good reads

27 of our favourite sports books from 2019

Donald McRae’s In Sunshine or in Shadow and some of the other standouts from the past 12 months.

N.B. In no particular order

1. Richie Sadlier – Recovering


A memoir from the former Millwall and Ireland player about his life during and after football, as he struggles to adapt to the harsh realities of being an ex-player The book recently won the sports category at the Irish Book Awards.

2. Michael Calvin – Mind Game: The Secrets of Golf’s Winners


Journalist Michael Calvin has written several fascinating sports books and ‘Mind Game’ penned in conjunction with golfer Thomas Bjorn, is no exception. It is a candid look into what makes some of the world’s top golfers tick.

3. Donald McRae - In Sunshine or in Shadow


A two-time winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award and widely regarded as one of the best sportswriters on the planet, Donald McRae produces a compelling insight into boxing in Northern Ireland and how the sport thrived despite the inescapable turmoil of the Troubles.

4. Adrian Russell – The Double


The42‘s own Adrian Russell delves into what’s been described as “the greatest achievement in GAA history” — when Cork’s hurlers and footballer both achieved All-Ireland glory in 1990.

5. Rick Reilly – Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump


Even those fatigued by Donald Trump news may well be intrigued by this unique take on the current US president, as one of the most famed living American sportswriters examines his behaviour through the prism of golf.

6. Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Wildest Horse Race – Lara Prior-Palmer 


One of the year’s most critically acclaimed sports books, ‘Rough Magic’ tells the story of how a 19-year-old Lara Prior-Palmer became the first woman to win the 1,000km Mongol Derby in 2013.

7. The Great Romantic: Cricket and the Golden Age of Neville Cardus – Duncan Hamilton


The book that saw its author, Duncan Hamilton, win the prestigious William Hill Sports Book of the Year award for a record third time, ‘The Great Romantic’ is a biography of acclaimed sports writer and music journalist Neville Cardus. Chair of the judging panel Alyson Rudd praised it, saying: “The judges were bowled over by the quality of the writing and the way in which Hamilton brings to life the characters that defined cricket between the two world wars.”

8. Chaos is a Friend of Mine: The Life and Crimes of Conor McGregor - Ewan MacKenna


Ewan MacKenna explores the phenomenon of Conor McGregor, from meeting the then largely unknown fighter in a McDonald’s restaurant in 2013 to witnessing his subsequent rise and the fall, analysing the factors that both turned him into a star and contributed to his decline.  

9. My Life and Rugby – Eddie Jones and Donald McRae


It’s been a busy year for Donald McRae — the only author to feature twice on this list. In this instance, he helps produce a reliably good autobiography, which provides plenty of insight into what has made England boss Eddie Jones one of the world’s most successful rugby coaches. 

10. Pep’s City – The Making of a Superteam – Pol Ballus and Lu Martin


A behind-the-scenes look at Pep Guardiola’s Man City and how he turned them into arguably the most formidable side in Europe for a prolonged spell. The numerous fascinating anecdotes will likely prove compelling to City aficionados and casual football fans alike.

11. One Night In Dudelange – Kevin Burke


A book that includes UCD’s historic 2015 Europa League run as its centrepoint, using this unique event to take a wider look at European football. As author Kevin Burke has explained to the college’s official website: “This book should be of interest to anyone who’s been on a European trip with their own club, whichever one that is. It’s a book which features UCD, but it’s not a UCD book.”

12. I Like it Loud – Emmet Ryan 


Business Post journalist Emmet Ryan takes the reader on a basketball tour through Europe, mixing amusing anecdotes from his travels with comprehensive breakdown of various basketball events in several countries, including Spain, Germany and Ireland.

13. The Cost of These Dreams – Wright Thompson


Often talked of as one America’s greatest living sportswriters, ‘The Cost of These Dreams’ features a collection of some of the finest journalism produced by ESPN’s Wright Thompson.

14. Something in the Water – Kieran McCarthy


In ‘Something in the Water,’ Kieran McCarthy documents the remarkable success story of Skibbereen Rowing Club, exploring how the environment was created for this unlikely triumph and featuring a number of the key characters involved, including Olympic medallists Gary and Paul O’Donovan.

15. All In – Jamie Heaslip and Matt Cooper


Partially overshadowed by the furore following the controversy over drug testing, ‘All In’ is still an enjoyable read looking at the distinguished career of the former Leinster and Ireland captain. 

16. Rise of the Ultra Runners: A Journey to the Edge of Human Endurance - Adharanand Finn


A brilliantly written look at a unique group of people willing to test themselves to the very limits as they enter the painful, unforgiving and occasionally joyous and profound world of ultra running.

17. Position of Trust: A Football Dream Betrayed – Andy Woodward with Tom Watt


One of the key whistleblowers who lifted the lid on the unseemly abuse that marred the world of football for far too long, Woodward tells his moving story with no shortage of grace and wisdom.

18. Unbreakable: The Woman Who Defied the Nazis in the World’s Most Dangerous Horse Race by Richard Askwith


‘Unbreakable’ tells the incredible story of a pioneering sports star Lata Brandisová who defied the Nazis just as World War II was coming to fruition. Her story had been largely forgotten, but Richard Askwith — who has previously written acclaimed books on Emil Zatopek among others — does a fine job of shining a light on this remarkable individual once again.

19. They Don’t Teach This: Lessons from the Game of Life – Eniola Aluko


An expertly told look at the life of Eniola Aluko, a pioneering sports star who won 102 caps for the England national team, became the first female pundit to appear on Match of the Day in addition to countless other accolades.

20 & 21. Behind the Lines No.3 and She Can – The42



Of course, we’re biased, but very much recommend these two offerings from our talented team. ‘Behind the Lines Volume III’ is a collection from some of the most compelling and popular long-form articles on the site from the past 12 months. ‘She Can’ is a colouring book for all ages featuring a number of your favourite female sports stars.

22. The Age of Football: The Global Game in the Twenty-first Century – David Goldblatt


Few writers’ works can compare in terms of sheer research and depth to David Goldblatt, who has produced another mammoth read on the world of football. A sequel of sorts to his original global history of the game, ‘The Ball is Round,’ ‘The Age of Football’ is an intelligent and highly readable look at the modern game’s many quirks and its increasing significance politically as well as culturally.

23. About That Goal – The Official Autobiography of Seamus Darby – Seamus Darby with PJ Cunningham 


The official autobiography of ex-Offaly star Seamus Darby focuses on the county’s dramatic 1982 All-Ireland defeat of Kerry, while also featuring stories on players’ drinking habits, unwise investments and a battle to beat cancer.

24. Camouflage – My Story – Eoin Larkin with Pat Nolan


‘Camouflage’ delves into the life of Eoin Larkin, an eight-time All-Ireland winner with Kilkenny. His life beyond sport also proves fascinating, as it includes NATO and UN tours of duty in war-torn Kosovo and Syria.

25. The Dublin Marathon – Celebrating 40 Years – Sean McGoldrick


Anyone with an interest in the history of the Dublin Marathon would be advised to check out Sean McGoldrick’s well-researched and comprehensive overview of the long-running event.

26. The Pressure Game – Kevin McStay


A memoir from the ex-Mayo All Star footballer, Sunday Game analyst and recent Roscommon head coach. As one of the most respected figures in GAA, McStay’s thoughts on his time in the sport are invariably worth reading.

27. Hooligan — Patrick Holohan


One of the more inimitable characters in Irish sport, ‘Hooligan’ looks at how Holohan discovered mixed martial arts as a teenager, gradually rising through the ranks of the sport, all the while secretively coping with a rare form of haemophilia.

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