10 Top GAA Book
Gaelic games have flourished in Ireland since the founding of the GAA in 1884, but for most of the 20th century GAA sports books were largely unrepresented. The Irish domestic publishing market was very small, and it was not the practice for GAA players and managers to write their story. Veteran journalist Raymond Smith produced […]
Gaelic games have flourished in Ireland since the founding of the GAA in 1884, but for most of the 20th century GAA sports books were largely unrepresented. The Irish domestic publishing market was very small, and it was not the practice for GAA players and managers to write their story. Veteran journalist Raymond Smith produced several editions of his books The Hurling Immortals and The Footballing Immortals. Val Dorgan published Christy Ring in 1980, and a few more publications came out when the GAA celebrated its centenary in 1984. But it is only in the last twenty years that the number of GAA books has grown, and the quality has been very high.
Hurling: The Revolution Years by Denis Walsh (2005)
The 1990s was a decade when the traditional hurling powers of Cork, Kilkenny, and Tipperary struggled, and previously eclipsed counties like Clare, Offaly, and Wexford flourished in an unprecedented democratic era. Eight different counties reached the All-Ireland final between 1993 and 2000, with five different teams winning the trophy; Kerry (hurlers) beat Waterford in the Munster Championship in 1993. Walsh vividly chronicles the breakthroughs and unpredictability of these times, using thirty-five original interviews to underpin his account.
Fields of Fire by Damien Lawlor (2014)
Damien Lawlor writes eloquently about the period after Walsh’s Revolution Years, when a supremely talented and finely conditioned Kilkenny hurling team reigned supreme, completing four All-Irelands in a row. The first section examines Brian Cody’s Kilkenny in detail, the second profiles the reaction to their dominance and the teams that raised their game and threatened to measure up to the standard bearers. The final section looks at how Tipperary didn’t follow up their 2010 success, and the revival of Cork and Clare in 2013.
Kings of September by Michael Foley (2007)
On the 25th anniversary of the game Michael Foley produced a book about the most famous football upset and late goal in GAA history, when in 1982 Offaly denied the most feted Kerry team of all time a historic five All-Ireland titles in a row. The story of both teams and the match itself is conveyed vividly by Foley, with the emphasis on Offaly’s unlikely rise under manager Eugene McGee, and the extraordinary final moments of the match when Seamus Darby became the most famous substitute in GAA history.
Christy Ring by Val Dorgan (1980)
Cork hurler Christy Ring was considered the greatest of his generation. In 1979 he died of a sudden heart attack, aged just 58. Journalist Val Dorgan had played with Ring at club level with Glen Rovers, and also played squash with him, the indoor sport that Ring believed honed hurling skills. A year after his death came this warm biography, full of anecdotes and reminiscences, including Ring’s own views of the game, and his willingness to consider dramatic rule changes. He gives an insight into Ring’s personality, how he believed Ring wanted to be recognised more as a man than a hurler. The book also contains chapters on rival counties, Tipperary and Wexford, and rival hurlers, Mick Mackey and Tommy Doyle.
Over the Bar by Breandán O hEithir (1984)
Journalist and broadcaster Breandán O hEithir offers a personal and affectionate record of his lifelong connection with the GAA that started when he grew up on the Aran Island of Inis Mór. He remembers the great players he saw as a spectator and the colourful personalities that were part of the folklore of the GAA. This book came out during the GAA centenary year and illustrated the organisation’s wider role in Irish social life. It was republished in 2005 but again went out of print; it is available in Blanchardstown Library.
Out of Our Skin by Liam Hayes (1992)
Liam Hayes defied normal GAA media relations of the day by publishing an autobiography while still playing, and by making it a raw account of his time on the Meath team as they won two All-Ireland football finals and several Leinster titles. He showed the frictions that are part of a successful team and was controversially frank about the intense rivalries with Dublin and Cork teams. He also revealed many personal details, including the suicide of his brother, in a memoir that provided the template for later GAA autobiographies. An updated edition was published in 2010.
The Road to Croker by Eamonn Sweeney (2004)
Journalist Eamonn Sweeney spent the summer of 2003 on the road, watching the All-Ireland Championship amongst the crowds at venues around the country. Although it is about one summer, Sweeney discusses eternal issues like how Hill 16 has become so famous, what makes a pub a real GAA bar, why a Munster hurling final in Thurles is so special, and why proficiency at hurling is still restricted to a small number of counties. The words of fans and locals give the book colour and candour, and Sweeney provides the relevant context with his knowledge of championship history and provincial rivalries.
House of Pain by Keith Duggan (2007)
This book recounts with empathy and black humour the latter-day story of Mayo football and their travails since 1951, the last time they won the All-Ireland senior football championship. The period from 1951-1981 was a fallow one, when just a couple of provincial titles were captured. Since a strong revival in the 1980s Mayo teams have endured a succession of near misses, final day collapses, controversy and heartbreak, so much so that the myth of a clerical curse grew. Duggan champions their flamboyant, open style of play amidst the setbacks, and interviews recent managers John O’ Mahony and John Maughan; he looks at the passion and rivalries within the county, the book finishing at the eagerly contested club county final.
Come What May by Dónal Óg Cusack (2009)
This biography made headlines when Dónal Óg became the first GAA star to come out as gay. But the book also deals compellingly with success on the field, and GAA politics off the field. Dónal Óg grew up in Cloyne, the east Cork village that produced Christy Ring, and he was distantly related to the legend. He broke into the senior hurling team as goalkeeper in 1999, when Cork ended an All-Ireland drought of nine years. Another two All-Ireland medals followed but much of his career was overshadowed by battles with the county board, as the team went on three separate strikes in the period 2003-9. He gives his perspective on these bitter clashes, and his role in the Gaelic Players Association (GPA), and commitment to player welfare.
Dalo by Anthony Daly (2014)
Clare hurling legend Anthony Daly was asked to write a biography after he finished playing, but he declined, and this book benefits from the delay and his insights into nine years of inter-county management with Clare and Dublin. He writes candidly about the pressures of modern inter-county management. He’s had to balance those pressures with problems off the field, like the closure of his business and family health issues. Daly also provides new insights on Clare’s glory years, and his complicated relationship with former manager Ger Loughnane.
Fingal Libraries have all these GAA books and many more well worth reading. We also have DVDs of past All-Ireland football and hurling finals.
By Fergus O’Reilly