Declan Bogue: You're mistaken to think you don't need to know the legend of Charlie Gallagher
While it's become a staple of the calendar for me to produce a review of the Sports Books of the year around Christmas time, we must start with a frank disclosure.
This is not an exhaustive review. Heck, it might not even be the best books of the year. There are some, such as 'Something In The Water: How Skibbereen Rowing Club Conquered The World' that comes highly recommended by trusted companions. But I haven't got to it yet.
I'm breaking all sorts of fourth walls here, but that's the way it is for most reviews of this kind. You think the judges of the book awards get through about 30 books in a month to make a shortlist? That fella you hear on the radio the other evening on your commute home? He's probably only got to double figures this year - and some of those were a few dips in and out.
For what it's worth, these are books I have read and can vouch for when it comes to putting some weight into those Christmas stockings.
First up, and for my money the most enjoyable has been 'Charlie: The Story of Charlie Gallagher, the GAA's Lost Icon' (Ballpoint Press).
Paul Fitzpatrick is the Sports Editor of the Anglo Celt newspaper and this is his second book, after the brilliant 'The Fairytale in New York' about the Cavan team that won the 1947 All-Ireland final, played in New York.
He has jumped a couple of decades here with his deep dive profile of Charlie Gallagher. Seeing as we are in a new era of honesty under this byline, I must confess to not having much prior knowledge of Gallagher.
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But that's ok, because Fitzpatrick captures him in all his snake-hipped, sophisticated, well-turned-out, sports-car-driving, defender-torturing, charming, hellraising, family man personas. Described as the 'George Best of his time', he was a lavishly gifted footballer who came along during a period when Cavan were living off the fumes of the success that they felt, to their own cost, was their birthright.
The best books tell you something of the times that were in it. This does that. In an era when most of his team mates were on their uppers, Gallagher was a UCD graduate who worked as a dentist in Derry. As stylish as he was on the field, he carried that into the dressing room and it gained an altogether grander stage in bars and saloons. He loved the high-life and it loved him.
Crowds of children from Cootehill would flock around his sports car when they heard he was coming home to play a game for his club. Whatever 'it' was, Gallagher had it, probably all of Cavan's entire allowance for one county.
It doesn't end well for Gallagher. Drink caught him in its maw. But the end is treated with the typical word-perfect capturing by Fitzpatrick.
You mightn't have felt you wanted or needed to know about Charlie beforehand, but this convinces you that it was, in fact, you that was wrong all along.
Next up is the Kevin McStay autobiography, 'The Pressure Game' (Hero Books).
McStay takes us into the world of intercounty management in severe detail, right down to his perceived slights by rival managers including one time he felt he was being snubbed by Dublin manager Jim Gavin.
There have been many books produced by managers but this stands out for its humanity and you get the sense that McStay recognises and rejects the self-importance of the role some attach to it, and yet he's able to detail how he felt towards the various bouts of criticism from media pundits and various inevitable fall-outs along the way.
It's dripping in the nuts and bolts of trying to manage a mid-tier county that struggle with their finances and when factors such as player defections are all stacked against you. And for that reason, it is wholly as authentic as he is as a person and a decent football man.
Adrian Russell took on a serious undertaking with 'The Double: How Cork Made GAA History' (Mercier).
It takes us right back to 1990 when Cork's hurlers made a remarkable recovery from a disastrous 1989 and the footballers finally got over the big beast of Meath to land an achievement that hadn't been done since Tipperary in 1900.
Any book that has the likes of Liam Hayes, Sean Boylan, Billy Morgan and Tomás Mulcahy quoted extensively is always going to be entertaining, but the sheer depth of research that has gone on here has meant that little is left unsaid. And it is the most gorgeously-presented book of the year with the cover a take on the classic Cork jersey of the time.
'About That Goal' (Ballpoint Press) details the life and time of Seamus Darby, the man who shunted the Kerry five-in-a-row train spectacularly off the tracks with his late goal in the 1982 All-Ireland final.
The sense for Darby was that he would never have to put his hand in his pocket ever again. But as this sad - sometimes bleak - book puts it, he rarely had anything in his pockets for many years after, chasing around trying to make something out of bad bars in London and barely surviving at times. It's a tough, but great read.
We are left with two more; 'Camouflage' by Kilkenny hurler Eoin Larkin, ghost written by Pat Nolan. There have been a few books from the invincible group of Cats of the last two decades, but this stands out because of Larkin's vulnerability and willingness to admit he needed help to deal with his depression. It's also strong on the detail of that team which you weren't going to get in others.
Finally, one most unusual book landed on this desk during the year. 'Pure Sport: Sport Psychology in Action' by John Kremer, Aidan Moran and Ciarán J Kearney is not light reading, but a guide for sports people and competitors on how to frame your mind for the contest.
If you are prepared to do a little soul-searching and find out what triggers your moods, anger and how to deal with it, it is essential for the person in your life playing, managing and coaching any kind of sport.