Grassroots, Gemma O'Connor, controversies, and children all covered in GAA books

GAA Grassroots: The Second Half; stories from the heart of the GAA, volume 2.

This tome was always intended to be the second half of a project, not just another attempt to repeat a winning formula, and – as so often in sport – it's even more entertaining than what went before.

Compiled by PJ Cunningham, the former sports editor of the Irish Independent and ex-Deputy Editor of the Sunday Tribune and Evening Herald, it comprises well over a hundred short tales about the GAA, as well as some poems and songs.

Cunningham describes it as "more traditional" than the first volume, but its contributors include rugby great Ollie Campbell and snooker legend Ken Doherty.

It's simply a brilliant book to dip into, with nuggets on every page – the tale of Tommy Dowling of Mountmellick in Laois, told by his nephew John Dowling just months before the latter passed away, is well worthy of being recorded and re-told.

One article is entitled 'Objection over player leaving field to hit fan'; of course, it wasn't the act of violence itself that was the problem, but going off the pitch without the permission of the referee.

There's also the account, told originally by Mick Mackey's brother James, aka 'Todsy', of what the Limerick legend said to Cork icon Christy Ring in the moment captured by the famous photograph from the 1957 Munster Hurling semi-final between the Rebels and Tipperary.

Too late for Christmas gifts, but I have five copies of this wonderful book to be won as prizes.

Simply email by noon on Friday, December 23rd, with 'GAA Grassroots Volume 2' in the subject line, including your name, address, and contact telephone number in the body of the email, and five lucky winners will be drawn out. Depending on how good Santa is to me, I may even get them posted out.


War analogies are over-used in sport, but Cork camogie legend Gemma O'Connor has literally earned her stripes as a sergeant in the Irish army.

She was a leader on the pitch too, becoming the most decorated camogie player in the modern history of the game. Gemma won nine All-Ireland senior titles (2002, '05, '06, '08, '09, '14, '15, '17, and '18), and she was also recognised as an AllStar six times in succession, showing her ability to be a warrior in both defence and attack.

When she finally retired in 2021, she did so as one of the GAA's 'Holy Trinity', joining Kilkenny hurler Henry Shefflin and Mayo footballer Cora Staunton as the holder of 11 AllStar awards.

'Why not a Warrior?' (Hero Books) tells the story of a young girl who discovered within herself an ability to compete and to win. And to be a leader amongst women.

Gemma is also a role model for all young women, and men, who want to be open and comfortable about their sexuality. In this important book, there are life lessons not just for young people who are striving for success in the sporting arena, but those of all ages who are struggling to express themselves for who they are in this life.

Gemma O'Connor's story is one of courage - on the field, in war zones, and in life.


100 Great GAA Controversies, by John Scally (Black & White Publishing)

Despite the cliché, I do believe you can judge a book by its cover, and this one got my dander up right away, trolling Tyrone folk with a foreword from Charlie Redmond, the Dub who was sent off in the 1995 All-Ireland SFC Final but stayed on for several minutes.

However, veteran author John Scally elicits sympathy for Redmond even from Red Hands, speaking to him about the tragic death of his wife Grainne.

The ton of talking points are split into five parts, entitled as follows: If you want an audience, start a fight; Controversies for all seasons; Power to all our friends; The Hand of History; concluding with The Pundit's Corner.

There's rather too much reliance on the words and writings of pundits such as Pat Spillane and Joe Brolly throughout the book, although as Scally says, 'controversy is the sweaty syntax of the language of Gaelic games. Bittersweet memories are made of this.'

All the usual suspects are there: 'Newbridge or Nowhere', Joe Sheridan's late winning goal/try in the 2010 Leinster SFC Final, The Ban, Rule 21, Rule 42, Babs Keating's 'Sheep in a Heap'.

This collection is more of a compilation of controversies rather than offering serious assessment of the issues.

Scally's account of Armagh's media ban in 2014 is completely one-sided in favour of the Orchardmen. No alternative explanation is offered for what transpired, nothing other than the words of then manager Paul Grimley. There are always at least two sides to any story.

Perhaps that's Scally's intention, though; to re-awaken, provoke, and continue debate. In that he succeeds, beyond dispute.


For younger readers – or adults not born in Tyrone – there are the latest two instalments about the playing career of Declan Kirby. Author Michael Egan has a great background, having been a primary school teacher for more than a decade and also a coach of several school GAA teams. He's also the brains behind the Laois GAA TV website.

The 'GAA Star' series began last year with 'Championship Journey', swiftly followed by 'Away Days', the first two of a four-book deal granted to Egan by Gill Books.

The third book, 'Over the Bar' was launched on St Patrick's Day this year, followed within a month by 'European Dreams'. The former tells of Declan taking up hurling, and involves those GAA traditions of a dual code clash and fielding a player under a false name.

In 'European Dreams' Declan's Smithgreen team head off to the GAA World Games, taking place in Spain; there's a clash with a new coach, and a brewing storm.

Priced E8.99/£7.99, the Declan Kirby books would be great for GAA-mad kids of around nine and upwards.