In the sphere of sports journalism, reputation and cliché go hand-in-hand.

Perception is hard to shake. Regardless of how well or badly they are going in reality, the Galway hurlers find it difficult to shake the tag of being brilliant but inconsistent.

Wicklow footballers, whether struggling in Division 4 or enjoying a fruitful period, will be dismissed with the platitude that Aughrim is a tough place to go. And, long after Arsenal had passed their peak under Arsène Wenger, there was a hackneyed line about how they played the best football.

In rugby, the France national team are a bit like Galway in that, for time immemorial, commentators say that they never know which version will turn up on a given day. At club level, the neat delineation is that, while a trip to France for a European tie is made more in hope than expectation, a visit from a French side can almost be marked down as a win before a ball is kicked.

Those aphorisms were given the lie last weekend, for good and bad. The opening weekend of the Investec Champions Cup (the name will take some getting used to, given the strong prior association with a Dutch beer brand) saw three Irish-French ties and, surprisingly, no home wins.

Pride of place goes to Leinster, who gained some measure of catharsis with a 16-9 win away to La Rochelle, who had beaten them in the previous two finals.

While Leo Cullen’s side were almost guaranteed progression from their group, being able to beat their recent nemesis will surely county for something if the teams were to meet again in the knockout phase. A home clash with Sale on Saturday evening will leave Leinster sitting pretty.

I reported last week that the new format looked to have removed some jeopardy and that wins in the two home matches would all but secure qualification. Unfortunately, that proved easier said than done for Connacht and Munster.

Home loss

A 41-5 home loss for Connacht against Bordeaux Bègles leaves the western province with an uphill task, especially as their next assignment is an away game against Saracens. The English side – who can still call upon Owen Farrell, who is taking a break from international rugby for his mental wellbeing – were well-beaten by the Bulls in South Africa and the travel may be a factor but they will be expected to bounce back strongly.

Munster didn’t lose at home to Bayonne but a 17-17 draw after leading 14-3 certainly felt like a defeat. It means that they go to Exeter looking for a response, the English side having won away to Toulon. Given how the history of Munster has often involved producing something special when the chips are down, maybe that’s no bad thing.

Ulster, beaten 37-14 away to Bath, are similarly looking for inspiration as Racing 92 come to Kingspan Stadium. Another defeat would not be absolutely fatal to their prospects but it would reduce the margin of error to almost nothing.

It could be a pivotal weekend and not in a good way. Here’s hoping that the provinces still have something to play for on the other side of Christmas.

‘As every, the Irish sports fan is well catered for in the book market’

Liam Brady, Republic of Ireland. 1982 FIFA World Cup Qualifier, Republic of Ireland v France, Lansdowne Road, Dublin.

\ Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Last weekend, I was chatting to a bookshop owner, asking how busy the season was for them.

He told me that sales in the three weeks before Christmas equal those of the three months beforehand.

As ever, the Irish sports fan is well catered for. Liam Brady’s Born To Be A Footballer is probably a story that was overdue but the documentary An Irishman Abroad last February gave some insight into his life and career. This volume, with Larry Ryan and Nick Callow, fleshes it out further. In The Blood, by Pat Spillane with Michael Moynihan, covers some of the ground that his 1998 autobiography Shooting From The Hip did, but also bridges the gap of the quarter-century since, during which the Kerryman remained a central GAA personality thanks to The Sunday Game.

Beyond the bluster, there is a lot of substance there and Spillane is never afraid to speak his mind, on sport or beyond, such as his experience being involved in CEDRA, an advisory group on rural affairs.

As a former Tipperary camogie player and a talented author and columnist, Eimear Ryan is well-placed to talk about what it’s like being a woman in sport and The Grass Ceiling won the An Post Sports Book of The Year Award recently.

As part of Second Captains, and Newstalk’s Off The Ball before that, Ciarán Murphy has carved out a niche as someone who loves and enjoys sport without taking it too seriously. This Is The Life, his examination of life immersed in the GAA, is a love letter that is clear-headed, looking at the good and the bad. Naturally, there is no shortage of humour but it is certainly thought-provoking, too.

A Season of Sundays, charting the Gaelic year through the lenses of the Sportsfile photographers, has been a staple since 1997 and it is only getting better.

Former Dublin hurling manager Humphrey Kelleher already had GAA Family Silver, a look at the stories behind 101 trophies, to his name and his new offering is a companion piece to that.

A Place to Play, in collaboration with Dónal McAnallen, charts 101 venues that are or were county grounds and there is a richness and vibrancy to the words that is matched by the drone photography.

For younger readers, Adrian Russell’s Big Book of Irish Sporting Heroes and Evanne Ní Chuilinn’s Great Irish Book of Gaelic Games manage to find that beautiful balance between enlightening with information while not getting bogged down in boring minutiae.

Read more

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