Monday 18 December 2017

'Man And Ball' is a compelling account of Irish rugby scene

Book review: Dean Goodison

Man and Ball: My Autobiography
Man and Ball: My Autobiography

Ireland ended a mediocre Six Nations campaign at the weekend, the kind of season that makes great filler for the autobiographies of a plethora of international rugby players in the years to come.

What went wrong? Whose fault was it? Stephen Ferris has plenty of those chapters in his book, 'Man and Ball'.

Ferris, who worked his way from humble beginnings into one of the world's best players, might also be one of the unluckiest. His career, so blighted by injury that eventually, at 29, he could no longer go on, seems to have had so many more lows than highs. Usually injury 'lows' don't shift books, but Irish rugby is a big seller at the moment.

The thing is, while 'Man And Ball' is not jam-packed with stunning success or with inspirational highs, it has a few and is compelling. The publication is really well put together by rugby journalist Patrick McCarry. He focuses each chapter on one theme and builds around that.

The book, apart from both ends, runs chronologically and is nice and tidy. Mistakes are non-existent and the publication is reader-friendly. McCarry doesn't alienate any potential buyer with unnecessarily flowery prose and is able to keep the reader involved, rooting for the big man from Ulster.

Rory McIlroy, Ulster's favourite son, delivers the foreword and explains his love of Ulster rugby. It's probably the weakest part of the publication as the former world number one golfer explains his sort-of interest in the 1999 Heineken Cup final and how it developed into a love for his province.

Like most top level sportsmen, Ferris had other pulls on his time as a youngster. A serious career in track and field was never really in the picture for the Ulsterman, despite casually picking up an All-Ireland title, with almost no concerted effort needed.

Some of the other highs in Ferris' nine-year professional career that are chronicled along the way include competing at the World Cup, winning the Celtic League, the Grand Slam and the road to the Heineken Cup final.

Reading between the lines, the big moment for Ferris is making the Lions squad heading to South Africa. However, like most of the stories of his career, a huge disappointment is not far away following a massive moment for the game-changer.

Those undertones of disappointment and despair are sown in throughout. The details of the injuries are horrific, and will leave the reader squirming. Yet there is nothing in Ferris' career that parallels to what he goes through with his team-mates at the Under-19 World Cup in 2004 - a truly horrific experience.

Also, it should be noted that the picture section is strong. There is a nice range of images; sometimes the pictures seem like an after-thought, thrown together, but Ferris and McCarry let them follow the pattern of the book and help tie in images to the text that preceded it.

'Man and Ball' has a little something for everyone. The casual reader of sports books will want to keep tapping away, flicking though the 340 pages and might even finish it in a long evening.

For Irish rugby fans, who know Ferris and his story, it's a must-buy. This book will give a little more meat to the bone of all his stories. It gives an insight to the man himself and it really brings the range of emotions of a professional sportsperson to life.

Visit The Book Centre on Wexford's Main Street for the very best selection of sports books.

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