Tragic tales and talking points

A STELLAR year for sports books?

Not at first glance. There wasn’t a book this year which broke out of the sports ghetto the way, say, Donal Óg Cusack’s autobiography did a couple of years ago.

That said, there are some very good options for stocking-fillers, even if there are few enough books that you could say were truly groundbreaking or earth-shattering.

Two of the big beasts which claimed Sports Book of the Year titles were Engage The Matt Hampson Story, which recounts the life story of a rugby player paralysed by a collapsed scrum, and A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke, which details the life of the German goalkeeper who couldn’t overcome severe depression and ended up killing himself.

The sense of a story beyond the sports field – a life or death story at that – spills over into some of our other choices below. For instance, Michael Duignan’s life story doesn’t dwell exclusively on his glory years playing hurling for Offaly, but deals sensitively with the untimely death of his wife Edel from cancer – and frankly with his own struggle to come to terms with her passing.

In terms of a book having an impact beyond its readership, there’s only one contender – Declan Bogue’s This Is Our Year, a love letter to the Ulster football championship which meshes the stories of various protagonists such as Steven McDonnell of Armagh, Dick Clerkin of Monaghan – and, notoriously, Kevin Cassidy of Donegal.

Cassidy’s candour led to his expulsion from the panel by manager Jim McGuinness, and plenty of newspaper headlines revolving around Bogue’s book. The fallout is still descending in radioactive showers over Donegal, and beyond, but that shouldn’t overshadow a fine book.

Other highlights? Munster and Ireland star Donncha O’Callaghan’s honesty and good humour shine through in his book; John Crace of The Guardian has come up with that rara avis, an interesting soccer book focused on his Tottenham Hotspur obsession; and the late John Doyle is given due tribute in a long-overdue biography.

Don’t let the lack of a single, overarching champion for this season put you off; there’s plenty of interesting sports reads in the peloton for Christmas 2011.

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