GAA BOOKS OF THE YEAR PREVIEW

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As you may have noticed (and I made sure to wait until after Halloween ended to post this) Christmas is coming, and with that in mind, all of the GAA households across the country will be looking for a suitable book to placate their loved ones as a gift. If you are one of said people, there are a number of interesting GAA books out for Christmas. Here we look at some of the best.
Gooch: The Autobiography by Colm Cooper and Vincent Hogan
It’s been an eventful year for Colm Cooper. Ostensibly, it was the first time in years that he was no longer an inter-county player, but paradoxically, he’s probably had more publicity in the past 9 months or so than ever before.
It all started so well for him, when he helped Dr Crokes of Killarney to win their first All-Ireland club title in 25 years last March, the most coveted medal of his whole career. Throughout the summer he was a fixture on our screens as part of the Sunday Game panel, but what really got the punters talking was that (in)famous testimonial dinner that took place last weekend which has been greeted with a somewhat…shall we say, lukewarm reception by the public.
Not much of that hysteria however, will be featured in this autobiography, which was written well before any testimonial was planned. Now the worry with one of these books, particularly a Kerry one, is that all of the stories will have already been told. In the past 10 years or so Jack O’Connor, Darragh O Se, Tomas O Se, Paul Galvin and Kieran Donaghy have all brought out books. How much new, then, can the Gooch say about that Kerry team and his own career now?
Colm was one of the best footballers of all time but has never been the most outspoken of people. Such subjects don’t always make the best candidates for autobiographies. The one major advantage he has though is having Irish Independent’s Vincent Hogan as his ghost writer. Hogan was the man who skillfully navigated the highly difficult Paul McGrath story a few years ago, before following it up with a book on Henry Shefflin that was also very readable. Hopefully after reading it Colm’s reputation will be enhanced, and no longer be just the public punch-bag he has become in the last few weeks.
The Choice by Philly McMahon and Niall Kelly
In theory this may be a GAA book, but in reality it’s more of a long look at drugs and our society. McMahon has already stated in interviews that, unlike say Jackie Tyrrell’s offering, this will not be a behind the scenes, warts and all portrayal at what goes on under the current Jim Gavin set up. Instead, it is about the personal story of the Ballymun man, and the relationship with his brother, John, who tragically died from heroin addiction 5 years ago.
McMahon has come from a place where he was embarrassed to talk about his brother, to one where he felt the only way he could do his brother’s life justice was by dedicating a long read to it. He has studied a lot about the reasons people become addicts and how they managed to overcome that scenario and included advice into what he thinks can be done to ameliorate the Heroin problem in Ireland including, controversially enough, injection clinics in the city centre. So, for anyone who wants to know what it’s like to be a Dublin player during the most successful era in the county’s history, or know exactly what was going through Philly’s mind when he put his finger into Kieran Donaghy’s eye a few years ago, this probably isn’t for you. But for those interested in how we can solve the deep underlying problems in our country, this is definitely worthwhile.
 
The Warriors Code by Jackie Tyrrell and Christy O’Connor
For years, the silence that came from the Kilkenny hurling dressing room was akin to something like the code of omerta that surrounds the Mafia. But with Henry Shefflin’s book a few years ago, and now this, the code is slowly being broken.
Your feelings towards this may well be conditioned by your attitude towards the man coming in. If you’re from Tipperary or Cork and weren’t overly enamoured with the James Stephens corner back before now…well then you’re hardly going to be a major fan of his afterwards. Tyrrell acknowledges the ability of the Cork side of the mid 00’s, but he is very open about the enmity that existed between the two sides. He takes particular relish in describing how Kilkenny demolished a post-strike Cork in a league game in 2009. He also states that Tipperary were afraid of Kilkenny throughout their rivalry over the past decade or more, with the likes of “Bubbles” O’Dwyer, for instance, coming in for scathing criticism.
Tyrrell does not seek to downplay the fact that Kilkenny were deemed an overly physical side in the 00’s and this decade. If anything, he attempts to glorify the “Hard man” image of himself and the team. You could say there is too much emphasis on the strength and physicality of that Kilkenny side and not enough on their finesse. Let’s not forget, with the likes of Richie Hogan, JJ Delaney, Richie Power, Cha Fitzpatrick et al, that Kilkenny side was one of, if not, THE most skillful sides of all time.
On saying that, if you are a neutral observer, who has no particular ill-feeling towards Tyrrell, and is just interested in hurling and sport, there is a lot to be gleaned from this book. There is a plenty of insight into what goes on in the Kilkenny camp, and the insatiable hunger of Cody in particular is a noted theme. This book clearly demonstrates the obsessive like nature needed to achieve high end success in sport and life. Allied to this, some of the stories involving the likes of Tommy Walsh and John Hoyne (AKA Dougal for reasons that become clear) are hilarious.  So provided you’re not a dyed in the wool Tipperary or Cork supporter, this would be a welcome stocking filler.
 
