The hunt for Liam and Sam

Programme for the 1966 All-Ireland football final, which Galway won to complete a magnificent three in a row.

Programme for the 1966 All-Ireland football final, which Galway won to complete a magnificent three in a row.

ALTHOUGH SOME matches have already been played in May, it is during June that the campaigns for the Liam McCarthy and Sam Maguire cups really get underway.

Also it is from now until the end of September when the winners of both competitions have been crowned, that just how imbedded into the fabric of Irish life the GAA is can really be appreciated.

This year, in conjunction with the campaign, Gill and Macmillan has published paperback editions of The Liam McCarthy Cup by Seán Óg Ó Ceallacháin and Owen McCann and The History of Gaelic Football by Eoghan Corry, both first published in hardback in 2009.

In some respects, The Liam McCarthy Cup is an opportunity missed. It opens well enough with the story of the McCarthy Cup itself and its presenter, some general statistics relating to attendance of the finals, referees, individual scores, and then specific statistics for the first six years of the trophy’s existence. This first chapter comprises 12 pages.

The rest of the book consists of a description of every All Ireland hurling final beginning in 1921 and finishing in 2008, leaving out the better final of this century between Kilkenny and Tipperary although its inclusion is called for on the back cover blurb.

Ultimately, this structure limits 90 per cent of the book’s narration to a two-hour life span once a year and brings an element of exclusivity to the McCarthy Cup that was never meant to be.

Some of the greatest exponents of the game and the art of hurling are never mentioned simply because they were never on a winning team that managed to get their hands on the cup. There is a glaring lack of background information, which takes the humanity as well as the politics and the fun out of the narration.

Furthermore, the book is riddled with inexcusable editing errors, which suggest a sloppy approach by the publisher. In 2002 Kilkenny scored 2-20, 2-19 of which was scored from play - Shefflin and Carey each contributing 1-06 to the tally from play and went on to add 0-07 from frees.

In 1969, Kilkenny beat Cork by 2-15 to 2-05 and the top scorer was a McCarthy from Cork with 1-06 to his credit. The book does not say who scored the minus point or indeed how it was scored. Sadly The Liam McCarthy Cup has so many of these stupid errors they become an irritation and hover on an arrogance vis-à-vis the authors who created and its potential audience.

These faults are compensated by the sheer energy of the narrative and the consummate ability of the authors to produce superlative after superlative without drawing breath and with little repetition.

The palpable enthusiasm leaps of the page and draws the reader into the heat of the battles fought, celebrating the countless incidents of individual courage, resilience, strength and skill. For the aficionados of hurling, this book is a delight; unfortunately, the poor editing and the exclusive structure limit its audience.

Eoghan McCorry’s The History of Gaelic Football has a lot more meat on it. It is as much a social history as being a sports book and gives a comprehensive picture of the conditions under which the game has been played since the late 19th century, not to mention the local politics or rivalries that are as much a part of them as are the skills and dedication of the players.

For humour one has only to refer to the year when Galway were declared champions without having played in either the final or semi-final and were to remain champions for a week before anybody noticed.

Sadly the sloppy editing persists (though not as prevalent ) and is all the more remarkable when it comes from a publisher of such national status as Gill and Macmillan. It is inexcusable and unfair to writers of such calibre of Seán Óg Ó Cealacháin, Owen McCann, and Eoghan Corry, not to mention the punters who pay good money for them.

That said, the books are extremely enjoyable and worth reading, at least once.

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