Read it and leap

They say 80% of all books are sold at Christmas, and God knows they’re a good fall-back for a present. With that in mind we asked Michael Moynihan to combine the sports-and-Santa hats when it comes to the pick of this year’s sports books.

THERE are a lot of them around – Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole (various publishers) – but not a lot of people are buying them (as of October 15 sales figures were Gerrard 76,459; Rooney 36,973; Lampard 26,662; Ferdinand 7,651; Cole: 3,128).

And with good reason: if a more putrid genre in sports or writing exists we’ve yet to find it. Still, if a ball of clichés wrapped in a fog of excuses and topped off with a smirk is your cup of tea, you have your pick.

For the football fan you do like — Back From The Brink (Paul McGrath with Vincent Hogan, Random House €19.99).

THIS BOOK begins with McGrath, practically destitute a couple of years ago, walking around Manchester wondering if he could borrow £100 from someone in Old Trafford. Working backwards, it tells a harrowing story of suicide attempts, complete mental breakdown, drinking before playing in Premiership games etc. Not a triumph-of-the-spirit book – at times McGrath’s survival is amazing more than affirming, particularly after he drinks a pint of Domestos. It’s not a football book either, though Frank Stapleton’s suggestion that Ron Atkinson’s Man United never won the league because they weren’t fit enough certainly piques the interest. A great book in a league of its own, it deservedly won the Boylesports and William Hill Irish Sports Book of the Year for 2006. Just don’t read it the morning after St Stephen’s Night.

For the rugby fan in your life …

IF 006 revolved around a certain game last May in Cardiff for someone you know, then Munster: Our Road to Glory by Alan English with photos by Billy Stickland (Penguin Ireland, €24) is one you want. Where else are you going to see a picture of John Hayes on a mobile after that game, hand resting on a Millennium Stadium urinal? Elsewhere we recommend Lansdowne Memories by Edward Newman (Hodder Headline, €24.95), a handsome production with superb text by a man whose by-line often appears in this parish. Terrific.

For the uncle who joined the Civil Service years ago The Dubs by Sean Óg Ó Ceallachain (Gill and McMillan, €19.99). The man with the most recognisable voice in Irish broadcasting – and why not, after sixty years at the mike – has produced a terrific account of the Dublin GAA inter-county story since the second world war.

It’s all here, from the days before Heffo to the days after Jayo, with the added benefit that Ó Ceallachain himself played for Dublin at the highest level.

Don’t forget to shake your head about the one that got away, the hurling All-Ireland of 1961.

For the pretentious cousin — The Meaning of Sport by Simon Barnes (Short Books, €25)

BARNES is the chief sportswriter of The Times, which means his words carry some weight.

They also carry some pretentiousness from time to time.

Still, he’s not afraid to take a chance, and this shows him at his best, giving himself over to the sporting moment. It’s a lot to take in – one reader of our acquaintance likened it to an overdose of cake, so try it in small doses.

For losing yourself in the seventies — Dublin vs Kerry by Tom Humphries (Penguin Ireland, €21.99).

ONE decade that gets a bum rap, the seventies couldn’t be grey as long as Dublin and Kerry were clashing in the old Croke Park. Humphries does his usual excellent job here, counterbalancing the memories of always-chatty Mick O’Dwyer with the usually taciturn Kevin Heffernan. Having people like Pat Spillane and David Hickey as supporting talkers doesn’t hurt, of course, but the book’s almost worth buying simply for the episode in which Heffernan, growing exasperated, bats away Humphries’ questions about his mid-career retirement.

For anyone who likes the small picture — Club, Sweat and Tears by Diarmuid O’Flynn (Collins Press, €14.95).

THE Newtownshandrum hurling success story can be hard to believe, but the club found the ideal man for the job in neighbour’s child Diarmuid O’Flynn of this newspaper.

Maybe only a Ballyhea man could do justice to Newtown’s standing in their community, and O’Flynn’s day job gave him a ringside seat for their achievements on the national stage as well. Newtown are unique, but they’re also like every other small place in the country, and O’Flynn captures that contradiction well.

For the big-mouth American relative — The Blind Side by Michael Lewis ($25).

A FEW years ago Lewis reinvented baseball coverage in the US with the book ‘Moneyball’, which outlines how often-neglected statistics can help pick winning players; this book describes how players who line out at left tackle on an American football team became the most sought-after commodity in US sport. Sensational.

For the arty uncle — it’s not all about goals and medals.

THIS year a couple of books came at sport from a more oblique angle. David Peace’s The Damned United (Faber, £12.99) is a novel which re-imagines Brian Clough’s notorious 44 days at Leeds United in 1974. American writers often try this kind of thing – witness the start of Don DeLillo’s Underworld – but it’s less frequent on this side of the pond. In the same vein is FX Toole’s boxing novel, Pound for Pound (Harper Collins, $25). Toole is the man whose book of short stories, Rope Burns, eventually yielded the movie Million Dollar Baby. Be warned, though – this novel was put together post-humously from Toole’s notes, so it may not be in the exact format the writer himself intended.

For anyone who wants to remember how it was.

A COUPLE of names to conjure with here. Micheal O Muircheartaigh’s From Booroloola to Mangerton Mountain (Penguin Ireland, €28.50) is a little different from his previous autobiography in that it concentrates on anecdotes and encounters. People who view the Kerry broadcaster as a repository of yarns won’t be disappointed with this effort.

Even more evocative is Ronnie Delany: Going The Distance (O’Brien, €24.95). The middle-distance athlete lit up the nineteen-fifties when he won a gold medal in the 1,500m at the Melbourne Olympics. This book is definitely one for the generation who woke up that morning to be given the news on the wireless that Delany had gone to the ends of the earth and beaten the best.

For a real larger-than-life character — Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson by Geoffrey C Ward (Vintage, €13.50).

JOHNSON became world heavyweight boxing champion in 1908 to the general consternation of the public. He was black, he was brash and he liked white women, which didn’t go down well at the time. Persecuted by the police and the boxing authorities – who invented the Great White Hope category in a bid to dethrone him – Johnson eventually lost a controversial decider to Jess Willard in 1915.

Ward’s account of his life is readable and sensitive – anoraks may recognise his name as co-writer of the narration for Ken Burns’ magisterial ‘Baseball’ tv series. He also does justice to the considerable gifts that allowed Johnson to assert himself. A pioneer of the defensive arts, Johnson could also inflict plenty of punishment. He once came back to his corner with several of his opponents’ teeth embedded in his glove... ah, read it yourself.

More in this section

Sport Push Notifications

By clicking on 'Sign Up' you will be the first to know about our latest and best sporting content on this browser.

Sign Up
ieStyle Live 2021 Logo
ieStyle Live 2021 Logo

IE Logo
Outdoor Trails

Discover the great outdoors on Ireland's best walking trails

IE Logo
Outdoor Trails

Puzzles logo

Puzzles hub


Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up
Cookie Policy Privacy Policy FAQ Help Contact Us Terms and Conditions

© Irish Examiner Ltd