Your guide to the year’s best sports books

Shane Dowling makes his way out for the team photograph before the Limerick-Tipperary Munster championship game in June. It's one of many great photos in this year's Sportsfile Season of Sundays publication
Tis the season for buying sports books - Limerick Leader sports editor Steven Miller reviews the best ones available this Christmas

Tis the season for buying sports books - Limerick Leader sports editor Steven Miller reviews the best ones available this Christmas

The Bloodied Field - Michael Foley

We’ve all heard about Bloody Sunday, we all know a little bit about that November day in 1920 when 14 people were killed by British forces in Croke Park during a football game between Tipperary and Dublin.

Whether it was in primary school, watching the Michael Collins film or during those years when the debate raged as to whether Croke Park should be opened to other games, it’s a date in our history that we’re all aware of. A standout moment from the War of Independence.

This book by Michael Foley, however, brings it all to life. It tells the full story - from all sides - and it’s beautifully done. History, sport, politics and war are all weaved together by a very talented writer. Foley has previous in this regard. His book The Kings of September - about Offaly’s 1982 All Ireland final triumph against Kerry - is, in our view, the best GAA book ever written. This is right up there with it.

There is plenty of Limerick interest in it - the bloody battle involving Dan Breen and Sean Treacy and RIC members at the train station in Knocklong.

We’ve seen someone elsewhere describing it as “virtual cinema” and we have to agree. It’s a page-turner from the very start. The first chapter describes one part of the IRA’s synchronised hit on British Intelligence service where two spies were shot dead in their beds. Part of the hit squad was Johnny McDonnell who would later that day play in goals for Dublin in Croke Park. The game was only a practise match but they were two of the best teams in the country and 15,000 showed up to Jones Road. There were justified fears among GAA officials of a reprisal for that morning’s hit but it was deemed too late in the day to call it off, despite intense discussions to do so.

Foley expertly tells the life story of the Tipperary footballer Michael Hogan. Hogan’s life was deeply intertwined with the war that was going on around the country at the time but going out on to Croke Park that day his big worry was how he was going to contain Dublin’s most dangerous forward. That was the least of his worries.

Tragically, at the age of 24, he was killed and died on the pitch. Every other story is heartbreaking too. Three young boys, aged between 10 and 15, were killed at the match too. So was a young lady who was there with her fiance. They were to be married a couple of days later. The depth of the research, the quality of the writing and the significance of the topic make it arguably the most important Irish sports book ever written. It’s also one of the best.

It’s a book that will still be selling in 20 years time but this week it’s worth battling through the shops in the last few days before Christmas to get it. It’s that good.

Brian O’Driscoll - The Test

Ireland’s greatest rugby player of all time is now onto his second book.

This one, however, is considerably better than his first - one that was published after that Lions tour in New Zealand in 2005 - and was recently honoured as the Irish Sports Book of the Year.

Ghost written by Alan English, our editor here in the Limerick Leader, it zips along at a nice pace and you can hear O’Driscoll’s voice throughout it.

It deals with his career in a chronological order and, given the the slew of rugby autobiographies in recent years, it’s his early-career moments that we found most interesting. Blackrock College wasn’t his first choice as a secondary school but he couldn’t get into Belvedere and their loss was certainly Blackrock’s gain.

Getting boxed by a randomer and drinking cheap wine with Rob Henderson the night of his three-try heroics in Paris in 2000 and of course that arrest in New York make for fine stories, as do his somewhat underhand attempts to arrange a first date with Amy Huberman. The stuff about the rivalry with Munster and his fears that Paul O’Connell was set to take the Irish captaincy from him are also required reading.

His grief following the suicide of one of his closest friends is heartbreaking reading and it seriously affected his career for a while afterwards. Indeed his career could well have fizzled out at that stage. To his credit he pushed on and found another level.

O’Driscoll keeps his cards close to his chest in some ways but he’s not the type we expected to dish the dirt on anyone and he comes across as a very likeable and decent guy. Just as we always expected.

Roy Keane - The Second Half

Nearly every sports star of any standing seems to have brought out their autobiography in recent years. Now some of them are on to their second.

In many ways we’ve had enough of him but Roy Keane’s latest offering is a very enjoyable read. Ghost written by the exceptional Roddy Doyle - a Noble Prize-winning author - it deals with just the 12 years since his first book was published. His exit from Manchester Utd, his time at Celtic, his managerial spells with Sunderland and Ipswich and his TV role with UTV are all delved into and he is refreshingly honest and surprisingly funny. He comes across as naive as a manager but appears to have softened in some of his views. A fine read. We look forward to his third book.

Fields of Fire - Damian Lawlor

Nine years ago Denis Walsh of the Sunday Times wrote a fantastic book called Hurling: The Revolution Years. It dealt with that era of hurling in mid 90s when Clare, Wexford and Offaly were gobbling up All Irelands and Kilkenny, Cork and Tipperary were well down the pecking order.

