This time of year brings with it not just the collective training ban but also the arrival of several GAA-related books and that’s the case again this year. Experience has taught me that ghostwritten players’ autobiographies are generally not worth bothering with but that still leaves a fair few other titles that are or at least should be. I’m covering three such books here.
The first is GAAconomics by Michael Moynihan (published by Gill & MacMillan), which, as its sub-title states, sets out to discover the secret life of money in the GAA. This is a wide-ranging book, covering such topical finance-related issues such as match day revenues, ticket prices, stadium naming rights, player endorsements, media rights, paid managers and a whole host of others. All of this is interesting stuff, well worthy of examination, and anyone interested in understanding a bit more about these topics will definitely get something from the book.
For me, though, it didn’t really work. Perhaps because its canvas is so broad, the issues covered only get touched upon in the form of interviews with various GAA heads – boiled down to its essence, the book is no more than a long series of such finance-related interviews and there’s little or no analysis undertaken on any of the information the author has obtained from all this talking heads stuff.
Another bugbear for me is the amount of cross-referencing that keeps popping up right throughout the book to issues covered in other parts of it (he’s still ‘as we shall see’-ing as it’s coming to a conclusion) which suggests strongly that the structure of the thing is all over the place. Topics also seem to have been placed randomly in different sections: Part Two, for example, covers “Premises” but the purchase of Croke Park – Chapter 30 (‘The Most Significant Purchase in GAA History) – is dealt with in Part Six (“External Audit”). It all appears to be a bit thrown together.
My biggest problem with the book, though, is what it fails to cover properly. You’d think that a book written in 2013 about GAA finances would have plenty to say about the perilous financial position that many County Boards (notably our own but we’re far from being alone in this respect) and clubs currently find themselves in. To be fair, this issue is touched upon in Part Seven but it’s not examined in anything like the detail it could and should have been dissected.
In summary, then, while GAAconomics is an interesting primer on finance issues related to the GAA, it’s little more than a skin-deep discussion of topics that merit far more analysis than that provided.
Heffo: A Brilliant Mind by Liam Hayes (Transworld Ireland) is even more of a letdown. The first and most obvious problem with this one is that it’s written by an ex-Meath player about an ex-Dublin manager. No-one could reasonably expect such a combination to turn out well and it doesn’t. Hayes can’t resist interjecting his own county into the story more often than is necessary – which culminates in the utterly irrelevant pointing to Mick Lyons in the caption accompanying the photo of the 1986 International Rules squad – and it’s never fully possible to get the thought out of your head that this story of a Dublin great is being told by someone who emanates from such a rival camp. That’s to say nothing about what the Dubs might think of this but that’s one for themselves, I guess.
All this would be okay, though, if the book was, as the cliché goes, a rattling good read but sadly it’s not. Like so many GAA books, this one is written in that ultra-annoying “look at me, I’m a sportswriter” style, all replete with one-sentence (sometimes even one-word) paragraphs. This style of writing may have been considered avante garde twenty years ago but it’s now tiresome in the extreme as well as a monumental pain in the hole to have to trawl through.
The story of Heffo’s time in charge of the Dubs, as well as his own playing career before this, is coherently told but anyone who lived through much of this period (in particular from when the Heffo’s Army era began) won’t find a whole amount new to chew on. The behind-the-scenes stories never – despite the author’s best efforts at coming across all over-familiar with the personalities involved – come close to compelling and there’s little or no attempt made to colour in the subject’s significant life outside the GAA. The whole thing amounts to little more than a big, fat turkey, I’m afraid.
Although it doesn’t have the glitzy production values of the other two, Victory Loves Preparation by Emmet Ryan (Original Writing) is a far better book than either of them. Best viewed as a sequel to his opening book Tactics Not Passion, this one ploughs the same ground in that it focuses in detail on the tactics that decided all of the main Gaelic football contests played this year. Emmet fairly got around too, what with league, club championship, colleges and even an U15 match covered before he even begins to turn his forensic gaze to the 2013 championship and how it was won and lost.
Purely from a Mayo perspective, there’s loads of matches covered, all the way from last year’s county club final to this September’s All-Ireland senior final and it’s interesting, if ultimately more than a little painful, to chart our tactical progression from spring through to September. Emmet credits Jim Gavin with making the crucial strategic switches that ultimately got Dublin over the line but notes the following in relation to how the All-Ireland played out at the conclusion of the book:
The two most attack minded sides in the game delivered a defensive struggle. In the end it came down to the narrowest of margins. Whoever lost was certain to regret their strategy, the winner would be grateful it didn’t backfire. Gavin was the latter, Horan the former. Mayo’s heartbreak continues.
As, sadly, it does but at least if you spend some time with this book it might help to enlighten you a bit further as to why that’s the case. The book is undoubtedly one for tactics nerds but as someone who sits squarely at the passion end of the spectrum I found plenty to enjoy in it too.