From a fallible Pope to the original All Black
Brent Pope: If You Really Knew Me(Irish Sports Publishing) Many people would claim to know Brent Pope basing their opinion on the RTÉ personality; a big, avuncular Kiwi, a former rugby player and coach with a twinkle in his eye and a long-suffering and at times exasperated sidekick to George Hook. They might be aware that he is a published author of children’s books – he did the illustrations too – which feature the character Woody the Whale, the proceeds of which were dispersed to a variety of children’s charities.
What many will not know until they read his autobiography is that in 2009 he was diagnosed as having a dysthymic personality, a state of chronic discontentment. It was then he began to understand the mood swings, self-doubt, insecurities, low self-esteem that permeated relationships and ordered his view on how he approached life.
The teak-tough veneer that Pope presented to the world was at odds with the chronic anxiety that lurked within. His courageous honesty makes the book atypical of its genre. There are plenty of laddish antics recounted from his playing and coaching days coupled with a certain poetic licence for some revisionism in describing matches and events.
What it ultimately reveals though is his personality, faults included – the kind of bloke who is excellent company with a sharp sense of fun – and it’s all the better for that.
John Hayes: The Bull, My Story(Simon Schuster) If there was a straw poll conducted to determine who amongst Ireland’s rugby players of the last 20 years would be least likely to write an autobiography, John Hayes would have been a runaway winner. It is precisely for this reason that the book he has penned in conjunction with Tommy Conlon has piqued the interest.
The Bull was a reluctant interviewee during his time with Munster and Ireland simply because he abhorred the spotlight, uncomfortable in its glare. It was partially attributable to shyness but also a belief that he was a small cog in a big wheel. He was mistaken in that respect as his celebrated career with Bruff, Shannon, Marist, Munster, Ireland and the Lions so vividly illustrated. His reaction to a song that Luke Bloom wrote about him and sang for the Ireland squad sums up his discomfort with being centre of attention.
Team-mates, friends and family got to see another side to his personality, one that included a sharp sense of humour and a dry wit. He was well able to trade in the dressing-room banter. Conlon captures Hayes’s self-deprecating tone faithfully as he unfurls a sporting story that gathers momentum when circumstance and opportunity collided to steer him as an 18-year-old to a rugby pitch in Bruff.
The book is an unembroidered, nicely captured insight into one of Irish rugby’s iconic players. Now he really will hate that label.