good reads

21 of our favourite sports books from 2017

From autobiographies of Jackie Tyrrell to books on Bob Paisley, it’s been a good year for lovers of sporting yarns.

N.B This list is in no particular order

1. Centaur by Declan Murphy and Ami Rao (Doubleday, Transworld)


‘Centaur’ tells the incredible story of Declan Murphy. The renowned Irish former jockey had a near-death experience in 1994 when an accident caused his skull to shatter in 12 places. This William Hill-shortlisted book tells his life story with a particular focus on his long and miraculous road to recovery.

2. Green Shoots: Irish Football Histories by Michael Walker (De Coubertin Books)


There have been plenty of books written about Irish football history but few have managed to cover both the North and the Republic of Ireland in such a skillful and comprehensive fashion as journalist Michael Walker’s latest work. ‘Green Shoots’ is filled with countless fascinating anecdotes from the inception of the Irish football to the present day, encompassing stories on legends like Liam Brady and other key figures such as Bill McCracken, who have been largely forgotten with the passing of time.

3. The Choice – Philly McMahon with Niall Kelly (Gill Books)


An evocative look at Philly McMahon’s life from childhood to his current status as a top-class Dublin footballer. Winner of both the Eir Sport Book of the Year and the Bord Gais Energy Sports Book of the Year, ‘The Choice’ is an enjoyable read for hardcore Dublin GAA supporters and casual fans alike, highlighting how McMahon remarkably overcame personal tragedy and a difficult upbringing to thrive as one of the country’s top sportsmen.

4. On The Brink: A Journey Through English Football’s North West — Simon Hughes (De Coubertin Books)


A comprehensive look at English football’s most successful region. Author of previous books including ‘Men in White Suits’ and ‘Ring of Fire,’ Simon Hughes’ ‘On the Brink’ is meticulously researched and frequently illuminating, exploring life and the various challenges (financial and otherwise) at a range of clubs from Liverpool and Everton to the less high-profile likes of AFC Fylde and Salford City.

5. No Hunger in Paradise — Michael Calvin (Century)


While football fans get endless exposure to millionaire Premier League players, the vast majority of aspiring stars end up seeing their dreams go unfulfilled. Award-winning author and journalist Michael Calvin takes a typically forensic approach in examining English football’s ruthless academy system and the various measures put in place to try to improve this problematic situation. “People within football know that the game is not Walt Disney,” Calvin told The42 back in September. “It is a hard, brutal, insanely competitive world. They don’t mind people reflecting that, as long as there’s context and balance. I didn’t set out to do a hatchet job. What I tried to do is articulate some of the fears, show some of the excesses, but also acknowledge some of the good work that’s being done.”

6. Behind the Lines: Great Irish Sport Stories – (Journal Media)


Yes, we’re biased, but we’re not the only ones who have good things to say about this collection of some the site’s best writing from 2017 — Wright Thompson, Dave Hannigan and Paul Kimmage are among those to have praised this collection of top features from some of the best sports journalists in the business.

7. Double Kiss — Ronnie O’Sullivan (Macmillan)


Admittedly, this is not a sports book in the strictest sense, but that doesn’t make Ronnie O’Sullivan’s latest foray into fiction any less impressive. Following on from the success of ‘Framed,’ the second book in the Soho Nights series is a similarly entertaining thriller that fans of the genre will lap up.

8. Ali: A Life — Jonathan Eig (Simon & Schuster)


There have already been some great books written on Ali by the likes of Norman Mailer and Thomas Hauser, and Jonathan Eig’s biography deserves to be mentioned alongside these great works. It takes a detailed and unflinching look at Ali’s life right up to his death, extensively conveying the complexity of one of the most influential figures of the 20th century.

9. The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish cycling’s golden generation – Barry Ryan (Gill Books)


Shortlisted for the Eir Sport Book of the Year, Barry Ryan’s tirelessly researched look at Irish cycling’s golden generation deserves a place on the bookshelf of any Irish sports fan for its accomplished portrayal of a unique period for the sport on this island.

10. The Warrior’s Code – Jackie Tyrell with Christy O’Connor (Trinity Mirror Sports Media)


Arguably the first great book on the Brian Cody generation of Kilkenny hurlers, Jackie Tyrrell’s autobiography lifts the lid on one of the greatest teams Irish sport has ever seen, in the process providing a fascinating insight into the life of a top-level athlete.

11. Tom Simpson: Bird on the Wire by Andy McGrath (Rapha Editions)


‘Bird on the Wire’ is the story of Tom Simpson, the legendary British cyclist, 50 years on from his death at the age of 29 when he collapsed and passed away while cycling Mont Ventoux during the Tour de France. With a mixture of comprehensive research and stunning photography, Andy McGrath’s William Hill-winning book is an engaging portrayal of a talented and ultimately tragic figure.

