The four-month hiatus in normality between March and June has proven to be put to good use by many production companies, sporting heroes and commentators alike. The past number of weeks has seen the release of myriad autobiographies, cinematic releases, and sports publications that have been the product of our springtime incarceration, with some of our finest sportsmen and women turning their hand to the page for the first time; some good, some not so good. The growing trend of middle-aged media personalities chancing their arm at podcast production has also been a staple of our media consumption for the last number of months, with Peter Crouch and Bill Simmons getting notable mentions. We’ve assorted some of this year’s finest releases, and best productions, for you to indulge in over the next few weeks, and maybe give you some early inspiration for stocking-fillers.
QB1: Beyond the Lights
This three-season instalment is the perfect solution to fill that ‘Friday Night Lights’ shaped hole in your heart. Each series follows three high-school quarterbacks in their senior season, as they attempt to make it into the big leagues. Each series documents the trials and tribulations of high school football, and each player’s attempt to secure one last piece of silverware before progressing to college football. Creator and producer, Peter Berg, is clearly attempting to market it as a real-life edition of the famed Texan exploits of Tim Riggins and Eric Taylor, and credit must be given in what he has produced. Each series offers a fly-on-the-wall look into the struggles of each college athlete, giving a level of intimacy not usually associated with these documentaries. The series is realistic and honest, steering away from the flashy exposés that sports documentaries often resort to; instead, viewers are treated to a blunt assessment of young athletes on the verge of making it big in the game.
Last Chance U:
Sticking with American Football, Last Chance U released its fifth and final season this year to much acclaim. The latest season centres around Oakland, California at Laney College under the supervision of head coach John Beam. Each season focuses on a different junior college football team, and so viewers don’t need to start from Season 1 to get on board with the action. The show’s premise is charting college athletes competing at the more inferior level of junior college football and documents their last-chance efforts to make it to a bigger college team and potentially the NFL. Similar to Beyond the Lights; Last Chance U brings the viewer right onto the pitch with the athletes, letting them be a part of every success and failure they encounter. The final season is a refreshing look at the enigma that is college football in America, and the changes in setting by creator Greg Whitely have arguably made the final season the best yet. Netflix has already rumoured a Last Chance U: Basketball in the coming months, but make sure to add this oval-shaped edition to your viewing schedule beforehand, it’s worth every minute.
Steve Carell excels in his portrayal of infamous philanthropist John DuPont in this 2014 Netflix biopic on the murder of David Schultz. Foxcatcher was first added to Netflix during the initial Lockdown but is only now picking up pace, possibly due to being overshadowed by the popularity of The Last Dance and Tiger King. Those unaware of the background of this sports psychodrama will soon be exposed to some seriously chilling storylines. An heir to the DuPont family fortune, the life and times of John DuPont is documented and how it came to such a calamitous end. The action surrounds a state-of-the-art wrestling facility DuPont set up at Foxcatcher Farm, Pennsylvania in 1984, where many American athletes used the facilities, including brothers David and Mark Schultz. The brothers who grew increasingly close to DuPont, eventually moved in with him and worked on the farm. Carell charts DuPonts slow decline to irrationality and paranoia, with some seemingly bizarre events along the way. Foxcatcher offers a great dramatic recreation of the events of 1996, and although it appeals most to the sports fanatic, it is borderline psychotic in its storylines. A more detail-oriented portrayal of the DuPont-Schultz saga can be found in the 2014 documentary Team Foxcatcher; both will get your mind racing.
The Hill: My Autobiography – Bernard Brogan with Kieran Shannon (Reach Sport)
A Bernard Brogan autobiography was inevitable since he called it a day on his Dublin career in October last year. In fact, it seems Brogan has been even more present on our TV screen since his retirement; a regular face on everything from supermarket advertisement campaigns to daytime TV appearances. Brogan’s autobiography promised exciting insights into what have been the halcyon years of Dublin football, however just like Brogan’s playing career, it never seemed to rise to the occasion. In what should be a revealing and perceptive piece of writing, ‘The Hill’ was just as dull and tedious as a Jim Gavin press conference. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the book is Brogan’s injury saga. Brogan writes on his battle to return from a serious cruciate injury in 2018, before regaining fitness ahead of the 2019 season. He details his physical and mental battle to get back up to the immaculate standards expected to retake a position in the Dublin matchday squad, writing on how he thought his Lazarus-like return versus Tyrone in the Super 8’s would earn himself a place on the matchday panel for the 2019 All-Ireland semi-final. After finding out he had not made the cut, Brogan recalls a heated conversation with Jim Gavin, which proves to be one of the few lively scenes in the book. The decision by Gavin to draft in Diarmuid Connolly who had been absent for most of the campaign added salt to Brogan’s wounds, and Brogan sums the whole episode up as a “knife to the heart”. The book was recently given the nomination nod for ‘Bord Gáis Energy Sports Book of the Year’, which may mitigate the unrest caused by the leaking of a pdf copy of the book over Whatsapp in recent days. Overall, the book never really hooks the reader in, and as expected, fails to pack a punch.
Fuel – Seán O’Brien with Gerry Thornley (Sandycove)
Accompanying Brogan in the aforementioned award category is rugby juggernaut Sean O’Brien, who for his part, pens a remarkably honest assessment of his life to date. Unlike Brogan’s relatively modest upbringing, O’Brien accounts for an almost lonely childhood, fraught with issues surrounding his Dad’s alcoholic tendencies which was a major factor in his parent’s eventual break-up. O’Brien recalls six years of arguments and fights which would often see him retiring to his bedroom in tears, or even forcing himself between his parents as a peacemaker. Not until he moved permanently to Dublin at the age of 18 did he escape the drama, from which he could previously only avoid through his involvement in rugby. In the book, O’Brien attributes a lot of his more impetuous behaviour as a young adult to his parents’ tumultuous relationship. He writes how before his involvement in two fights in Carlow at the age of 18, he had never thrown a punch outside the rugby pitch, describing how he had no fear in ‘having a cut’ off people in nightclubs who confronted him. With both of his siblings already moved out, O’Brien’s role of mediator for his parents took a significant toll on him mentally, and he writes how he eventually resorted to a psychologist’s help to get to the root of his problems. With two Lions’ tours, Heineken Cup and international success, O’Brien has plenty to draw on, with some provoking digressions along the way. Worth the read.
Second Captains Podcast
This former iTunes Podcast of the Year winner continues to prove why it’s Ireland’s most listened to sports podcast. The five former Newstalk colleagues that comprise the team, deliver almost daily podcast editions each week, providing a nice blend of sport, history and everything in between. Soccer, rugby and GAA prove the most popular topics of discussions, but there’s something in there for every sports enthusiast. If you’re looking to sample the repartee, then start with an episode from the latter end of October. You’ll hear anything from movie reviews to input from some of Ireland’s most prominent athletes; this podcast is perfect for the long winter months.