The captivating book that has the GAA world talking

THEY’VE been getting a little bit hot and bothered over a book up in Donegal, if you haven’t heard.

Last week one of the local papers ran an extract from Declan Bogue’s This Is Our Year: The Inside Story of A Football Championship in which All Star wing back Kevin Cassidy detailed some of the shortcomings of John Joe Doherty’s management. By the time Cassidy landed back on Saturday morning for the Gweedore launch of the book after a week in New York, he’d learned one of Doherty’s selectors, Tony Boyle, had issued a statement defending Doherty whileDoherty’s successor, Jim McGuinness, called a team meeting to instruct his players to boycott the launch and refuse to talk to the media for the upcoming season.

While that furore couldn’t spoil the resultant launch — with Joe Brolly as the guest speaker, it was hardly going to be anything else but a serious night’s craic — it was unfortunate nonetheless.

Since the book was a fly-on-the-wall account of this year’s Ulster championship, the author and publishers felt it would be only right to salute Donegal’s capture of the Anglo Celt trophy by having a launch and night of celebration in the county itself.

McGuinness at least owed it to Bogue and Cassidy to read the book before so pointedly objecting to it.

No matter; one of the ironies of it all is that McGuinness is one of the heroes of the book, and while that might not concern the Donegal manager as how revelatory Cassidy was about the inner workings of the Donegal dressing room this year, McGuinness should bear in mind the book will only add to his cult, aura and his team in much the same way Donal Óg Cusack’s contribution to Last Man Standing enhanced not just Christy O’Connor’s classic book but the mystique of the O’Grady-Allen regime.

The comparison is an apt one because This Is Our Year is to football what Last Man Standing was to hurling, with Cassidy as its Cusack.

Over the last few years most of the major sports and its followers have been well served by books which offer a vivid insight into how elite sports people now work.

In rugby, Paul O’Connell, Ronan O’Gara and their colleagues graphically detailed to Alan English and in turn the nation how the 2006 Heineken Cup and 2009 Grand Slams were won. Hurling had Last Man Standing.

In the meantime football had only the accounts of Mickey Harte and Jack O’Connor to give us an insight in real time in book form as to what 21st century inter-county football really involves — and even then only from the perspective of the manager.

Bogue’s book gives us an extraordinary insight into the commitment, fears and hopes that goes with being an inter-county footballer these days.

We meet the 33-year-old goalkeeper Mickey Conlan who packs in his job driving a bakery delivery van to try to make a Rocky-style comeback with Derry. Barry Owens returns from heart surgery and two cruciate ligament injuries only to find Fermanagh football at war with itself and that during a dispute Croke Park didn’t know about the GPA never consulted the players that stayed faithful to John O’Neill, only those who walked.

Paddy Cunningham reminds us how little we know what’s really behind the under performance of certain players; Antrim’s ace free-taker went into his team’s opening championship game against Donegal having been in hospital only three days earlier suffering with the inflammatory bowel condition, Crohn’s Disease.

Dick Clerkin reveals the lengths Banty McEnaney’s Monaghan went to in search of that elusive Ulster title, from all going on a radical Caveman diet to Clerkin becoming an overly-robust player, something he now regrets.

Ryan McMenamin isn’t quite as apologetic about his own past misdemeanours but his likeable side shines through as does his respect for Mickey Harte; the moment in which Harte shows up in a team hotel for a Dr McKenna Cup game, just six days after burying his daughter, is just one of many captivating scenes throughout the book.

There are plenty of laughs as well, courtesy of the garrulous and philosophical Cavan manager Val Andrews and the hugely personable Cassidy. McGuinness and Doherty might not be happy with his candour in some parts but there’s no one Cassidy is harsher on or more frank about than himself. He admits to trash-talking opponents and his own troubles with alcohol and how he is now estranged from his father who he sometimes sees stumbling on the side of the street, bottle in hand, as Cassidy drives home from work.

All through Cassidy and the book is raw and honest, just like football itself. For supporters who love the game and value a greater understanding of it, Bogue has done some service. This Is Our Year is an inspired title but his book could just as easily be called This Is Our Sport.

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