WHEN THE PUBLISHER and former Meath All-Ireland winning footballer Liam Hayes contacted me in November 2019, I was a bit surprised. When he told me he wanted me to co-write the autobiography of a former GAA star, I was shocked. I was also not inclined to take up his offer. I was busy finishing off the final edits of Whatever It Takes, my crime novel for Mercier Press at the time. And I was then ready to finish my memoir, A Place Beyond Words. So the timing wasn’t great.
But when he told me the subject of the book was Denis Coughlan, the great Cork dual player of the 1960s and 1970s, I couldn’t say no. You see, I grew up in Cork in the 1960s and 1970s idolising Denis and cheering on his teams as they won All-Ireland championships in 1970, 1973 and for the three in-a-row from 1976-1978. I also knew what a lovely man Denis is – everybody in Cork knows that. And when I met Denis in December, 2019, the deal was sealed. I also met Liam that month and when I learned his commitment to the book and the series of ‘Legends’ books that Hero Books were publishing in 2020, I knew I would embrace the project and write the book.
And so it happened. I sat down with Denis in his home in January and February, 2020, and recorded his life story. We had 8 recording sessions, comprising about 20 hours of material. I did some research into his life, too – his sporting life, especially. We were very lucky with the timing, as the country was locked down for two months in March and it wouldn’t have been the same at all to try to do what we did over the phone.
Luckily for me, too, Denis has a brilliant memory and a great eye for vivid details. And he prepared diligently for each session, too – we planned out what we would talk about the following week so Denis could have all his information ready. Which he did. And the stories! Wonderful stories about his childhood in Madden’s Buildings in Blackpool in the ’40s and ’50s. Great stories about his playing days: how was almost dropped off the Cork team in 1967, when he was captain, because he went on a date with his future wife, Margaret; how he trained with Noel Cantwell in Old Trafford in 1967; the amazing story of Glen Rovers withdrawing from the Cork hurling fold in 1968 and the fall-out from that; stories about the county, Munster and All-Ireland winning exploits of Glen Rovers and St Nicholas, Denis’ clubs; how Denis won his five All-Ireland medals in ’70, ’73 and from ’76-’78; his working life, his family life, his other sporting interests, his friendship with Christy Ring and Jack Lynch; his involvement in sport after he retired as a player. An amazing life, well-lived. A heroic life in many ways he’s not finished yet! He is currently a member of the executive committee of the Club Players Association.
Then there’s his OJ Simpson story – amazing, but true! You’ll have to buy the book to learn that.
So, we finished working on the book in July and our only problem was how to cram everything in – the first draft was 120,000 words! But we got there and Liam’s’ editing was masterful and the book was published in September, 2020. I’m very proud of it and what I’m most happy about is that I can now consider Denis and Liam as friends and I’m honoured to have worked with them both.
Here’s a photo of Denis and I in Waterstones Cork, suitable masked, when we signed copies of the book for Irish Book Week in October, 2020.