Christy Ring remains a cherished figure in Cork.
Christy Ring remains a cherished figure in Cork.

Ring’s bravery and skill set him apart

By Cian Murphy

It surely says all you need to know about the status of a player that his opponents once sought him out at the final whistle of an All-Ireland final that he has just lost, and with the victorious crowds surging onto the pitch, the first act of the new champions is to put this beaten player on their shoulders and carry him from the field in adulation.

There exists some grainy footage of the moment which came at the end of the tumultuous 1956 All-Ireland senior hurling final.

Wexford have recorded a famous victory over Cork.

But as the field is invaded by supporters, a knot of Wexford players including the talisman Nickey Rackard put the celebration on hold to first find Cork forward Christy Ring and hoist him up onto their shoulders in the middle of Croke Park.

The 100th anniversary of the birth of the Cork legend falls later this month.

In advance of the opening games this weekend in the hurling championship that bears his name, it is worth recalling the reason why Christy Ring’s impact on the GAA but especially hurling, is so pronounced.

Before Roy Keane, Sonia O’Sullivan, Derval O’Rourke and the O’Donovan brothers, there was Christy Ring.

Before Teddy McCarthy, Billy Morgan, Jimmy Barry Murphy, Sean Óg Ó hAilpín, Rena Buckley and Valerie Mulcahy there was the man immortalised on Leeside as ‘Ringy’.

He was a winner of eight All-Ireland senior medals – a record he shared with Tipperary legend John Doyle and one which would only be surpassed by a certain Henry Shefflin from Kilkenny in more recent times.

From Cloyne – the Cork village that in later years would produce modern day Cork icons Donal Og Cusack and Diarmuid O’Sullivan, Ring was synonymous with the Glen Rovers club in Cork city and with whom he won 13 county titles between 1941 and 1967. He won a Cork senior football medal with St Nicholas in 1954.

A prolific centre forward in an age where the game was ferociously combative and almost gladiatorial in its nature, Ring’s bravery and skill set him apart and these feats of skill and bravery were matched by his ability to get crucial scores – and lots of them.

Remember, there was no television in Ireland before 1962.

This was a time when people gathered in homes to listen to Micheal Ó Hehir radio broadcasts from Croke Park, and Thurles and beyond and were carried away on the excitement and the drama that would unfold at a time when Cork, Tipperary and Kilkenny were the undisputed holy trinity of hurling.

The 2020 Christy Ring Cup commences this weekend.
The 2020 Christy Ring Cup commences this weekend.

Ring, along with Tipperary greats like John Doyle and Jimmy Doyle and Limerick’s Mick Mackey were living legends, as iconic as Cuchullain himself.

He was a Cork minor in 1937 and would wear the red jersey for the last time at the age of 43. He would play with men who were not born when he first hurled for Cork.

He was the first player to receive the Liam MacCarthy Cup three times as winning captain (‘46, ’53, ’54) and was on the Cork winning teams of 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1946, 1952, 1953 and 1954. This was in an era of no back door and no second chance. To win an All-Ireland meant triumphing in Munster, which he did nine times.

As well as the four league medals claimed in his career, Ring’s legend was also formed through his exploits with Munster in the golden age of the Railway Cup inter-provincial competition. He won a staggering 18 Railway Cup medals with Munster between 1942 and 1963 and scored a whopping 42-105 in the process.

His career pre dated many of the awards and honours that now exist in the GAA. But he was named Hurler of the Year in 1959 and received the Texaco Hall of Fame Award in 1971.

He drove an oil truck in the city and county and was revered throughout Cork and beyond. With his playing days over, he would return to Cork as a selector for their three in a row All-Ireland winning team of ’76, ’77,’78.

Ring sadly died of a heart attack in March 1979 causing shock and sorrow on Leeisde and a huge throng to attend his funeral.

At his graveside, Jack Lynch, the Taoiseach and a former team mate of Ring’s said: “As long as young people swing their camán for the sheer thrill of the tingle in their fingers of the impact of ash on leather, the story of Christy Ring will be told…”

Ring himself never courted the limelight, side stepped offers to endorse products or do media work. There is footage of him in action but nothing like the banks of high quality footage of modern-day heroes that we possess. There is a video shot in the early 60s of Ring demonstrating the skills of the game.

What would Ring make of Hurling 2020? The shape of the hurley, the physique of the players and the colour and weight and flight of the ball would be alien to him were he to see the game now. But the skill and bravery remain the same.

Ring’s most famous quote was a prediction for the glory that was to come as hurling would surge to record levels of participation.

“Let no one say the best hurlers belong to the past. They are with us now – and better yet to come.”