Christy Ring

Christy Ring

Nicholas Christopher Michael Ring (12 October 1920- 2 March 1979), better known as Christy Ring, was a famous Irish sportsperson. He played hurling with the Glen Rovers club from 1941 until 1967 and was a member of the Cork senior inter-county team from 1939 until 1963. Ring is widely regarded as one of the greatest hurlers in the history of the game. Many former players, commentators and fans rate him as the number one player of all-time.

 

In a game as mythologised as hurling, Ring's universally accepted pre-eminence is remarkable. Yet, he possessed everything from talent and ferocious application to longevity and a string of records. Obsessive about the game, he worked relentlessly to sustain a formidable array of techniques, complemented by great vision and anticipation. A shamanistic sense of his own distinctness added to a reputation for eccentricity, but Ring's greatness, coupled with his physical resilience and resourcefulness, also demoralised opponents.

 

Ring's status as one of the all-time greats is self-evident. His record of 64 appearances in championship games has yet to be equalled, while his tally of 33 goals and 208 points in these games was a record score which stood until the 1970s when it was surpassed by Eddie Keher. His haul of eight senior All-Ireland medals, all won on the field of play, was a record which stood for over a decade until it was equalled by John Doyle. Ring also won a record eighteen Railway Cup medals with Munster. No other player in the history of the competition has gone into double figures. Ring is also one of only three hurling men to captain his county to three All-Ireland successes.

 

Ring has also been the recipient of many awards and honours off the field. In 1959 at the age of thirty-nine his hurling prowess earned him the prestigious Caltex Hurler of the Year award. He was posthumously honoured in 1984 when he was named, by popular opinion, in the right wing-forward position on the GAA Hurling Team of the Century.[5] He was named in the same position on the GAA Hurling Team of the Millennium in 2000.

Contents

 

 

Early & private life

 

Christy Ring was born at Kilboy, less than a mile from the small village of Cloyne in County Cork. The second child of a family of five born to Mary and Nicholas Ring, his siblings include Catherine, Mary,Paddy Joe and William John, the family later moved to Spittal Street, commonly referred to as 'Spit Lane', in Cloyne village.[7] Ring was very close to his parents and it was his father, a former Cloyne hurler, who instilled a passion for the game in his young son by taking him to the big games in Cork, making the 18-mile journey by bicycle with his son on the cross-bar.

 

Ring's father, Nicholas Ring, was born in 1892 in Cloyne to John & Bridget Ring. His siblings include Bridget, Abina, William, Margaret, John, Mary, and Patrick Ring.

 

Ring was educated at the local national school in Cloyne, where he was noted as a quiet but diligent pupil. On one occasion, the school master, Maurice Spillane, offered a prize of a hurley and sliotar to the boy who would get the highest grade in the school. Christy applied himself diligently and got first place from among forty-eight pupils. As was common at the time Ring received no second-level education and left school at the age of fourteen. His first job was as an apprentice mechanic with the Williams firm in Midleton, before he later moved to Cork city where he found work as a lorry driver with Córas Iompair Éireann. About 1953 Ring began work as a delivery man with Shell Oil, a position he held until his premature death.

 

A non-smoker and teetotaler throughout his life, Ring was also a devout Roman Catholic. Before big championship matches a holy candle was always lit in the local church and he always returned home for evening mass following these games. He donated his record-breaking eighth All-Ireland medal to form part of a special chalice in St. Augustine's church on Washington Street in Cork.

 

Playing career

Club

 

In the 1930s a new Gaelic Athletic Association club evolved in Cloyne, with Ring and his brothers playing hurling in local street leagues. He was twelve years-old when he played in his first real game for the Cloyne minor team and, ironically, he played in goal. Ring later played minor hurling with the St. Enda's club in nearby Midleton. Here he won a county minor medal before later joining the famous Glen Rovers club on the north side of Cork city. It was here that Ring won his first senior county title in 1941. 'The Glen' had just captured a record eighth county title in-a-row while Ring would go on to have much more success with the club. The 1940s saw him winning further county honours in 1944 and 1945 before claiming a three-in-a-row in 1948, 1949 and 1950. The club was denied a fourth consecutive title in 1951 when they were defeated by Sarsfield's in the county final. In spite of this Ring's side went on to contest eight consecutive county finals between 1953 and 1960. Victories came in 1953 and 1954 and, following the loss of three county finals in-a-row, ‘the Glen' went on to win three-in-a-row in 1958, 1959 and 1960. The 1960s were not without success either, as Ring won further county medals in 1962 and 1964. The latter was Ring's thirteenth county victory and was subsequently converted into a Munster club title. Ring's last game for Glen Rovers was a county quarter-final against UCC in 1967.

