By Ryan McNeill
When I first read the email from Rus Bradburd offering me a chance to read his book “Paddy on the Hardwood” I was hesitant to give up a couple hours of my time to read a book that involved fiddling. Maybe it’s the Irish blood coursing through my veins but the fiddling stories grew on me and as I read through this book I quickly found myself captured in all the stories he told about his time coaching in Ireland.
Part of the reason why this book grabbed my attention is because of the humour that Rus was able to add into stories about his year teaching in Ireland. Some of the jokes that I enjoyed were when he talked about a tobacco shop named “The Casket,” he tried to compare Junior Collins to Sancho Panza, he called one of the players “soft as church music” and there was a quip about Mountjoy being a horrible name for a jail. My biggest chuckle came when Rus wrote about his aversion to cell phones and stated in his book that, “legend has it that St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. If he ever returns, maybe he can drive out the mobile phones.”
As a basketball coach something that stuck out while reading this book were the horrible playing conditions the Frostie Tigers had to endure. Their home games were held at facility called The Sports Complex in Tralee who’s main purpose was to host swimming meets. According to Rus;
“The gym floor was a dingy ceramic tile. Pull-out bleachers stood on only one side. The lighting was prehistoric. It was so dark, I thought we’d have to ask the fans to bring candles. Much of the reasonit seemed so dark was that the walls were painted forest green, a mysterious choice. They must have felt he earth tones would go well with the mustard-brown floor. I instinctively folded my arms across my chest. It was shivering cold, although still summer. Maybe candles could help raise the temperature as well. One hoop, which wobbled precariously on a wooden backboard, tiltled to the side and was low. Really low. I was tempted, even at age forty-three, to run out and try to grab it when the soccer game shifted to the other end. The lines on the tiled floor were complex, hundreds of them, in five different colours, denoting all different types of sports. I made an appraisal of the lines: volleyball, team handball, or soccer maybe. Badminton or tennis. I had to walk around the edge of the court to decipher which color lines were for our basketball court – the thin red ones. A soccer ball whizzed past my ear, slammed into the folded bleachers, and was chased by two wheezing men about my age.”
I grew up playing basketball in Canada and I was shocked at the state of this court as a setting for professional games. Even with hockey gobbling up most of the public funding for sports teams in Canada the men’s leagues I play in have far superior facilities than the Frosties played professional ball in. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself when I tried to picture Roy Williams or Coach K or any other D1 coach in NCAA basketball heading over to Ireland for a season and trying to deal with their sport being an afterthought in the conscious of sports fans in Ireland.
As a Canadian I could relate to the pain Rus must have went through as he tried to adjust to basketball not being a priority with sports fans in Ireland because I routinely have to sift through the majority of the sports section to find a small write-up on the NBA the previous night or I need to watch 40 minutes of Sports Centre before I can see 5 minutes of basketball highlights. Basketball fans in America have no clue how painful it is to attempt to follow the sport you love when it’s not the prominent sport in the country where you live.
Something else that I enjoyed about this book was the amount of history of basketball in Ireland that Rus included. I found this book to be informative because he explained the history of professional basketball in Europe, the pay scale for players, why amateur sports like Gaelic Football and Hurling were more popular in Ireland than professional sports like basketball and what a Bosman was. While reading through this book I enjoyed how he successfully mixed information with humour to create a rivetting story.
The big test for me on any book I read is how hard or easy it is for me to stop reading. “Paddy on the Hardwood” passed with flying colours because I found myself staying up way too late to continue reading and bringing this book along with me to work to read during my lunch break.
This is a book that I’ve mentioned a couple of times in this blog and if you haven’t had a chance to pick it up yet make sure you head to your local bookstore to buy a copy this week.