A category to give the author something to do whilst he’s waiting to be interviewed/photographed/extradited.
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A category to give the author something to do whilst he’s waiting to be interviewed/photographed/extradited.
Ever wondered what it’s like to go to a swanky awards dinner and be in with a shout- however remote- of winning something? Read on…
I never had a debs. I can’t remember why (although I seem to remember former Dublin footballer Ger Regan being involved), but for some reason our particular year in school was denied the chance to don the dickie bows and make a show of ourselves.
But God never closes one door without opening a window 22 years later, and nominated for Sports Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards on Thursday, I had that chance.
Except it was a little more difficult than I’d imagined.
The suit was fine- a bit baggy but I’ll put that down to Phil Cahill’s training (despite missing far too much of it lately).
The shirt, however, did a fine impression of the Boston Strangler as I tried to get the top button closed. As well it should- it was a size 15 collar. I take a 16 1/2.
No matter, Black Tie on Westmoreland Street were open late and the ever-helpful Ollie was able to make the switch. I made it out to the RDS in good time.
My date for the evening was poet/gaming feminist genius Sara Maria Griffin. Most of you will remember her as the woman who whipped my ass at the Literary Death Match in Dublin back in September. Since then we’ve been helping each other out as writers should and next year, she will no doubt be nominated herself.
The evening also represented a perfect opportunity for the two of us to do a good cop/bad cop networking routine, with both of us playing the good cop.
The photographers at the entrance paid us scant notice (apparently we were supposed to tell them who we were), and as we entered the impossibly glamourous hall, we met the impossibly glamourous Ciara O’Connor, Gill and MacMillan’s PR manager and far more cultured than any person from Cork should be.
We took our seats, only to rise again for the arrival of our new president, Michael D Higgins. There followed a love-in as Seamus Heaney received yet another lifetime achievement award (it’s not that he doesn’t deserve it, it’s just that other people might too), before we got down to business.
It was only when Sarah asked my if I was nervous that I realised that I actually had something to be nervous about- regardless of me being an unknown, I had a six to one chance of winning. Matters weren’t helped when Fergal Tobin, publishing editor at G&M and the man who gave me the chance to tell our story, came over.
“If you win,” he said conspiratorially, “you’re on your own. Just go up there and say whatever the hell you like”.
Thank God the Sports Book award was one of the first to be given out.
I had thought of writing a just-in-case speech. My opening would be the standard GAA-man-accepting-a-trophy- “tá an-áthas orm an corn seo a ghlacadh”- before a few words to the president as gaeilge too.
Then I wanted to dedicate the award to anyone who felt so let down by our country that they were contemplating leaving it.
I wanted to tell them that thousands of us have already sailed, and we are here to help them.
We don’t have all the answers, but we have ways of finding some of them.
I wanted to say they could go away and when they have done all there is to be done, and when they have won all there is to be won, they could still play a part in making our country great again- perhaps even more so from abroad.
In the end, I wrote nothing.
Ger Cunningham introduced the nominees, and for a few brief seconds the cover of my book and Bob Strong’s photo of me outside the Dubliner in Stockholm flashed up on the big screen.
Tension. Sarah asked if I needed to squeeze her arm. I declined, afraid I’d break it.
Then Nicolas Roche was declared the winner, and I wouldn’t be saying anything.
Later, I went over to where Ronnie Whelan was sitting with Paul Kimmage to get my picture taken with two entirely different kinds of legends.
“Ah, so you’re the other lad who was nominated,” said Ronnie. “Come sit in the loser’s corner for a while”. This from a man with two European Cup winner’s medals.
Was I disappointed? Not as much as I thought I’d be, but disappointed all the same.
I was the outsider after all, and if it was tough on me, how much harder must it have been for Kimmage? His outstanding first book “Rough Ride” details how he competed with – and in the shadow of – Roche’s father as a cyclist, only to be undone by his son as a writer?
But as Ger Cunningham said, none of the six sportspeople nominated would be happy coming second, and the truth is I really wanted to win it. I feel our story deserves it- whatever about how I tell it, it’s something we can all be proud of.
Sarah and I schmoozed a little more before making our excuses and geting the hell out of there around midnight.
The long journey home to Stockholm the next day didn’t temper the disappointment either.
It was only this morning when I saw a post from Karl Lambert – the Sundbyberg Express – on the book’s Facebook page that it faded away.
A friend of Karl”s from way back when had posted the following on his wall:
“How ya Karl. Donal from Donegal sitting at Jack’s bar reading a book with you on the cover . Small world hope you on the pigs back. Cheers from mid town ”
I’m no longer disappointed.
So congratulations to Nicolas on winning the award.
I hope winning it made him feel as good as the idea of Donal from Donegal reading my book and our story in a bar in midtown Manhattan made me feel.
