans in general and business people looking for insights into people management.

STAR RATING: **** (Liam Kelly)



(Sport Media) by Keith Gillespie with Daniel McDonnell.

THEME: Life story of Keith Gillespie, born in Belfast, a winger with dark good looks. Inevitably he was dubbed 'the next George Best' and though he hated the tag there are too many parallels with Best's career for comfort -- but fewer medals to show for it.

It's a searingly honest account of a man who estimates he gambled away £10m. He compounded that by investments that cost him dearly.

It's a salutary warning for youngsters who believe that getting a contract with a big club is a gateway to everlasting fame and fortune.

GOOD READ? Very good. Gillespie tells it like it happened, and opens his heart about the characters inside and outside the game who influenced his career for better and for worse.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL? Irish soccer fans, North and south, and supporters of Man Utd, Newcastle and Blackburn in particular. There's also a very human element that makes it more than a football book.

STAR RATING: **** (Liam Kelly)



(faber and faber) by David Peace

THEME: An audacious novel in scale and style about the late, great Bill Shankly.

Weirdly fascinating, with the hypnotic use of miniscule detail endlessly repeated through most of the 715 pages. Not for the faint-hearted, but typical of Peace, who authored 'The Damned United', the narrative is based on fact.

From that core element, he weaves a tale that makes you feel this is what it might have been like to live Shankly's life, on and off the pitch, day by day, week by week, season by season.

READERSHIP POTENTIAL? Anyone interested in Bill Shankly, and fans of David Peace's work.

GOOD READ? Yes, if you have the patience to stick with it and adjust to the pace and unusual format.

STAR RATING: **** (Liam Kelly)


One of the genuine surprises of the year was the arrival of a book dedicated to the singular, often eccentric but never dull life of Patrick O'Reilly -- or 'Rala', as the long-serving (and often long-suffering) baggage master for both Ireland and the Lions is better known.

Rala -- A Life In Rugby (Hachette), written with John O'Sullivan, was never meant to be a weighty tome screaming with self-righteousness like so many other of its ilk.

And that is his beautiful secret. Not only does the warm, engaging spirit of this son of Inchicore spring to life, but also the affection that exists between him and the players, an often over-looked aspect of an often gruelling existence for weeks at a time in a regimented camp away from family and friends.

Mick Cleary has once more delivered the goods with the traditional post-Lions review, this year called Rampant Pride. Ian McGeechan provides the introduction and defends Warren Gatland's decision to omit Brian O'Driscoll from the final, decisive Test.

The book is richly illustrated by Getty Images photography, is edited by Ian Robertson and published by Lennard Publishing in Harpenden.

A good stocking filler is The Little Book of GAA Quotations (Mercier Press) by Rory Callan. It's a simple idea but well worth dipping into, either for entertainment or inspiration.

We particularly liked a quote from former Offaly All-Ireland-winning hurler Johnny Pilkington:

"The night before I'd have three or four grand pints in the local pub, the safest place to be. And on match days you'd go into the dressing-room, the lads'd be banging the hurl off the table, they'd be psyching.

"I'd go in, tap the ball off the shower wall, get togged out and then go in and just have the last fag."

We haven't yet got around to reading Stephen Cooper's intimidating looking The Final Whistle -- The Great War in fifteen players but the story of 15 World War 1 soldiers, all from the same club, seems deserving of engagement.

Irish Independent

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