 

Inter-county

 

By the late 1930s Ring was spotted by the Cork minor hurling selectors and he quickly joined the team. He was a non-playing substitute as Cork won both Munster and All-Ireland titles in the minor grade in 1937. By 1938 Ring was a full member of the championship fifteen and he played a huge role in helping Cork to a 9-3 to 0-0 Munster final victory over Kerry. The subsequent All-Ireland final saw Ring make his first Croke Park appearance. Dublin provided the opposition on that occasion and a tough game of hurling ensued. Ring, in spite of playing in defence, scored a goal in the game to help his county to a 7-2 to 5-4 victory. It was his first All-Ireland winners' medal.[12]

 

Ring made his senior debut with the Cork hurlers in the autumn of 1939, playing in a National Hurling League game against Kilkenny. He quickly became a regular fixture on the team and won his first major title, a National League medal, at the start of 1940. Cork contested the Munster final later that year, however, after a replay the great Limerick team of the era emerged as the victors. Ring won a second National League medal in 1941, but that year's hurling championship was severely hampered due to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Munster and Leinster. As a result of this Tipperary and Kilkenny, the two counties that were affected the most, were not allowed to participate. Because of this it was decided that Cork would represent Munster in the All-Ireland final. The game against Dublin turned into a rout thanks to contributing goals from Johnny Quirke and Ted O'Sullivan. At the full-time whistle Cork had won by 5-11 to 0-6.[13] It was one of the most one-sided championship deciders of all-time, however, it did give Ring his first All-Ireland medal at senior level. In the delayed Munster final played in October Tipperary gained their revenge by defeating the All-Ireland champions.

 

In 1942 Cork were still on form and Ring won his first senior Munster title following a defeat of Tipperary. He subsequently lined out in a second consecutive All-Ireland final. Dublin provided the opposition for the second year in-a-row and the opening half turned out to be a close affair. Johnny Quirke gave Cork a comfortable half-time lead thanks to a goal, however, in the second-half Cork went on the rampage. At the long whistle Cork were the champions by 2-14 to 3-4 and Ring collected a second All-Ireland medal.

 

A defeat of Waterford allowed Ring to add a second Munster title to his collection in 1943 before later contesting a third successive All-Ireland final with Cork. Antrim, having already pulled off two of the biggest shocks in the history of the championship by defeating Galway and Kilkenny, were ‘the Rebels'' opponents. The game, however, turned into an absolute rout. At half-time Cork led by 3-11 to 0-2, howvever, by full-time they had forged ahead to capture a 5-16 to 0-4 victory. It was Ring's third consecutive All-Ireland medal.

 

In 1944 Cork faced Limerick in the Munster final. The game ended in a 4-13 to 6-7 draw and had to be replayed; however, as full-time approached the possibility of another draw seemed likely. With just minutes remaining Ring caught the sliotar in his own half-back line, made a solo run past a succession of challenges and, from forty yards out, hammered a shot into the Limerick net. Cork went on to win the game by a goal and many regard this game as the moment that the mantle of hurling's star player passed from Mick Mackey to Ring. Once again Cork went on to face Dublin in the All-Ireland final and, like the previous three years, the Munstermen had an easy win. Dublin could only manage to score 1-2 compared to Cork's 2-13, resulting in Cork taking the title. With that Cork set a record of four consecutive championship victories that has yet to be equaled. Ring was also the proud holder of four senior All-Ireland medals before his 24th birthday.

 

Cork lost their provincial crown to Tipperary in 1945, however, the team returned in 1946 with Ring, now as captain of the team, picking up a fourth Munster winners' medal after a defeat of Limerick. The subsequent All-Ireland final pitted Cork against old rivals Kilkenny for the first time since 1939. Two quick goals just before half-time, one from the stick of Ring, put Cork in the driving seat. Five more goals followed in the second period as Cork were the 7-5 to 3-8 winners. It was a remarkable fifth All-Ireland title in six years for Cork and for Ring.

 

Ring won a fifth Munster title following a second consecutive defeat of Limerick in 1947. The All-Ireland final was a repeat of the previous year as Cork and Kilkenny did battle again. In what has been described by many as the greatest hurling decider of all-time Mossy O'Riordan and Joe Kelly scored two goals that almost won the game for Cork. Kilkenny, however, fought back with Terry Leahy and Jim Langton leading the charge and eventually won the game by 'the usual point' on a score line of 0-14 to 2-7. That defeat saw the break-up of the great four-in-a-row team of the 1940s and was followed by four lean years of championship hurling for Cork.

 

The Cork team bounced back in 1952 with Ring winning a sixth Munster medal following a defeat of three-in-a-row All-Ireland champions Tipperary in the provincial decider. Dublin provided the opposition in the subsequent All-Ireland final, however ‘the Dubs' were completely outclassed by Cork on that occasion. In spite of only leading by three points at half-time Cork won by 2-14 to 0-7 and Ring picked up a sixth All-Ireland medal.

