HOPEFULLY, you had an enjoyable Christmas with family and friends.
GAA clubs certainly play a big part in the festivities, with many undertaking Christmas swims for charity and then holding pocanna fada on St Stephen’s Day or the day after, ticking boxes for fundraising and socialising at once.
Another popular novelty activity is a married v singles intra-club match, though perhaps the lowering of GAA club age-profiles in recent times has made it more difficult to have sufficient numbers on the married end of the scale.
In terms of Christmas presents, there is an ever-growing selection available for those with an interest in GAA, primarily on the book front.
Under the tree for us last Monday included A Season of Sundays, the annual coffee-table publication by the photographic agency Sportsfile, as well as The Warrior’s Code, Jackie Tyrrell’s autobiography.
A Season of Sundays was something we first received in 1999 – that was the third edition, the first two are on our List of Things We’ll Eventually Get Round To – and it remains a production of very high values, with the best photos always the less obvious ones.
The snaps from early in the year are full of unvarnished authenticity, and it has been our good fortune to appear in one of those two years ago, awaiting the start of the Cork v Limerick McGrath Cup game in Mallow.
Having arrived straight from a wedding in Tipperary, we weren’t at our absolute best, largely concealed with a woolly hat and scarf, and Sportsfile photographer Brendan Moran seemed to sense that as he captured more than a few images from pitch level.
With the desk obscuring a lot, the picture mainly consisted of a pair of broody eyes coming out from under the hat, silently wishing away the next couple of hours. Cork, under the management of Peadar Healy for the first time, won by a point after a late comeback.
Incidentally, North Cork seems to be a significant factor in determining whether we make the cut or not – in 2008, we appeared as part of a sizeable gang of journalists taking in the Tipperary and Limerick Munster senior football championship game in Fermoy. Now, it’s not the general way of things that hacks in a press box are worthy of such a platform, but the fact that the facilities were on the back of a lorry was what made it worthy of wider exposure. Kudos to snapper Brian Lawless for that one.
A Season of Sundays has become so established now that there is no reason why it won’t remain a staple of the Christmas present market. Arguably, the best shot this year – and we’re not being biased, honestly – is the double-pager of Páirc Uí Chaoimh on the day of the Waterford v Wexford All-Ireland hurling quarter-final, capturing not just the stadium but the wider Marina area and the Lower Glanmire Road on the other side of the Lee.
As mentioned, Jackie Tyrrell’s book also made its way down the chimney. Generally, we’re not the biggest fans of GAA players’ autobiographies – the moody pic on the front showing they mean business, “My Story” plastered somewhere prominently and then the usual stuff inside – talented underage star, bit of an adjustment getting to senior and then talented senior star. There are so many versions of that book now that there needs to be something else to set it apart and so there is generally one juicy story, severely watered-down compared to the actual event, which will be teased in the media anyway, meaning that the only real reason to buy the book is gone.
The grittier books, like Liam Dunne’s ‘I Crossed The Line’, Cathal McCarron’s ‘Out of Control’ or John Leonard’s ‘Dub Sub Confidential’, tend to be better, but all three focus more on off-the-field battles and moreso than condensed match reports. They’re books about troubled people who happen to be top sports stars rather than sports books per se.
By all accounts, Tyrrell’s is supposed to be a notch or two above the usual fare and his career progression was not a serene upward flight, with plenty of knock-backs along the way that he had to deal with, successfully as things transpired. With as gifted a ghostwriter as Christy O’Connor alongside him, the prospects of an excellent finished article are greatly increased. We may return to evaluate it further after reading.
Looking further ahead, the GAA book we’d love to read is one in the style of Boys Will Be Boys, Jeff Pearlman’s wonderful look at how the Dallas Cowboys became the top team in the NFL despite the hard-partying antics of so many of the protagonists.
Whether such a book could ever be written around Gaelic games is questionable, given – as alluded to above – how the best stories are generally not made available for public consumption, instead allowed to grow legs as they spread through the bush telegraph.
Perhaps professionalism makes it easier for people to be more candid, but then look at the autobiographies of so many football players, which are even blander than much of the GAA output. Anyway, people probably prefer the slightly-exaggerated Chinese whispers versions of stories.