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Here are our 16 favourite sports books from 2016

Paul O’Connell, Joey Barton and John Kavanagh are among the big names to feature in our list.

Updated at 13.30

1. What Do You Think of That? — Kieran Donaghy

donaghy

Synopsis: ONE OF THE most recognisable figures in GAA, Kieran Donaghy reflects on a distinguished career that has included four All Ireland senior medals, three All Stars and a Footballer of the Year nod.

What the critics say: ”It’s great. An absolute superb read. One of the best sports books of the year.” — Matt Cooper, Today FM s The Last Word

2. Today We Die a Little!: The Inimitable Emil Zátopek, the Greatest Olympic Runner of All Time

zatopek

Synopsis: From his incredible feats in distance running to his involvement in the Prague Spring in 1968, Emil Zatopek, the man many consider to be the greatest Olympic runner of all time, led an extraordinary life, and Richard Askwith’s book comprehensively captures his story.

What the critics say: ”A wonderfully in-depth and often emotionally charged piece of writing.” — Athletics Weekly 

3. Win or Learn — John Kavanagh

jk

Synopsis: Ghostwritten by The42‘s own Paul Dollery, Win or Learn looks explores how an ordinary Dubliner became one the world’s leading mixed martial arts teachers and coach of arguably the biggest star in the sport, Conor McGregor.

What the critics say: “Kavanagh is open and honest about his upbringing … The journey hasn’t been easy, but Kavanagh’s inbuilt determination has carried him all the way” — Irish Examiner.

4. The battle – Paul O’Connell

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Synopsis: The Battle takes an unflinching look at one of Ireland’s greatest ever rugby players and his place among the country’s golden generation of stars.

What the critics say: “The years of O’Connell and O’Driscoll were as close to a golden age as ever Ireland will get and O’Connell’s book tells you how it all happened … It should be mandatory for every Irish squad member to read O’Connell’s book to better understand what it takes to make a team” — David Walsh Sunday Times.

5. Eat Sweat Play: How Sport Can Change Our Lives — Anna Kessel

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Synopsis: Anna Kessel takes a unique look at the role sport plays in our lives and why more women aren’t embracing its benefits.

What the critics say: “Anna Kessel’s book should inspire a whole generation of women. It ought to be on the school curriculum” — Hadley Freeman.

6. Out of Control: How My Addiction Almost Killed Me – Cathal McCarron

cathal

Synopsis: The controversial Tyrone footballer and two-time All Star reflecs on a turbulent few years during which a gambling addiction almost destroyed him.

What the critics say: “The best sports book I’ve read this year” — Paul Kimmage.

7. No Nonsense: The Autobiography – Joey Barton

barton

Synopsis: The aptly titled No Nonsense is a brutally honest look at the eventful life of outspoken footballer Joey Barton, examining his various issues and challenges both on and off the field.

What the critics say: “Barton’s compelling autobiography…probes the dark undertow of his past” — Donald McRae, Guardian.

8. For the Glory: Eric Liddell’s Journey from Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr — Duncan Hamilton

fortheglory

Synopsis: A biography of Eric Liddell, the Scottish gold-medal-winning Olympian who retired at his peak to become a missionary and ultimately died tragically young in a POW camp in 1945.

What the critics say: “Duncan Hamilton’s compelling biography puts flesh on the legend and paints a vivid picture of not only a great athlete, but also a very special human being” — Daily Mail.

9. Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life –  William Finnegan

barbariandays

Synopsis: The winner of the prestigious William Hill Sports Book of the Year award, Barbarian Days is an eloquent meditation on surfing and the culture behind the sport.

What the critics say: “How many ways can you describe a wave? You’ll never get tired of watching Finnegan do it. A staff writer at The New Yorker, he leads a counterlife as an obsessive surfer, traveling around the world, throwing his vulnerable, merely human body into line after line of waves in search of transient moments of grace…It’s an occupation that has never before been described with this tenderness and deftness.”—TIME Magazine, Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2015.

10. Running Man: A Memoir — Charlie Engle

runningman

Synopsis: The remarkable story of how a recovering drug addict and alcoholic became one of the world’s top ultramarathon runner.

What the critics say: Running Man will make you cry, laugh, cheer out loud, redefine what you think is possible and leave you in awe. Most of all, it is a powerful and unfailingly authentic testimony to something we all share what it means to be truly human. — Rich Roll, endurance athlete, best-selling author of Finding Ultra: Rejecting Middle Age, Becoming One of the World’s Fittest Men, and Discovering Myself”.

11. The Games: A Global History of the Olympics — David Goldblatt

games

Synopsis: David Goldblatt takes a comprehensive and insightful look at the history of the Olympic Games, exploring the dark side of the competition that lurks beneath the glitz and glamour.

What the critics say: Gracefully written and compellingly argued, this is one of the best books of the year and one of the best sports books ever written. — Kirkus.

12. Forever Young: The Story of Adrian Doherty, Football’s Lost Genius — Oliver Kay

foreveryoung

Synopsis: Oliver Kay tells the tale of Adrian Doherty — the footballer in the fabled Man United early 1990s youth team who some say was better than Ryan Giggs, but whose career was ended by a cruciate injury and whose passion for football was matched only by his love of music and poetry.

What the critics say: Magnificently researched and superbly crafted – Belfast Telegraph.

13. Chasing Shadows: The Life and Death of Peter Roebuck by Tim Lane and Elliot Cartledge

peter

Synopsis: A look at the life and death of Peter Roebuck — the former cricket star and journalist — exploring the various controversies in his life and the mysterious circumstances behind his shocking death.

What the critics say: “Cartledge and Lane have woven a net to catch the shadows, and they capture just enough of Roebuck s essence — more than anyone has to date to make an odd story compelling.” — Inside Cricket.

14. Mister: The Men Who Taught the World How to Beat England at Their Own Game by Rory Smith

mister

Synopsis: Rory Smith of the New York Times takes an illuminating look at the missionaries who “taught the world how to beat England at their own game”.

What the critics say: “[A] fine book… [it] casts a fresh long-term perspective on footballing insularity, showing how British coaches helped bring the game to the world but found themselves and their insights forgotten or ignored at home.”  – Huw Richards, The Guardian.

15. Hand on Heart – Ken McGrath

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Synopsis: The uplifting story of how the much-loved Waterford legend and three-time All-Star winner survived the loss of his sports shop and a brain haemorrhage.

What the critics say:  You always knew you’d have a battle with Ken, he’s a warrior. His book is a brilliant account of his hurling career and the incredible challenges he has faced since — Anthony Daly.

16. Drama In The Bahamas – Dave Hannigan

drama

Synopsis: Dave Hannigan explores the last stages of Muhammad Ali’s boxing career, his final bout and his life’s subsequent tragic descent owing to Parkinson’s disease in the years following retirement.

What the critics say: “Hannigan’s book excels here with well-chosen quotations painting the unique status, even among athletes, of the boxer.” –The New York Times

What were your favourite sports books of the year? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Paul Fennessy

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