The Pursuit of Perfection: The Life, Death and Legacy of Cormac McAnallen by Donal McAnallen  
I wouldn’t say I’m the biggest fan of the Ireland Australia international rules series, but one thing that is laudable about the games is the name of the Trophy presented to the winners: It’s the Cormac McAnallen Cup. Now Conor McAnallen, for our younger readers, was the exceptional Tyrone footballer who died in 2004 only 6 months after playing full-back on the first team from the county to win a senior All-Ireland.
McAnallen was a mere 24 years old when he left this mortal coil, but though his life was brief, he packed a hell of a lot in during that short time. He was a schoolteacher, engaged to be married, and, obviously a supreme footballing talent who had won practically ever honour in the game, from underage to senior. He had also represented his country with distinction in the international rules series. But McAnallen was not born a boy wonder, but worked assiduously on his game in order to get to that level. He was also a health fanatic who never drank alcohol.
Which made it all the more perplexing therefore why he would die in his sleep so suddenly on March 2, 2004. Before his death, I didn’t even know what the letters SADS (Sudden Adult Death Syndrome) meant. Even now, I’m still not fully sure, and I doubt many other people are either. But McAnallen’s older brother Donal, to whom he was exceptionally close, has worked tirelessly in trying to piece together Cormac’s story and work out how he died. He read through all of his brother old diaries and noted that, strangely enough, Cormac had been struggling somewhat with headache problems for a while before his death and wonders if they were in any way related to his death.
While slightly out of the public view in the last few years, this story is one that’s well worth revisiting, and would be an excellent read for anyone interested.
 
Jayo by Jason Sherlock and Damian Lawlor
The eminent journalist Kieran Cunningham made a salient point about Jason Sherlock on Twitter as the Finglas man appeared on The Late Late Show last Friday night. “It’s impossible to explain the impact he made on the summer of ’95 unless you lived through it”. Never a truer word was spoken.
Now maybe there are some people reading this who are not familiar with the Outhere Brothers Eurodance classic of the mid nineties “Boom Boom Boom” (look it up on YouTube) For those of us who do though, it’s impossible to think of it without uttering the words “Boom Boom Boom, let me hear you say Jayo. Jayo!”
The Jayo in this instance was Jason Sherlock, and as Dublin secured a first All-Ireland in 12 years that summer (and that’s another reminder of how long ago this was!) that’s the anthem that rained down from Hill 16. Sherlock’s story was a particularly unique one at the time, as he was probably the first high profile GAA star to come from a mixed race background. Sadly for him, he had almost no relationship with his Hong Kong born father growing up and, tragically, his father was murdered not long after he won his All-Ireland medal.
What Sherlock did have however, was a ravenous hunger to succeed in sport. He was not only the full forward on the Dublin team that won the All-Ireland, but he played soccer for UCD (and was once scouted by Liverpool) and was a talented basketballer. His stock was so high in the mid 90’s that Louis Walsh even wanted him in a boyband! But as the bright lights faded somewhat after the high of that victory and Dublin’s fortunes began to slide, Sherlock had to face up to his own demons in accepting his part in the side’s decline.
The extract’s from this book have been highly interesting and there was an in depth interview with Paul Kimmage in the Sunday independent a few weeks ago that whetted the appetite perfectly for the book. Sherlock’s story is an indication of how much Ireland has changed, from a country where the population was overwhelming pale-skinned, to one where the likes of Lee Chin and the O’Hailpins are seen as heroes, and not just the strange anomalies they were in the past.

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