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Books that pack a punch

my olympic dream

Simon & Schuster, 2012

€27.15 *****

As if I'm not going to give this five stars? I got choked up just cracking open the cover! We watched more than an athlete win a gold medal in an Olympic event, that day back in August -- we watched a lifelong dream come true, a dream dreamed by a 10-year-old girl, a dream that, on the face of it, had no way of being fulfilled.

Katie Taylor grew up in Bray at a time when women's boxing wasn't even a glimmer in the nation's sporting eye.

Nevertheless, she trained, out of the garden shed of her family home -- while also seemingly playing every sport going -- and made her international debut at the age of 17.

In 139 bouts, she has lost only seven, and she says she's learned more from those seven defeats then she did from the 132 victories. She is a Legend, with a capital L.



INTEGRITY

The book is chock full of photos, and I must admit, I spent most of my first (and second) spin through just looking at the pictures. Her voice is well- crafted throughout by Watterson and there's no feeling of the story having been ghosted at all: we feel like we're sitting across from Katie and she's just telling us all about it.

I am getting chills just thinking about that fight and to read about it from her point of view is brilliant.

This was the Bord Gais Energy Irish Books Awards Lifestyle Sports Book of the Year for 2012 and in times when a certain sport figure has been caught out in his lies, it is refreshing and inspiring to read about someone who has the integrity we can all admire.

Meanwhile, Valentine's Day is coming! Here are some suggestions for the sport-mad human in your life -- and it's not just the lads, lads.)

PAUL McGRATH: BACK

FROM THE BRINK

by Paul McGrath, with Vincent Hogan

Arrow, 2007, €11.50 ****

Ooh, ah! What a life McGrath has had: raised in orphanages, a lifelong battle with alcoholism, two broken marriages ... Not all the drama takes place on the pitch, which is why, I suppose, we are as interested in athletes as we are. This is for the hard core fan, and one who is not faint of heart: McGrath takes no prisoners, least of all himself, and those who have admired his play will be in awe of his honesty.

THE EDucATION OF AN

AMERICAN SOCCER PLAYER

by Shep Messing, with David Hirshey

Dodd, Mead, 1978, €15 ****

It was the Celtic Tiger of soccer in America: Pele had joined the North American Soccer League, and some dude from Long Island -- who happened to be an accomplished goalkeeper -- hitched his wagon to the footie stars. Messing was a bad boy, and got mixed up with all the other bad boys on the squad, not the least of which was Lazio's Giorgio Chinaglia. For a misfit teenage American soccer freak like me, this was the best thing ever in the universe.

seabiscuit

by Lauren Hillenbrand

Fourth Estate, 2002, €12.99 ****

A broken-down horse, three broken-down men, in a broken-down America. Getting chills again! Hillenbrand has a wry sense of humour and a way of evoking time and place that, with a sport as difficult to describe as horseracing, makes this an extremely illuminating and informative read. This will nominally suit people who don't care about horses, (heathens), even though there is as much about the human interest here as there is about the equine.

what i talk about when

i talk about running

by Haruki Murakami Vintage, 2009,

€12.85 **

Nothing I hate more than running, but there was nothing I liked more than disappearing into Mura-kami's weird trilogy, 1Q84. Would he manage to make this sport of interest to one who couldn't care less? Eh, no. Murakami's voice is diffident, which works to great/odd effect in his fiction, but not so well in what one considers a memoir-y tome.

FEVER PITCH

by Nick Hornby

Penguin, 2010 reissue,

€11.455 ***

Okay, so, clearly, there's a bias towards footie here. I remember everyone saying to me, 'You're a soccer fan? And you haven't read this?' and I was all like, OMG, I have to read this. And I read it, and ... well, you know, it's good and everything, but it just didn't set my world on fire.