Biblio - A monthly review of Irish Books

Our Gaelic football heroes

Nowadays, there are, in the main, two kinds of sports books. The first, and by far most often published, are the so called biographies, or even worse autobiographies, of modern stars, some of whom who have not reached 25 but who decide to tell their whole life story to cash in on their current stardom.

These books tend to be published in the run up to Christmas, are never written by their purported authors, are little more than badly written, hollow, hagiographies, and rarely have a shelf life of more than a couple of months.

On the other side of the coin are the books that slide in under the radar. These have their genesis in a sheer love for the game in question or a genuine admiration for the skill, athleticism, power, and courage of the sportsperson whose exploits they celebrate and while, not always well written, they are always imbued with an energy and enthusiasm that is often infectious.

If only for this energy and enthusiasm that is infused through almost every page, EJ Healy’s just published Legends of Galway Football (Original Writing ) falls fully into the second category.

The book is a no holds barred celebration of 15 Galway football heroes from 1900 to 1960, some of whom continued to play for their county well into the sixties. In fact, Healy hits the ground running, and by the end of each chapter the reader will have experienced almost every single minute of every match the spotlighted hero played for the maroon and white.

In his foreword, Healy writes: “The chapters contained within are mere summaries of their footballing deeds. Famous anecdotes are inevitably excluded, stories left untold, and the description of events shortened.” It is soon evident that Healy is as good as his word and almost from the first sentence we are on the football pitch and stay there until the final whistle.

As the narration progresses it quickly becomes evident that the book is just one long Gaelic football match played by the author and his readers, and that it is a game of two halves - the first half covers the feats of Galway teams from the 1920s to the early 1940s; the second half begins after a very short interval, and covers from the late 1940s to the early 60s.

It is a game played with a fierce intensity where every ball won is a so-called “dirty ball”, every tackle firm and strong, every high catch magnificent, and every score inspirational. In the first half the writer is cautious, nervous, and makes the odd terrible pass. After half time, he has settled down and warmed to his task so that by the time he gets to discuss the “Terrible Twins of Bishop Street” - Frankie Stockwell and Seán Purcell - he is in full flow.

Like all matches, no matter how good, the book is not without its faults. Healy treats each chapter as a separate essay resulting in a marked lack of continuity. Every match Galway played during this period is discussed several times which results in continuous repetition that is at times irritating. The editing and proofing also leaves a lot to be desired.

In the All-Ireland semi-final of 1933 against Dublin, for example, we are told that “Galway held on by the skin of their teeth to record a single point victory, 1-5 to 0-7. There were many stars for Galway. Brendan Nestor scored six points, all but one from frees.”

Perhaps Healy needs to change the backroom boys.

Thankfully, these dropped passes are not enough to mar a wonderful panorama of Galway football in all its ups and downs over a 60 year period. Healy’s enthusiasm and energy overrides these aberrations and for those of us who have seen and followed the men in maroon and white through the good and the bad days, it is a totally enjoyable experience devoted totally to the football.

Hopefully Healy will continue the task and brings us the next 50 years.


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