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Sunday 22 September 2019

For someone so accomplished this is sadly lacking

The book, Donal Lenihan: My Life in Rugby
The book, Donal Lenihan: My Life in Rugby

Dean Goodison - book review

There are, presumably, various levels of 'autobiography' - different layouts, styles, quality of content, presence of a ghost writer, etc. However, there is one core ingredient needed for a book to really warrant the title 'autobiography'.

Oxford English Dictionary describes an autobiography as 'An account of a person's life written by that person'. What Donal Lenihan's new book, 'My life in Rugby', is not, is an autobiography, despite being lazily referred to as such by other media outlets.

Many will know Corkman Lenihan for his media work, more than his career on the field. Certainly the younger rugby fan will be more familiar with him from his recent calling. What this book does, if nothing else, is gives the sports new following a snapshot of his career on the field.

And this offering is really no more than that; a snapshot. To be fair to Lenihan, and ghostwriter Daire Whelan, there seems to be a clear, concerted effort not to use 'autobiography' in the book, with others seemingly ignoring this.

Lenihan does mention the death of his two young children, Sarah and John, but it's only touched upon and very little else in his personal life is discussed. Indeed, without taking a look back through the book, the reader would struggle to put a name on his wife (it's Mary, after checking the dedication).

Look, that's fine, a person is entitled to write as much, or little, about their own life in their own book. It honestly just leaves the reader cold. The whole publication is fairly clinical with only a few occasions of warmth of feeling dotted here and there.

'My Life in Rugby' has other problems. The first couple of chapters are poorly executed, leaving many readers wondering whether it's worth continuing. There's a scattergun approach to those early pages, jumping here and there without really focusing on one thing at a time.

A much softer start would have at least given the readers a chance to settle in. That problem comes from the book being based on Lenihan's rugby, rather than his life, because he didn't play the sport seriously until his teenage years there's not much to say.

Or Lenihan chooses not to say a lot. Another problem throughout the book is that the content is fairly watery. Most things are just touched on, it's far from in-depth. For someone so accomplished on the field, less than three hundred pages, with a generous font, is not really enough to do his full career justice.

Maybe the deepest he delves into a story is the playing of 'The Rose of Tralee' as a 'National Anthem' during the 1987 World Cup. It's clear there are some mistruths out there about this whole debacle and Lenihan is keen to take this opportunity to clear them up. In fairness, it is an interesting tale.

There are some other thought-provoking titbits along the way. His views on amateurism and the GAA, plus his opinions on supporters and their understanding, or lack thereof, of the nuances of the game of rugby are interesting points.

Who is the going to pick this up as they look to spend the few quid they won on that scratchcard on Christmas Day? Well, it's a safe enough bet for the rugby man, all the rugby bases are touched in terms of club, province, country and even Lions.

For the reader of books, the general sports fan, maybe leave this one where it is. This newspaper has reviewed better rugby books this year (Martin Ferris, Paul O'Connell), maybe pick one of those up if nothing else tickles your fancy.

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