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Comment: The four best GAA books of 2017

By Declan Bogue

It would seem from every corner of critical analysis, there is a general acceptance that 2017 has been a vintage year for sports books. The glut of releases have been matched by the quality of those releases, in what was looking a few years back like a dying genre.

Here are my four best GAA books of the year, just in time for your weekend stocking filler shopping session.

1. THE PURSUIT OF PERFECTION

Author: Donal McAnallen (Penguin)

Let's face it, you're not going to buy four books this Christmas, are you?

So if you're only in the market for one book, this is it.

Donal McAnallen, a GAA historian who has produced books on the history of Ulster GAA - 'The Evolution of the GAA' - and on inter-varsity competition, 'The Cups That Cheered', has turned his hand to something very different, serving us up a rich tapestry of his late brother, Cormac.

The Tyrone senior football captain, who died suddenly on March 2, 2004, aged just 24, was a stunning player, but also a remarkable young man who touched the lives of so many through his life in sport.

He loved quizzes and was devoted to teaching in St Catherine's in Armagh.

The causes of Cormac's death are teased out in minute detail in the book, which sadly raises more questions than answers.

However, there are many fond anecdotes, which I could not possibly spoil for the uninitiated.

It is a celebration of a life where a young man did all in his power to fulfil his potential.

Never has a sports book been more aptly titled. Seldom has there been the same level of care over every single word.

2. THE CHOICE

Philly McMahon, with Niall Kelly (Gill Books)

Winner of the Eir Sport and Bord Gais Sports Book of the Year award, this is a powerful account of Dublin footballer Philly McMahon's life.

Brought up in the infamous Ballymun Towers, Philly made his choices in life, refusing to drink or take drugs as he dedicated himself to sport - securing a trial with Nottingham Forest and going on to become a multiple All-Ireland winner with Dublin.

His older brother John went a different way, hooked on the scourge of heroin, before his untimely death in 2012.

Not for nothing did this book claim those prizes.

A stark look at life and the pitfalls around two kids growing up in what most describe as a socially disadvantaged area, but McMahon simply calls 'home', this is a study on how people - and Philly leaves us in no doubt that John was a good person - can become overwhelmed by circumstances and lack of opportunity.

Ghostwriter Niall Kelly lets the tale unravel spectacularly.

3. THE WARRIOR'S CODE

Jackie Tyrrell, with Christy O'Connor (SportMedia)

Many hours of study have been given over to wondering how Brian Cody - the most successful manager in Gaelic games with 13 Liam MacCarthy Cups in his 20 years as manager - operates.

What is he like in training? How does he make his decisions? Who are his sounding boards?

The man himself produced an autobiography and was followed a few years later by his great captain Henry Shefflin, but neither came close to lifting the veneer.

Tyrrell, along with his ghostwriter Christy O'Connor, does this about his James Stephen's clubmate in glorious fashion, taking us inside the inner workings of the Cats camp. Not only that, but he also gives us full access inside the thoughts and insecurities that one of the finest hurlers of his generation felt, even when playing in the team acknowledged as the greatest of all time.

Splendidly candid.

4. JAYO

Jason Sherlock, with Damian Lawlor (Simon and Schuster)

A warning: Do not buy this book if you think you are going to get the secret sauce behind Dublin's march to three All-Irelands in a row.

Sherlock has been a selector with the Dubs ever since their collapse against Donegal in the All-Ireland semi-final of 2014, and they have yet to lose a match since he was brought in as an attacking coach.

He doesn't go anywhere near the dressing room here unless talking about his own playing days. But he details his fascinating tale of being the only lad in his neighbourhood with Chinese heritage, along with his struggles with self-image and self-worth which he only came to terms with after studying for an MBA, and then founding a life-coaching service, 'Jayo Authentic Mentorship.'

There are also colourful accounts of his time spending summers in Ballyhea of Cork with his uncle, where he became a renowned hurler, and there is variety with his basketball international days and how he turned down a Liverpool trial from Roy Evans. A surprisingly candid read.

AND THE REST

There were a number of other worthy releases this year.

Kudos has to be granted to Barry Ryan for 'The Ascent - Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling's Golden Generation', published by Gill Books.

Ryan, a journalist for Cyclingnews details the mid-80's power struggle between the finest cyclists Ireland has ever had and the perpetually difficult life of the cyclist in that era, a situation that pertains to this day. Barred from a Press conference by Sky team director Dave Brailsford earlier this year for calling his practices into question, he does not avoid the difficult questions of drugs and cheating and has interviewed a number of other prominent figures such as Paul Kimmage and Pat McQuaid.

'Boy Wonder' is a typically lyrical recounting of boyhood sporting dreams and drama by the prolific author Dave Hannigan, recalling his Cork childhood and his family's obsessions with sport.

Finally, 'Any Given Saturday', the autobiography of Shay Given opens with a crushingly sad chapter about his mother's death at the age of 41, when he was just four. Worth checking out, but occasionally falls into the worst type of soccer banter with a foreword by Alan Shearer detailing Given's lack of talent on the golf course. Yawn.

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