A sportswriter spends eight months in Ireland, observing Gaelic football and hurling and living with the amateurs who coach and play the games.
Mendlowitz has found an enormously compelling story for Gaelic football and hurling, popular sports that fill NFL-sized stadiums in Ireland. The games are played by amateurs who will never see a dime for their efforts but for the pride of parish and county, a stark contrast, as the author states, to the hired guns in American sports. A staffer with the (Harrisonburg, Va.) Daily News-Record and a stringer for the Washington Post, Mendlowitz is a career sportswriter, and he is at his most effective when covering a game or the clubhouse. He deftly sets up a Gaelic match between Kilmurry and Ballina so readers can follow not only the action but individual footballers’ personal stories as they play out shot to shot. Likewise, the story of the much-maligned Kilnadeema/Leitrim hurling club literally betting on themselves is a wonderful little sports fable. He also captures the strain the Gaelic Athletic Association faces in preserving its amateur Gaelic football and hurling leagues as players sacrifice their family, health and day jobs while watching the money flow in soccer and rugby. Mendlowitz adds some great local color as he moves from parish to parish throughout his trip, incorporating some history of the Troubles in a section on clubs in Northern Ireland and the â€œCeltic Tiger” boom from earlier in the decade. But as he drifts further away from the game, his prose can sometimes be clunky and overly cute, dipping into needless first-person asides, bad metaphors and clichÃ©s, or just plain lazy writing.
A good book that could be better with better editing, but that still has plenty to offer sports fans looking for something other than the standard star bios and team profiles.