When it’s more than just a game

THE sports autobiography follows a generally predictable arc — promise, achievement, graceful decline — so it’s good to come across a book that breaks out of that strait-jacket.

Offaly hurler Michael Duignan may be well known as a TV pundit following a glittering inter-county career, but his reasons for writing an autobiography are different.

“Writing the book — I described it as being like a giant counselling session, with ups and downs along the way about going on with it, and you also had the fact that no Offaly player brought out a book.

“I genuinely wouldn’t have felt from a sporting point of view that I’d have justified a book. You had Brian Whelehan, Matt Connor, the Dooleys, the Furlongs — none of them had written a book.”

Pat Nolan of the Daily Mirror approached Duignan a year ago and he wasn’t sure, but then Liam Hayes came in with Irish Sports Publishing.

“He’d have had a brush with cancer himself so he talked to me and went through the reasons people have for writing a book, and said he felt it might be good if someone spoke about Edel and the cancer.”

Edel was Duignan’s wife, who died tragically young of cancer two years ago, and the impact cancer can have on a family was one of his reasons for writing the book.

“You hear about cancer but until you get caught up in it you don’t really know. When Edel was diagnosed with cancer first, it was terrible but there’s some positive news as well in that there are treatments and surgery and so on.

“Then you have the stage where you’re told it’s terminal and there’s no way out of it, and I tried to tell Edel’s story — how she came to grips with it and ultimately came to accept it with no fear of dying.

“I felt it was a powerful story for people in that position, trying to live with it.

“The other thing is that you think you’re dealing with it okay, but you may not be, you should try to reach out to your friends and talk about it.”

The book also deals with sporting matters, though not the string of I-scored-this-goal anecdotes you might expect.

“Take retirement — players may not be ready for the shock of it after 10 or 15 years. If you’re successful it leaves a gaping hole, the panel becomes your family, you have the highs and lows of matches, and then suddenly, it’s all gone.

“I know the GPA are working on that, and it’s something to focus on for lads looking at retirement.

“It definitely took me a couple of years to adjust, and you can see other lads who turn to drink or whatever before they straighten themselves out.”

Duignan says the book weaves his own life experiences into the sports narrative — going away to boarding school from a small rural community, working in the bank and going out on his own in the estate agency business in the Celtic Tiger years, moving from Naas to Tullamore, The Sunday Game — before you even come to the sport itself.

“We wouldn’t have gone into huge detail about every single game that was played, but you had years when a lot happened.

“In 1998 we had Babs Keating as manager with Offaly, my eldest, Sean, was born in February, I won a Towns Cup (rugby) with Naas and a Leinster League, then the hurling went down but Babs left and we had the three games with Clare before winning the All-Ireland. We lost a county final in Offaly the same summer and at the end of the year, I won the only All Star I ever won. Looking back now, you’d nearly get dizzy with it, and we focused on that a good bit, because I played with great players — and against great players. The 90s was a great era for hurling, all the hurling counties were involved and I think that comes out of the book strongly as well.”

It was a great era, but a great era is driven by great characters. Read this book and meet one.

n* Life, Death and Hurling — The Michael Duignan Story by Michael Duignan and Pat Nolan (Irish Sports Publishing, €15.99).

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