 

Christy Ring in typical pose.

 

In 1953 Ring took over the captaincy of the team from Paddy Barry. The year began well with the new captain collecting a third National League title and a seventh Munster medal. The subsequent All-Ireland final saw Galway take on Cork, however, 'the Rebels' were victorious by 3-3 to 0-8 and Ring added a record-equaling All-Ireland medal to his collection. The game, however, was clouded in controversy due to the injury to the Galway captain, Mickey Burke. After the match at the Gresham Hotel in Dublin a fight broke out when another Galway player struck Ring. The following morning another fight broke out when another member of the Galway panel attempted to hit Ring. The fights, however, ended just as quickly as they had started.

 

In 1954 Ring was still captain of Cork as he attempted to make history ny capturing an eighth All-Ireland medal. Tipperary fell to Cork by 2-8 to 1-8 in the provincial final, giving Ring an eighth Munster winners' medal. A ninth All-Ireland final appearance beckoned for the Cork maestro, with Wexford providing the opposition. A record attendance of nearly 85,000 people packed into Croke Park to witness the Munster champions defeating the Leinster champions by 1-9 to 1-6. More importantly for Ring, he had entered the record books as the first player to win eight senior All-Ireland medals on the field of play.

 

Cork lost their provincial crown in 1955, but ‘the Rebels' were back in 1956 and faced Limerick in the Munster final. Limerick looked to be cruising to victory, however the last ten minutes of the game saw Ring display his exceptional class by scoring three goals and a point to capture a ninth Munster winners' medal. Wexford were Cork's opponents in the All-Ireland final once again. The game has gone down in history as one of the all-time classic games as Ring was bidding for a ninth All-Ireland medal. The game turned on one important incident as the Wexford goalkeeper, Art Foley, made a miraculous save from a Ring shot and cleared the sliotar up the field to set up another attack. Wexford went on to win the game on a score line of 2-14 to 2-8.[17] In spite of Cork's loss Wexford's Nick O'Donnell and Bobby Rackard, in an unparalleled display of sportsmanship in any game, raised Ring onto their shoulders and carried him off the field. Wexford had won the game but there was no doubt in their minds that the real hero was Ring.

 

The following few years proved difficult for Ring as Cork's hurling fortunes took a downturn. Defeats by Waterford in the provincial deciders of 1957 and 1959 were followed by heavy defeats at the hands of Tipperary in 1960 and 1961. Ring, however, seemed to be playing better than ever before. He was the top scorer in the National League in 1959, when he became the only player to average over ten points a game, 1961 and 1962, when he shared the honours with Jimmy Doyle of Tipperary. He was Cork's club hurler of the year in 1964.

 

Ring's last championship game for Cork was against Waterford in 1962; however, he was listed as a substitute in Cork's Munster semi-final game against Tipperary in 1963. In 1964 Ring let it be known that he was available to play on the county team but he was turned down by the team's selection committee. After twenty-five years and a record sixty-four appearanaces on the Cork senior hurling panel Ring was dropped. This move ended his inter-county hurling career. There was speculation in 1966, however, that Ring, at the age of forty-five, would come out of retirement to play for Cork in that year's All-Ireland final. His name was listed in the official match programme for the Munster final, however, Ring did not line out with Cork when he heard that the decision to be recalled was not a unanimous one. While he also indicated that he would be interested in playing in the All-Ireland final, the prospect of winning his ninth medal as a substitute to another player did not appeal to Ring and he declined to be listed as a sub in the end. This brought the final curtain down on Ring's links with the Cork hurling team.

 

Inter-provincial

Ring's relationship with the Railway Cup inter-provincial competition was as remarkable for its longevity as well as its success rate. While he enjoyed the rivalry with the other counties during the Munster Championship he felt honoured to be on the same team as the great players from Tipperary, Limerick, Waterford and Clare. Ring played for Munster for the first time in 1941 and went on to contest twenty-three consecutive inter-provincial finals between then and 1963. During this time he won a record-breaking eighteen Railway Cup medals. No other player in the history of the Gaelic Athletic Association has gone into double figures in terms of the amount of medals won and the only occasions that he didn't end up on the winning side were in 1941, 1947, 1954, 1956 and 1962. Ring was noted for being at his best and for giving exceptional displays on Railway Cup days. In the 1957 final he gave a remarkable performance to coincide with the opening of the new Hogan Stand at Croke Park. During the game he scored 4-5 of Munster's total of 7-11. This was five points more than Connacht's total of 2-6.

 

Retirement

In retirement from playing the game that he loved Ring quickly became a selector with various teams at all levels. In 1963 he was a mentor to the senior hurling team of St Finbarr's College, Farranferris that captured both Munster and All-Ireland honours at colleges level.

 

Ring later served as a key member of the selection teams when his beloved Glen Rovers won county, Munster and All-Ireland club hurling honours in the 1970s.

