To riff on the old saying about fishing: read a man a book and he’ll be happy for a night; teach him how to read and he’ll never be bored.
For those of us who enjoy consuming sports books, the lead up to Christmas is a bonanza as publishers time their releases to appeal to those buying presents for the special supporters in their lives.
One has to be wary, though. Sometimes, the offerings are on the shelves as a cash-in exercise rather than simply because there is a story to tell. Given that Keith Earls is the 14th member of Ireland’s 2009 Grand Slam-winning squad to put forward an autobiography, the instinctive reaction might be steer clear on the assumption that there is little of value, but of course Earls is far from your average rugby player.
Written with Tommy Conlon, Fight or Flight won the An Post Sports Book of The Year Award and with good reason – Earls certainly can’t be accused of lacking self-examination. As anyone who has seen the Limerick man play might expect, it’s raw and unflinching, with Conlon doing a great job as the ghost, getting Earls’ words across in the unvarnished way he intended. If we had one quibble, it would be that the great punning opportunity for the title – Fight of The Earls – was passed up, a rare miss by the winger.
Another superb rugby book is Willie Anderson’s Crossing The Line, in collaboration with Brendan Fanning. Reading about his three-month imprisonment in Argentina in 1980 might bring a chuckle or two but it’s easy to forget that, at the time, it must have been a harrowing affair for a young man and his family.
Even without that significant episode, Anderson’s story would carry plenty of weight and it benefits from the fact that he is looking back at his career long after it has finished.
It’s a quiet enough year by GAA book standards.
Mayo’s Andy Moran is another who is able to tell a tale in a frank and honest manner. Lessons Learned in Pursuit of Glory (co-written with Colin Sheridan) is kind of bittersweet in that you know the ultimate glory remained elusive but the journey is half the enjoyment. Those lessons should benefit Letirim’s footballers over the coming years.
A manager with two books behind him, Mickey Harte might be accused of having said all that he can but Devotion, with Brendan Coffey, is rooted in his strong faith and how that has helped him overcome the serious setbacks in his life.
If personality-focused books are not your thing, then there’s surely something for you in Grassroots: Stories From The Heart of The GAA, compiled by PJ Cunningham. You’ll recognise some or most of the people involved – if you don’t, it’s because you’re one of them.
One GAA book that’s not exclusively a GAA book is Meyler: A Family Memoir, which weaves through the lives of former Wexford and Cork player and manager John Meyler and his son David, who played international football for the Republic of Ireland. I’ll declare at this point that the ghost-writer, Fintan O’Toole, is a personal friend of mine but rest assured that that means I rate it on a harsher scale than usual rather than an easier one and it’s still one I’d heartily recommend.
Books based on League of Ireland soccer figures are rare and so it’s refreshing to see Rebel Heart, John Caulfield’s autobiography with Rob Redmond, on the shelves. As someone who grew up supporting the Cork City teams that Caulfield played on and later covering the club which he led to a league title and two FAI Cups, there is some good insight but also disappointment as the story of his departure from the club is inevitably towards the end of the book. Why and how that played out the way it did isn’t fully explored, which is understandable to an extent. Caulfield is now in charge of Galway United; perhaps an updated version might be needed in the next few years if he can repeat the magic there.