Tonight’s the night.
An outsider in the field, I’ve been nominated for Sports Book of the Year, up against celebrities like Donncha O’Callaghan, Ronnie Whelan, Tony McCoy and Nicolas Roche, not to mind Paul Kimmage, who I am in awe of.
The awards ceremony will be held at a black-tie dinner in the RDS tonight, with our new president presiding.
Win or lose, I’m not sure that awards are the best way to judge a book – I’d rather see people interested in sport buy all six nominated books and make up their own minds.
But I’m nothing if not competitive, despite being the outsider by some distance a part of me really hopes I win, and not for the prize or prestige or anything else.
It’s because I feel that our story – the story of the Irish community abroad and how Gaelic games helps us keep it together – really needs to be told.
With a massively expanded media landscape, it can be very difficult to make your voice heard these days, and despite a slew of interviews and media appearances there are still people out there who don’t know that the GAA’s reach extends far beyond our borders.
It is for them that I wrote “A Parish Far From Home”.
It is written for those who keep it lit, as Hector would say. It is for the mothers and fathers, the families and friends of our emigrants that I put these words on paper.
So tonight when I put on the black tie and head for the RDS I’ll be fulfilling one of the first sentences I wrote when I started on this journey.
“We had a dream. And in sport, if you don’t have a dream, you don’t have anything.”
I’ve never believed that competitions and prizes were a good way of deciding the merits of books.
Until I was nominated for one.
And I know not all of you have read it, but there’s a line in my book about how I’ve no interest in being told what I can’t do.
After the nomination for Sports Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards, it’s been happening again.
“Well done on the nomination! Shame you’re up against such tough competition.”
People are telling me I can’t win. And maybe they’re right. But that ain’t going to stop me trying.
It’s true that there’s some heavyweights there- Paul Kimmage, Donnacha O’Callaghan, Nicholas Roche, Tony McCoy and Ronnie Whelan have also written excellent books this year.
In one way even being mentioned in such great company is a victory in itself.
But even though most people saw the list and had no idea who I am, there are still two factors in my favour.
One is that it’s the only book about Gaelic games on the shortlist.
The other is that my book is a tale for every single emigrant that ever left our country, and every single mother or father that ever watched them go.
As I write, the presidential election in Ireland is about to take place, and I and thousands like me don’t have a vote. We get no say in who represents us.
But we all have our dreams, and as I wrote in A Parish Far From Home, “in sport, if you don’t have a dream, you don’t have anything”.
My dream is to go to the Irish Book Awards on November 17th and to tell the tale of the Irish abroad, of how we help our country and each other in our hour of need.
My dream is to tell anyone who’ll listen about how we’re bringing Gaelic football and hurling to the four corners of the world, introducing them to new players and cultures as we go.
My dream is to let everyone know that, even if you are forced to leave Ireland, you can find a little corner of it in Sweden, in Sydney, in Shanghai – or you can start your own, so bring your boots.
Your part in this dream is that you can decide where I get to tell this story.
I can tell it to every guest and journalist I meet as we mingle the night of the Irish Book Awards.
Or you can vote for my book as Sports Book of the Year and I can tell them the glorious story of the Irish far from home from the podium when I go up to collect the prize.
You can vote for A Parish Far From Home as the Irish Sports Book of the Year here.
There’s always a risk in writing a book about real events and people – not everyone likes how they are portrayed.
My missus isn’t too happy with page 58, and one person who shall remain nameless told me that the story doesn’t really get going until after thirty pages or so- coincidentally, it’s exactly the page where their name is mentioned for the first time…
I’ve heard that some of the lads in Malmö GAA are none to impressed with some of the things I’ve said about their club, but that risk is always there, especially when you compete.
Without the story of the rivalry between ourselves and Malmö that blew up in our first season, there story would have been all the poorer.
The reason they get plenty of mentions- some positive, some negative- is because no team put it up to us like they did last year, pushing us all the way to the wire.
That they did it again this year shows that they are still the biggest force we have to reckon with in Scandinavia.
But if the truth be told, I’m more worried about the wife.
Malmö can only ruin about six weekends every year for me- if she chooses to do so, she can make the rest equally uncomfortable, if not more so.
It’s a long time since I spent a full week in Sweden, and even longer since I’ve felt as humbled as I did on Saturday.
The Irish Embassy had organised a reception to acknowledge the launch of the book, and it turned into a wonderful celebration of our club and our community and our games.
Displaying all the diplomatic skill he has honed on almost 40 years in the service of our country, Ambassador Donal Hamill made sure that his last official engagement before his retirement was dedicated to the ordinary people of Ireland, and his gracious speech highlighted not just my achievement with the book, but those of the whole club.
