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22 of our favourite sports books

Featuring ‘Back from the Brink,’ ‘Friday Night Lights’ and many other classics.

Updated at 20.46

Sean Farrell

fnl

Touching the Void: Joe Simpson’s incredible tale is only surpassed by the incredibly excruciating feats of survival he describes after dragging himself down the Andes.

Friday Night Lights: An obvious shout perhaps, but a gem from Buzz Bissinger, who managed to burn more than his fair share of bridges with a superb depiction of how sport can grab hold of a town.

Engage: An extremely tough read from Paul Kimmage, because it faces up to the danger, a subject matter that no rugby fan ever wants to consider.

Back from the Brink: Every Irish sports fan has a place in their heart for Paul McGrath, and Vincent Hogan’s autobiography with him only solidifies his place there as it recounts every trial and tribulation with addiction.

Cliffs of Insanity: Keith Duggan’s time embedded with the Irish surf community is probably the best pick to help soothe over these increasingly anxious times. Duggan expertly takes you into the barrel of the waves and the lives of the surfers who brave them.

Murray Kinsella

open

John Daniell – Confessions of a Rugby Mercenary.

Real and raw. One of the very best rugby books out there.

Andre Agassi – Open

Brutally honest. A riveting and rigorous self-analysis.

Joe McGinniss – The Miracle of Castel di Sangro

Infuriating at times, but always impossible to put down.

Jeff Pearlman – The Bad Guys Won!

A riotous romp of a baseball story.

Jonathan Wilson – Inverting the Pyramid.

Masterful and engaging tactical history of football

Kevin O’Brien

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Friday Night Lights - A Town, a Team, and a Dream – The book that inspired a movie and TV show, it tells the story of high school football team the Permian Panthers. Set in a socially and racially divided Odessa, Texas, it’s written by Pulitzer Prize winner H. G. Bissinger, who beautifully captures an unforgettable season and how it shapes the community.

Legacy - A great handbook for coaches and athletes to live by. James Kerry delves deep into the New Zealand rugby team and examines the secrets behind sustained success. Its findings have been adopted by high-performance set-ups all over the world.

The Club - Christy O’Connor opens up the dressing room door to take us inside the 2009 season with the St Joseph’s Doora-Barefield senior hurlers. A decade after winning the All-Ireland club crown, the local parish was deeply wounded by two tragedies and the team made a pact to honour their memory by winning back the county title. An excellent insight into a typical GAA club, warts and all.

Sacred Hoops - A fantastic read from former Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson that is full of stories from his time working with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman who were part of one of the greatest teams of all-time. It centres around Jackson’s philosophy of mindful basketball that was way ahead of his time.

The Sports Gene - Why does Jamaica produce so many Olympic sprinters and why do East Africans dominate distance running? David Epstein explores the nature of athletic success and gets to the heart of the nature vs nurture debate in this illuminating piece of work.

Paul Fennessy

mailer

The Fight – Norman Mailer

It’s incredibly rare for a world-class novelist to document a world-class athlete and Norman Mailer’s account of Muhammad Ali’s 1974 World Heavyweight Boxing Championship clash with George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire is every bit as special and inimitable as you’d expect.

Night Games – Anna Krien

The story of a rape trial of a young Australian Rules football, the startling parallels with the Ulster Rugby rape trial have been well documented and in this unforgettable self-professed “journey to the dark side of sport,” Anna Krien does justice to a disturbing and complex subject matter by approaching the story with the nuance, emotional intelligence and exhaustive research that it deserves

2013 Best American Sportswriting – Various

There are 29 and counting volumes of the self-explanatory Best American Sportswriting, an annual collection that began in 1991 and continues to the present day. You might not be an aficionado of the (mainly) American sports that feature in these stories, but the articles that feature inevitably grip you regardless. The 2013 collection, edited by Pulitzer Prize winner J.R. Moehringer, is a personal favourite, but I’m somewhat reluctant to single out any particular book given their consistent brilliance.

Tiger Woods - Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian

There are countless books on Tiger Woods out there, and I can’t claim to have read them all, but after discovering Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian’s remarkable investigative work, you feel like you know the US golf legend inside out and that there is no need to look beyond this stunning biography.

Only a Game – Eamon Dunphy

Considered seminal for its time and still a hugely engaging read to this day, Eamon Dunphy’s diary of part of his time at Millwall is just as brutally honest, entertaining and articulate as you’d expect.

Ciarán Kennedy

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paulmcgrath

Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football, David Winner

I read this when I was about 16 and didn’t fully appreciate it, so went back to it ahead of a trip to Amsterdam a few years ago.

I love books that mix sport with general culture, and this starts off detailing the social and political revolution in Amsterdam in the early 1960s, before linking those events to Dutch football’s influence and originality, along with lots of nice tactical nerdery.

Dub Sub Confidential, John Leonard

The detail about Leonard’s own battle with drink and drugs is remarkable, but the ability to balance that with a place in the Dublin football panel, just a few years before the 2011 All-Ireland win, is hard to fathom. Leonard had a front row seat during one of the most fascinating periods in Dublin football, and tells his story wonderfully.

The Best American Sports Writing of the Century

I’m very aware that this is a bit like Alan Partridge picking ‘The Best of the Beatles’ as his favourite Beatles album, but I’d have to include this book as I often find myself dipping back into it.

The great thing about these compilations is that the writing is so good, you end up reading about sports that rarely cross your radar, like baseball or chess.

A personal favourite is The Rocky Road of Pistol Pete, which is the story of a baseball player who played the game so hard, he used to continually run into the concrete boundary walls, knocking himself unconscious. He ended up being carried off the field 11 times in his career.

Back From The Brink, Paul McGrath

An obvious choice, but it’s just such a good read. I picked this up again a few years ago, and even on a second read, McGrath’s story is remarkable. He’s arguably the most fascinating sportsperson Ireland has produced. A book that is well worth revisiting over the next couple of weeks.

Friday Night Lights, HG Bissinger

Another obvious choice, but this is one of the first sports books I really loved, and I had next to no interest in American football at the time.

Again, this covers much more than sport, and essentially just documents life in a small town in Texas, but it’s a such a vivid read and really draws you in. You could enjoy it even if you had no interest in sport at all.

Superbly written, and the best bit is, when you finish the book, you can jump into the wonderfully cheesy TV series. Win win.

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