From a local point of view it was disappointing that it didn’t deal with the Limerick team of that time in the same detail but it was still an excellent account of that time and those counties. This year Damian Lawlor of the Sunday Independent has done something similar - going behind the scenes in all of the main hurling counties and some of the lesser ones. Fields of Fire - The Inside Story of Hurling’s Great Renaissance is a fine book and one that will be a relevant reference point for many years to come. Donal O’Grady (the hurler) and John Allen are central to the Limerick story and the fallout from the 2013 All Ireland semi-final loss to Clare shows how certain Limerick supporters can’t handle a bad day.

Lawlor’s piece with Eddie Brennan in Kilkenny gives a rare insight into what their setup is like but every county has their own story and it would leave you fully believing that we’re starting out on another glorious spell for our national game.

A fine hurling publication and one that won’t disappoint.

Shane Curran - Cake

The autobiography of a Roscommon Gaelic footballer probably won’t get a huge reception in Limerick. But it’s one of the funniest and most honest GAA books of all time. Ghost-written by Tommy Conlon, the Limerick-based Sunday Independent columnist, it’s entertaining and deadly serious in equal measure.

Curran didn’t actually play that often for Roscommon but from the moment he was involved in one of them most bizarre GAA incidents in a Connacht minor final in 1989 to this season, he has been involved in sport at a high level.

The story of him taking a last-minute penalty in that minor final - when he surprised everyone by running by the designated penalty taker and burying the winning goal - sets the tone for a book full of good yarns. And Curran and Conlon are well able to tell them. His stories from his days playing League of Ireland soccer with Athlone Town are priceless, as is his depiction of GAA umpires and officials.

Off the field he has a great story too. He was chewed up and spat out by the building boom of the Celtic Tiger but he stayed strong and helped invent a device to prevent flooding, something that he and his colleague are selling to major cities across the world.

Curran is one of the great GAA characters of our lifetime. Thankfully his story has been well told.

Anthony Daly - Dalo

Anthony Daly has always come across as the type of fella you’d like to have visit your house some evening so you could drink tea and talk hurling. He seems affable, entertaining and genuine in his media dealings and this lovely book confirms that view.

Brilliantly ghost-written by Christy O’Connor, Daly jumps between his life in Clare hurling and the 2014 season with Dublin, one that started with them as Leinster champions and strong All Ireland contenders but ended with a whimper and the end of his six-year term.

O’Connor has a proven track recorded as a GAA author (Last Man Standing in 2004 and The Club in 2010) so Daly chose one of the best writers around to tell his story. That O’Connor spent time as the sub-keeper on the Clare team that Daly captained and was then his goalkeeping coach in Dublin ensured he had incredible, possibly unprecedented, access. He pulls it all together very well.

Daly’s early life is very interesting. The death of his father at a young age had a big affect on him - so young he wasn’t even brought to the funeral. Years later the sudden death of his brother also hit him very hard. Growing up in Clarecastle is vividly brought to life and his depiction of Ger ‘Sparrow’ O’Loughlin as a wheeler-dealer is something we wouldn’t have known before. He touches on the Clarecastle psyche, describes how he was vastly under-rated as a young player, his deep love of coursing and, of course, his rise from supposed mediocrity to captaining Clare to win two All Irelands.

His relationship with Ger Loughnane goes from adoration as a player to complete dismay when Loughnane, as a newspaper columnist, shows no mercy in his criticism of Daly’s management of the Clare team in the mid 2000s.

Yet Daly, for all his aggression on the field, was able to forget Loughnane’s words and forgive his former mentor. But he recalls Loughnane fondly for the most part and some of the funniest moments in the book are Loughnane-related.

The Limerick-Clare rivalry of the 1990s is brought back to life too and is particularly relevant now given Daly has crossed the border to take up a coaching role in Limerick.

He appears to have mellowed considerably over the years but there is still a passion for hurling that burns deep inside him and it almost jumps off the page. We preferred the Clare material to his Dublin experience but he really brings the reader inside that Dublin camp (we’re not so sure how the Dublin players and county board will like that) and that insight into a county team isn’t something you get that often.

There are times when it possibly reads too much like Christy O’Connor and not Anthony Daly but overall it’s one of the better GAA books and certainly one of the best GAA manager autobiographies ever published.

Derval O’Rourke - Food for the Fast Lane

It’s hard to know if this should qualify as a sports book. Strictly speaking, it’s not. It’s a cookbook by one of Ireland’s greatest female sports star.

But it’s a cookbook with a slight difference - it’s not loaded with recipes heavy on calories, high on jargon and impossible to actually cook.

O’Rourke understands sports nutrition and has spent considerable time doing cooking courses. She also understand sports performance. And she has a nice little niche for herself here.

This is a book of her recipes suitable for athletes of all levels and crucially it’s suitable for chefs of all standards too. Most of the recipes are very easy to make (and very tasty) and O’Rourke’s no-nonsense instructions help considerably. From breakfast ideas like ‘Summer Oats’ and homemade granola to lunchtime frittatas,‘Jogger’s Stew’ and Stuffed Peppers, there’s plenty of options.

We couldn’t recommend it highly enough. An ideal gift for that sports star you know who no longer lives with his mammy.

Paul Galvin

In My Own Words

Paul Galvin is the first GAA player to actually write his own book since Liam Hayes and for that he deserves great credit. It gives a good understanding of one of the most interesting GAA players around.