It might sound a bit far-fetched, but I don’t like being in the spotlight for my own achievements – I’d much rather share it with the lads or the girls or both – but I had to grab the bull by the horns.
I read two extracts from the book – the first in particular I still find tremendously difficult, a year after I forst wrote the lines- and then spoke about my gratitude to everyone there, and to the club.
I finished by saying that this book is but the first chapter in a new era for the Irish in Sweden, and that there was still plenty of time for everyone to make their mark.
I wasn’t joking. The previous Thursday the unstoppable Liam Kennedy had taken three others with him to a Swedish school and spent an afternoon teaching them to play hurling and Gaelic football. The kids loved it.
Our Embassy in Stockholm is in a beautiful location, with breathtaking views over the Stockholm archipelago.
As I stood by the window in the sunshine and read from our story of our first season, a thousand miles away in Dublin the future was taking shape – three of our girls had been selected to play for the European county in a seven-a-side competition.
Later we found out they’d made it to the final.
Long before that, we’d decided that this tale is far from over.
The first half-dozen books arrived, and the Gaels were like moths to a flame. The showers were avoided after training on Tuesday as the lads jumped in their cars to race to my apartment and snap up a copy.
For now, I’m enjoying the silence as they get to grips with what I’ve written about them. Because that silence might end abruptly when they see what I’ve written about them.
It’s not that I’ve deliberately written anything bad about anyone; it’s just that you can never tell how people will interpret things, especially things about themselves.
The first to read it were some of those most involved in the the story, and thankfully the reaction has so far been positive from them, and even if that reaction can’t be guaranteed from everyone, it feels like a good start.
The courier arrived this morning with the first copies of the book and, as yet another dream came true for me, once again I felt like the luckiest man in the world.
This game and this life and these people are a gift that just keeps on giving, and at the same time as I’m very proud and humbled and grateful, I feel an enormous sense of responsibility as the book hits the shelves.
Even though it’s my book, it’s our story, and it’s not just those of us in Stockholm or Sweden or Scandinavia either. It’s a story of Irish people triumphing over adversity all over the world.
I’m looking forward to giving a new perspective on our country, our games and our people. These are exciting times.
On Saturday I head back to Ireland to begin promoting it, but first I’m looking forward to presenting it to my two daughters after dinner tonight to see what they say.
Because even though I now have the book in my hands, this story is not over yet.
Not by a long way.
Tonight is the last training session before the championship at Årstafältet on Saturday, and yesterday the book became available for pre-order in Sweden via the Bokus web site.
As if that wasn’t enough, today our sportswear supplier O’Neills launched the Stockholm Gaels range of merchandise on their website.
Great achievements for our club and we’re all very proud, but it’ll all count for very little if we don’t do the business on the pitch on Saturday…
When I was looking for someone to write the foreword for this book, there weren’t too many suitable candidates.
It’s not that I’m choosy, it’s just that both the publisher and I didn’t want a foreword for the sake of it. We wanted someone who could add something to the story.
Broadcaster- and now possible Irish presidential candidate – Micheál ó Muircheartaigh was one of few who fit the bill.
It’s not just his lifelong love of Gaelic games, or the Irish language, or Irish culture that made him a perfect choice.
It was obvious from the moment that he got on the phone to me to discuss it that, not only did he understand what our club and our games and this book meant to us, he understood our situation as Irish people abroad trying to make a go of it.
I’m never star-struck, but I’ll admit to being nervous as I waited for him to come on the line. All that melted away as the voice of a thousand Sunday afternoons greeted me and started to ask about the Stockholm Gaels and the state of football and fishing and dog racing in Scandinavia.
Micheál has travelled all over the world to act as a guest commentator for Gaelic games played from San Francisco to Shanghai. He has handed out medals and trophies and comhgairdeagaises to players on every continent.
He has listened to our stories, our troubles and our triumphs and treated us no differently to any other club at home.
Because at the heart of it, after a long, illustrious broadcasting career based on a powerful grá for the games, Micheál understood why we have to do this. Even at the age of 80, the love burns as brightly as it ever has.
I know nothing of Micheál’s politics so I cannot recommend that anyone vote for him. But what I do know is that you will travel far and wide to find a more intelligent, sensitive soul with such an instinctive understanding of the Irish people.
Loved by many and respected by most, he is the kind of non-political figure, a father of the nation, that we could all rally behind.
And just as he has described so many marches to glory in the past, he might finally feature in one of his own – up the North Circular Road, and all the way to the Phoenix Park.
Those were the days when you’d spend your time desperately trying to get on Gerry Ryan and hope he’d finally ask the €64000 question- “so, tell us about your book…”.
But with Gay Byrne running for president, these days it’s all about the Twitter and the Facebook and the rest, and this post is a test to see if it’s all coming together.