 

In 1974 Ring became a selector with the Cork senior hurling team, however, it was an unsuccessful year in the championship for his county. He was dropped from the selection team in 1975, however, Ring returned as an influential selector under Bertie Troy in 1976. That year Cork captured the Munster title before later lining out against Wexford in the All-Ireland final. After six minutes of play Cork were in arrears by 2-2 to no score, however, Ring's switch of Jimmy Barry-Murphy to centre-forward was pivotal in helping Cork to turn the game around and win it by 2-21 to 4-11. In 1977 a second set of Munster and All-Ireland titles followed for Ring as selector again. 1978 was a particularly poignant year for Ring and the Cork hurling team. Cork annexed a third Munster title under Ring's stewardship that year before later lining out against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final. Once again Ring made some decisive positional switches involving Barry-Murphy and Tim Crowley, which eventually led to a 1-15 to 2-8 victory over the old enemy. It was a particularly sweet victory for Ring. It had been forty years since he captured his first All-Ireland medal with Cork in 1938. He was a stylish young hurler on the senior team when Cork captured the three-in-a-row in 1943 and he was a legendary figure on the team when he repeated this feat in 1954. Now Ring had also become an All-Ireland three-in-a-row winning selector with Cork. The 1978 All-Ireland triumph over Kilkenny turned out to be Ring's last visit to Croke Park.

 

As Ring was walking past the Cork College of Commerce on 2 March 1979 he suffered a massive heart attack and died. He was fifty eight years-old. The news of his death came as a great shock to the people of Ireland, and particularly to the people of Cork. His funeral was one of the biggest ever seen in Cork with up to 60,000 people lining the streets. It was also a remarkable hurling occasion with many of Ring's former Munster foes - including Mick Mackey, Jimmy Doyle, Tony Reddin, Ned Power, John Doyle, Jackie Power, Tommy Doyle and Mickey Byrne - in attendance. Farrenferris pupils formed a guard of honour, draped in the famous black, green and gold Glen Rovers colours. The funeral Mass was presided over by Bishop Cornelius Lucey while the chief celebrant was Fr. Charlie Lynch, brother of former Cork team-mate and Taoiseach Jack Lynch. Other former Cork team-mates involved included Fr. Con Cottrell, Fr. Bernie Cotter and Fr. J.J. O'Brien. Ring's coffin was shouldered into St. Colman's churchyard by renowned sporting celebrities from Cork and other counties. 'We carried him at last' was Ring's former team-mate Paddy Barry's remark, in reference to Ring often saving the Cork hurlers from almost certain defeat.

 

Ring's graveside oration in Cloyne was delivered by a former team-mate and the then Taoiseach, Jack Lynch. Lynch finished by claiming that:

 

    'As long as young men will match their hurling skills against each other on Ireland's green fields, as long as young boys swing their camáns for the sheer thrill of the feel and the tingle in their fingers of the impact of ash on leather, as long as hurling is played the story of Christy Ring will be told. And that will be forever.'

 

It was also related that Professor Seán Ó Tuama heard an old Cork lady say at his funeral. "It was an awful shame to bury that man"

 Tributes

 

·        A film about Ring's life was produced by Gael-Linn in 1964 and Val Dorgan wrote his biography in 1981, both works entitled "Christy Ring".

 

·         He has also been commemorated by a life-size statue in his native village of Cloyne, and the "Christy Ring Bridge" over the River Lee in Cork remembers his achievements. One of Cork city's principal GAA stadia, Páirc Uí Rinn (Ring Park in English), is named in his honour.

 

·        In 2005 the GAA commemorated Ring by creating the Christy Ring Cup, a hurling award for the tier 2 winning team. The inaugural Christy Ring Cup final was played on Sunday, August 14, 2005 between Down and Westmeath. The score was Westmeath 1-23, Down 2-18.

 

·        In 2006 a life-sized statue of him was revealed outside Cork airport's new terminal commemorating his achievements. The statue is of him swinging a hurley outside the arrivals wing at the airport.

 

Quotes

 

·        'I always liked to do the impossible.'

·        'Let no one say the best hurlers belong to the past, they're with us now and better yet to come.'

·        'Small cut, big bandage. Big cut, no bandage.'[citation needed]

 

Honours

Cork

·        All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship:

·        Winner (8): 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1946, 1952, 1953, 1954

·        Runner-up (2): 1947, 1956

·        Munster Senior Hurling Championship:

·        Winner (9): 1942, 1943, 1944, 1946, 1947, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1956

·        Runner-up (3): 1940, 1941, 1948, 1950, 1957 (sub), 1959, 1960, 1961

·        National Hurling League:

·        Winner (3): 1939-1940, 1940-1941, 1952-1953

·        Runner-up (1): 1948-1949


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