12. Boy Wonder: Tales from the Sidelines of an Irish Childhood — Dave Hannigan (Gill Books)


Dave Hannigan’s nostalgia-filled ‘Boy Wonder’ is a book that any sports fanatic will relate to. It chronicles a childhood with various mini-obsessions from a Rocky-inspired love of boxing to the marvels of Subbuteo and Hannigan’s delight at receiving a pair of white Steve Heighway-endorsed boots, in the process evocatively conveying what it meant to be a child growing up in 1970s/80s Ireland.

13. When Lions Roared: The Lions, the All Blacks and the Legendary Tour of 1971 – Tom English and Peter Burns (Polaris Publishing)


Essential reading for any rugby aficionado, ‘When Lions Roared’ does a brilliant job of highlighting the significance and romance of the 1971 British & Irish Lions tour of Australia and New Zealand. The book explores how the likes of Barry John, Willie John McBride and Mike Gibson made history to become the first (and still only) Lions side to win a Test series in New Zealand and includes illuminating interviews with some of rugby’s key figures of the past and present.

14. Gooch: The Autobiography — Colm Cooper with Vincent Hogan (Transworld Ireland)


A fascinating look at one of the best GAA players of the past 15 years, Colm Cooper’s autobiography contains some interesting revelations and insights into what makes the Kerry legend tick.

15. The Pursuit of Perfection: The Life, Death and Legacy of Cormac McAnallen – Donal McAnallen (Penguin Ireland)


The story of an exceptionally talented athlete who was part of the Tyrone side to win the county’s first-ever All-Ireland title in 2003, Cormac McAnallen died in tragic circumstances less than a year later as a result of an undetected heart condition. ‘The Pursuit of Perfection,’ written by the late star’s brother Dónal, is an intimate and heartfelt account of McAnallen’s life.

16. First Hand: My Life and Irish Football – Eoin Hand with Jared Browne (Collins Press)


There are not many people in Irish football with as interesting a story to tell as Eoin Hand, and ‘My Life and Irish Football’ captures the former Ireland manager’s unique tale brilliantly. From the highs of guiding Limerick to the League of Ireland title to the despair of narrowly missing out on being the first person to manage the Republic of Ireland at a major tournament and the surreal situations he experienced while managing in Saudi Arabia, Hand’s book is a must for anyone with a serious interest in football on this island.

17. Form: My autobiography – Kieren Fallon with Oliver Holt (Simon & Schuster)


The story of the Clare native who ultimately became one of the most successful jockeys ever, like all the best sports autobiographies, ‘Form’ is a brutally honest look at the career of the celebrated athlete and his compulsive love of horse racing.

18. Any Given Saturday – Shay Given (Trinity Mirror Sports Media)


A funny and at times poignant depiction of the career of arguably Ireland’s greatest ever goalkeeper, ‘Any Given Saturday’ is an unflinching look at the player who was consistently one of the Premier League’s most talented performers for more than a decade. Whether it is assessing the issues with Roberto Mancini’s problematic Man City stint or giving his take on the infamous Saipan debacle prior to the 2002 World Cup, Given doesn’t pull any punches in telling his story.

19. Quiet Genius: Bob Paisley, British Football’s Greatest Manager by Ian Herbert (Bloomsbury Sport, Bloomsbury)


The identity of the most successful manager ever is always going to be up for debate, but in terms of achievements in a relatively short time period, few people warrant comparison to Paisley. As a manager during a nine-year timeline, he won six league titles, three League Cups and three European Cups. The Liverpool side that he played a significant part in building would also continue to enjoy significant success in his absence for many years to come. Given what he achieved, it’s strange that in contrast with other key figures of the period, Paisley’s story has been a little overlooked until now. Ian Herbert’s book goes beyond the facade that the iconic coach often presented to the TV cameras and digs deeper in exploring the personality of a figure who was far more interesting than he normally let on.

20. The Greatest Comeback: From Genocide to Football Glory by David Bolchover (Biteback Publishing)


Of all the sports books released this year, few tales are more inspirational than the story of Bela Guttman. ‘The Greatest Comeback,’ which was shortlisted for the William Hill prize, looks at how he survived the trauma of the Holocaust to become one of the most influential figures in world football at the time, coaching Benfica to two consecutive European Cups among several other impressive achievements.

21. Swell: A Waterbiography by Jenny Landreth (Bloomsbury Sport, Bloomsbury)


In equal parts funny and insightful, ‘Swell: A Waterbiography’ examines a time in the 19th century when swimming was deemed largely unsuitable for women. These restrictions were challenged by ‘swimming suffragettes’ and Jenny Landreth’s book does a superb job in telling the story of their ultimately successful fight for women’s rights.

What were your favourite sports books released in 2017? Let us know in the comments section below.

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

‘I took all the money out of the house, all our wages, and gambled it all in 28 minutes’>

‘I hear my name. ‘Woah, I’m in.’ But it was only at training I realised I was starting over Tony Ward’>

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