20 documentaries that all sports fans need to watch (Part Two) 6 years ago

20 documentaries that all sports fans need to watch (Part Two)

Narrowing it down to 20 was a very difficult task.

Last week, we brought you Part One of our recommendations of documentaries that all sports fans need to watch.


We originally extended it to two parts because of an awareness of the wealth of quality offerings out there, but after the response of readers to the piece, we could easily recommend 50 documentaries and there would still be plenty left out.

Dozens of you responded to the original piece with stories you deemed worthy of consideration and though they might not have made the final list below – only those seen by the JOE team have been considered – we’re going to be busy watching as many of them as we can over the coming weeks.

Once again, feel free to suggest your own favourites via the usual channels at the bottom of the page.

In no particular order then, Part Two…


Hoop Dreams

Sport: Basketball

Year released: 1994

Synopsis: Truth be told, we would have been tarred and feathered by the JOE readers had this not made Part Two, but there was never any danger it wouldn’t make the cut.


Telling the tale of two African-American teenagers from poor neighbourhoods who dream of making it big in the NBA, it’s not just about basketball, but about race, class, diversity and much more, all of which it manages to fit in to a compelling three hours.

Clip via DocuChick

The Last Gladiators


Sport: Ice hockey

Year released: 2011

Synopsis: Ice hockey is a far more sanitised sport now than it used to be, when every team had an enforcer, or a ‘goon’ whose job it was to protect the star player using whatever means possible, often to the detriment of their own physical and mental health.

Entertaining though it often was to the audience, there were often lasting and unfortunate implications for those who played the role, many of whom are profiled in this fascinating Alex Gibney production.


Clip via Phase 4 Films

ROG: The Ronan O’Gara Documentary

Sport: Rugby

Year released: 2014

Synopsis: There have arguably been more talented Irish sportsmen in the last 20 years but, in this author’s opinion, there hasn’t been anyone quite as interesting as Ronan O’Gara.

ROG wore his heart so openly on his sleeve that it might as well have been tattooed on his arm and never, in good times or bad, did he compromise the brutal honesty that made him such an interesting subject for a documentary.

Four years in the making and covering his battle with Jonathan Sexton for the Ireland number 10 shirt, the 2011 World Cup and his move to Racing Metro amongst other subjects, Dave Berry and Nathan Nugent do a bang up job of profiling a Munster and Ireland legend.


Clip via Conor Ryan

The Class of ‘92

Sport: Football

Year released: 2013

Synopsis: It would be safe to say that not everyone is enamoured with how one of the most famous youth teams in football have carefully cultivated a brand that has endured long since all of them have hung up their boots.

That said, this documentary reflects well on some of the most famous players in Manchester United’s history, whose enduring friendship seems entirely genuine and who reveal sides to themselves here that football followers would not have seen before.


Clip via FullTimeDEVILS


Sport: GAA

Year released: 2004

Synopsis: Up there with Ronan O’Gara among the most compelling figures in Irish sport is the late Páidí Ó’Sé, one of the all-time GAA greats, both as a player and a manager.

After an acrimonious exit from the Kerry set-up (something to do with calling Kerry fans “the roughest type of f***ing animals you could ever deal with”), Páidí took over Westmeath in 2004 and led the Lake County to a historic first ever Leinster title.

Directed by Pat Collins, Marooned captures just how inspiring a presence Páidí proved to be in a fly-on-the-wall account of Westmeath’s greatest ever season.

Like A Year ‘Til Sunday with the Galway footballers, it gives an insight into the potential for truly brilliant GAA documentaries if access to the central figures wasn’t as big a problem as it is nowadays.

Clip via Classic GAA Channel


Sport: Motorbike racing

Year released: 2014

Synopsis: You don’t have to have any interest in motorsport to recognise the name of the Dunlops, the county Antrim family that have dominated the world of motorbike racing in Ireland for decades.

Theirs is a tale laced with both triumph and tragedy, with both Joey (winner of 26 Isle of Man TTs and 24 Ulster Grand Prix titles) and Robert losing their lives on the bike.

Narrated by Liam Neeson, Road explores the attraction to such a dangerous sport and features emotional and poignant interviews with the mother of Joey and Robert and Robert’s sons Michael and William, both of whom still race to this day.

Clip via Madman Films

Trophy Kids

Sport: Multi-sport

Year released: 2013

Synopsis: It is known of some of the famous sports stars in the world – Tiger Woods and the Williams sisters, for example – that at least one parent drove them relentlessly to try and be a success from an early age.

All parents want the best for their children, but Trophy Kids examines the extraordinary lengths that some fathers and mothers in the US will go to in an attempt to maximise the chances their sons and daughters have of making a career in professional sports.

It’s a fascinating watch, but it’s also disturbing at times and as a viewer, it’s hard not to have sympathy for the young subjects of the documentary trying to cope in such a high-pressure environment.

Clip via Mance Media

Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos

Sport: Football

Year released: 2006

Synopsis: Professional football is well established in the United States now, but it was a different story in the 1970s, when the North American Soccer League struggled to capture the affections of sports fans more accustomed to American Football, Basketball, Baseball and Ice-Hockey.

To try and increase its appeal, the people behind the newly-formed New York Cosmos came up with the idea of attracting some of the world’s best-known footballers in an attempt to appeal to audiences, including Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto.

It being the ‘70s, the stars that came to the Big Apple enjoyed a status afforded to Rock n’ Roll superstars of the era, but, alas, it was never going to last.

Clip via bricka12

No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson

Sport: Basketball

Year released: 2010

Synopsis: Another excellent 30 for 30 effort, it was produced by Steve James, who, like the documentary’s subject, is a native of Hampton, Virginia.

The documentary examines an incident in 1993 when Iverson, then a young prodigy destined for stardom in the NBA, was involved in an attack in a bowling alley in the town that was believed to be racially motivated. Iverson was sentenced to 15 years in prison as a result, but was pardoned and released after four months.

Iverson himself didn’t participate in the documentary, but it’s still an interesting insight into his upbringing and character and the impact that the incident had on race relations in the town.


Clip via Denise Hope

The U

Sport: American Football

Year released: 2009

Synopsis: Up until the 1980s, the Miami Hurricanes had never won a National Championship. From 1983 until 1991, they won four of them within the space of eight years.

The U, of one the most well-known 30 for 30 offerings, examines how, under coaches Howard Schnellenberger and Jimmy Johnson, the Hurricanes transformed themselves from also-rans to serial winners with a lot of talent and plenty of attitude.


Clip via Denise Hope

Honourable mentions: Four days in October (Baseball), Fightville (MMA), The Short Game (Golf), Once Brothers (Basketball), More than a Game (Basketball), You don’t know Bo (Multi-sport), No Mas (Boxing), Undefeated (American Football), An Impossible Job (Football), The Marinovich Project (American Football).

Any suggestions to add to the list? Feel free to let us know on Facebook or Twitter, or at editorial@JOE.ie.