Friday, 7 February 2014

Rugby Spirit, by Gerard Siggins

Firstly, I am more than aware that I am not the target audience for this book. Not just because I am too old, but also because I have never watched a game of rugby in my life. I've seen it happening in TV glimpses- it looks painful and the closest thing the 21st century has to actual Roman Gladiators.

The author has done an excellent job of telling a complex and interesting story in a very accessible way, which is certainly no easy task. I think a healthy interest in rugby is pretty crucial to enjoying this book. Though there are elements of family drama, an appealing underdog narrative and a bit of chilling mystery in the story, these are all bit-part players when compared to the overwhelming importance of rugby to the book. The author provides play by play commentary of several important games, so some technical knowledge is useful for these sections in particular. It's well written and maintains a good pace throughout, but I'm not sure if there's enough there for your regular non-rugby reader.

Eoin Madden, grandson of the mysterious rugby legend Dixie Madden, begins his first week at his grandfather's old school, Castlerock College. A bit miffed that everybody there seems to know more about his very private, quiet grandfather than he does himself, Eoin quickly learns that the Madden name is a big deal in Castlerock College. From some people, this translates to high expectations on the rugby pitch. From others it just earns Eoin a lot of extra grief from school bully and current rugby star, Duffy. Forced from absolute beginner and rugby fledgling to game-ready athlete, Eoin has to learn the rules and the tactics practically overnight, and in no time at all (but with a bit of practice) finds himself on the first team. Rugby players are born and not made, it seems.

As term goes on, Eoin learns to cope with his increasing fame, an unfortunate injury and greater positions of responsibility. He also has to come to terms with his Grandfather's worsening health and the fact that he may never find out why his grandfather quit rugby so suddenly all those years ago. Eoin has some pretty sturdy rugby boots to fill and with a little help from his History Teacher, his dorm mates and a mysterious character called Brian that he meets at the Aviva stadium, he might just be able to prove he can be a future rugby star in his own right- to himself, to his family and to the rest of his team.

I enjoyed Eoin's journey from new kid to game changer, and I thought he came across as a likable lad- modest, a good friend and a decent, hard worker. I found it a little hard to believe that he was never aware of why his grandfather stopped playing rugby. A tragedy of that nature, in any family, is not a secret. Crimes and scandals are kept secret, not accidents and the big mystery that had puzzled Eoin his whole life seemed a bit of an anti-climax when it was revealed. Brian's story on the other hand, was much more engaging and seemed to fit the narrative much better, though it was a bit of a surprise, considering the very real-life tone of the book. His air of mystery made me want to know much more about him and the things that he'd seen come and go. Mr Finn the history teacher slash ex rugby coach was an excellent character, and I'm glad that he became more of a presence towards the second half of the book.

On the whole, this was an enjoyable, if not entirely understandable read. The author clearly explains the rules, objectives and tactics needed in rugby (even providing helpful diagrams!), the reader learns along with Eoin, but I still failed to grasp it! Rugby is obviously not meant for me, I'm afraid. The author's obvious passion and love for the sport shines through every page, and those that want to take up rugby or already love rugby are going to go mad for this book. Even people who are really into any sport at all could perhaps convert those feelings and emotions into rugby and join in with Eoin's triumphs and setbacks. However, I would advise those unmoved by sports to perhaps look elsewhere for their next read...

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