Time 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 famous Glen Rovers club from 1941 until 1967 and was a member of the Cork senior team from 1939 until 1963. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest hurlers in the history of the game. Many former players, commentators and fans place him as the number one player of all-time.

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 has also been the recipient of many awards and honours off the field. In 1959 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. He was named in the same position on the GAA Hurling Team of the Millennium in 1999.

Early & private life

Christy Ring was born less than a mile from the small village of Cloyne in County Cork, Ireland in 1920. He was very close to his parents, Nicholas and Mary, and it was his father, a former Cloyne hurler, who instilled a passion for the game in his young son. Ring's father would take him to big hurling matches in Cork, making the 18-mile journey by bicycle with his son on the cross-bar. He was educated at the local national school in Cloyne, where he was noted as a quiet but diligent pupil. As was common at the time Ring didn't go onto further education and left school at the age of fourteen. His first job was as an apprentice mechanic in Midleton and he later moved to Cork city where he worked with Shell Oil as a delivery man.

A non-smoker and teetotaller throughout his life, Ring was also a very devout Roman Catholic. He donated his eighth All-Ireland medal to St. Augustine’s church on Washington Street in Cork.

Playing career

Club

In the 1930s the Gaelic Athletic Association evolved in Cloyne, with Ring and his brothers playing hurling in local street leagues. As a fourteen-year old he played in goal for Cloyne's junior team, however, due to the absence of a minor team in Cloyne he joined 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 substitute in 1937 as Cork won both Munster and All-Ireland minor titles. In 1938 Ring was a full member of the team and he played a huge role in helping Cork to another Munster title. In the subsequent All-Ireland final Ring’s excellence was the main factor in Cork’s defeat of Dublin to win the title.

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 as Cork won and Ring collected his first senior All-Ireland medal. In the delayed Munster final Tipperary gained their revenge by defeating the All-Ireland champions. Ring surprised many at this stage of his career when he strongly argued for the adaptation of a new mechanism for the appointment of the county hurling captain. Ring suggested that hurlers were, in fact, re-incarnations of warrior poets, and as such, their poetic powers should determine their seniority. The scheme was adopted for a one year trial period, and later disbanded. Rings personal entry was the following: "When you look into my eyes And you see the crazy gypsy in my soul, It always comes as a surprise, When I feel my withered roots begin to grow, Well I never had a place that I could call my very own,That's all right, my love, 'cause you're my home”

In 1942 Cork were still on form and Ring won his first senior Munster title following a defeat of Tipperary. Ring subsequently won a second All-Ireland medal following Cork’s second consecutive defeat of Dublin in the championship decider. He added 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 hurling by defeating Galway and Kilkenny, were ‘the Rebel’ opponents. The game, however, turned into a rout as Cork defeated the Ulstermen by 27 points, giving Ring a third consecutive All-Ireland medal. In 1944 Cork faced Limerick in the Munster final. The game ended in a 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 sliothar in his own half-back line, soloed 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 victory in the championship decider. With that Cork set a record of four consecutive championship victories that will probably never be beaten and Ring had won four All-Ireland medals before his 24th birthday.

Cork lost their provincial crown in 1945; however, the team bounced back in 1946 with Ring, as captain, collecting a fourth Munster medal. In the subsequent All-Ireland final Cork faced their great Leinster rivals Kilkenny. After half-time Cork were down by a few points when Ring, playing at centre half-forward, made a great solo run and scored a goal which turned the game in Cork's favour. A fifth All-Ireland medal in six years was the result for Ring. In 1947 he added a fifth Munster medal to his ever-growing collection and, once again, Cork faced Kilkenny in the subsequent All-Ireland final. The game itself is considered to be on of the greatest of all-time, as Ring’s side were defeated by a single point on that occasion. 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 team bounced back in 1952 with Ring winning a sixth Munster medal following a defeat of 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 and Ring picked up a sixth All-Ireland medal.

In 1953 Ring was captain of the team again as he collected a third National League medal and a seventh provincial title. Galway later fell to Cork in the championship decider as Ring won a record-equalling seventh All-Ireland medal. The game, however, was clouded in controversy due to the injury to the Galway captain, Mick 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 won an eighth Munster 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. More importantly for Ring, he had entered the record books as the first player to win eight senior All-Ireland medals. 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 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 sliothar 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. 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 defeats by Tipperary in 1960 and 1961. Ring’s last championship game for Cork was 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, even though he 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. 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 45, would come out of retirement to play for Cork in that year’s All-Ireland final. While he indicated that he would be interested in playing, the prospect of winning his ninth medal as a substitute did not appeal to Ring and he declined to be listed as a sub in the end.

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 soon joined the background team of Glen Rovers as a selector. He was a key member of the selection teams when ‘the Glen’ won county, Munster and All-Ireland honours in the 1970s. Ring later served as a selector on the Cork senior hurling team that won a famous three-in-a-row of All-Ireland victories in 1976, 1977 and 1978. The 1978 win over Kilkenny turned out to be Ring’s last visit to Croke Park.

Christy Ring died suddenly in Cork on 2 March, 1979. He was 58 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. Ring's graveside oration 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.'

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.'

See also

Honours

Competition No. Years
All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championships 8 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1946, 1952, 1953, 1954
Munster Senior Hurling Championships 9 1942, 1943, 1944, 1946, 1947, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1956
National Hurling Leagues 4 1940, 1941, 1948, 1953
All-Ireland Minor Hurling Championships 2 1937, 1938
Railway Cups 18 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1963
Cork Senior Hurling Championships 14 1941, 1944, 1945, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1953, 1954, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1962, 1964, 1967
Cork Senior Football Championships 1 1954
Cork Junior Hurling Championships 1 1939
East Cork Junior Hurling Championships 2 1938, 1939
Texaco Hurler of the Year 1 1959

Teams

References

  • Val Dorgan, Christy Ring, (Ward River Press, 1980).
  • Brendan Fullam, Captains of the Ash, (Wolfhound Press, 2002).
  • Colm Keane, Hurling’s Top 20, (Mainstream Publishing, 2002).
  • Éamonn Sweeney, Munster Hurling Legends, (O’Brien Press, 2002).

See also

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