IN HIS acknowledgements at the end of Something in the Water, the sports editor Kieran McCarthy described the process of writing a book as similar to going down a rabbit-hole.
He finished with a musing on whether he would do another one and wrote, ‘Where is that rabbit-hole?’ As a mere reader, it sounded like exhausting stuff – it was clear from the book how much effort had gone into putting it all together, so the idea of starting another project from scratch seemed like a mountain.
Like anything, though, it’s always the case that something seems impossible until it’s done and, once it has been achieved for the first time, the subsequent efforts are not as treacherous.
When the first lockdown came and we expected to be cooped up for a few weeks (oh, the optimism), there were quite a few social-media posts telling us how best to cope with the new normal.
It was something I experienced at first-hand last year when ghosting Believe, Larry Tompkins’ autobiography. All of the self-help articles during the first lockdown said to ‘write that book’, so I took the advice literally – though, it must be said that the wheels had been set in motion the previous summer.
While the downtime wasn’t wished for and the four months without a game felt endless, it did at least provide time to finish things off. Putting together 80,000 words in something approaching a coherent format can be mentally quite tiring – it’s not a case of being able to rattle off four or five chapters at a time – and reaching the finish line in one piece is a mix of achievement and relief.
Much like finishing a marathon, the immediate feeling is that you don’t want to touch another book for a good while, let alone write one. Of course, knee-jerk reactions are called that for a reason and that immediate emotion softens as time passes.
Former Meath footballer Liam Hayes runs Hero Books, who published the book (and plenty others last year, such as Everything by Denis Coughlan, ghost-written by the excellent Tadhg Coakley).
The Hero conveyor belt will continue just as strongly this year, with former Cork City player and manager John Caulfield releasing his autobiography while John and David Meyler are working on one with Fintan O’Toole of The42.ie.
Late last year, Liam Hayes got in touch with a new proposition – another avenue explored by Hero late in 2020 was the ‘Game of My Life’ series. The early offerings covered Tipperary and Galway hurling and there are to be two Cork versions, one hurling and one football.
Essentially, the premise is that a number of former players (25 each in the Cork cases) give first-hand accounts of the one game that they hold dear, with the whole book thereby essentially forming an oral history covering a half-century or so.
Given that Larry’s book was executed without me making a disaster of it, he wanted to know if I was interested in one or both and, like Kieran, I was willing to go back down the rabbit-hole – or, rather, down both of them. So, once again, a lockdown is useful in allowing time in the schedule.
Picking an objective ‘best 50’ players to have played for Cork across the two codes is an impossible task in that unanimity would be impossible to achieve, but the key is ensuring that those chosen will provides tales that are interesting, illuminating and informative. As with Larry, the key is to allow each player’s voice to come through rather than trying to show off one’s own vocabulary and turn of phrase, ending up with something inauthentic.
The easiest way to do that is let them talk and the beauty of talking about games of old is that you get honesty and unknown sub-plots rather than the platitudes that might emanate from a modern player who doesn’t want to give the opposition something for the dressing-room wall. When will we have new great games to attend and experience and then reminisce about? Hopefully soon, but then we have been saying that for nearly a year.
Finally, congratulations and best wishes to Con Downing as he retires as editor of the paper, 45 years after he first contributed. Ní bheidh a leithéid ann arís.