Christy Ring's greatness will always be fondly remembered
By Cian O’Connell
“I saw Christy Ring in '54 when he won his eighth All Ireland medal, he scored the winning point,” Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh vividly remembers about the salad years when Christy Ring was in his pomp.
That afternoon at Croke Park, he was in his element as Cork captured the Liam MacCarthy Cup, Ring being a central figure in the narrative, just to illustrate his greatness.
“I can still see it down in front of where the Nally Stand used to be, they were playing into the Railway goal, a ball came out there, he controlled it very well, caught it and with wonderful style from the left, in and over the bar for the winning score.”
Ring, who would have turned 100 this October, remains a cherished figure, especially Leeside and Ó Muircheartaigh has a plethora of stories about Ring, but the 1954 is chief amongst them. “The amazing thing, with no television or anything that time, in '54 it was captured on film,” Ó Muircheartaigh continues.
“Nobody knew that for years. An order of priests in Cork that went abroad somewhere in Africa. This wasn't discovered until the same man was dying, he was coming home on holidays. A few people collected and brought him a cine camera, the message he got was to make sure to go to Croke Park.”
So that is what unfolded with Ring’s late score decorating another successful encounter for Cork at GAA headquarters.
“Christy was there that day and so on, the guy with the cine camera got the shot of him and he had it,” Ó Muircheartaigh states.
“The strange thing was there was a bit of film left, towards the end of the game he switched it on and captured Christy Ring scoring that point.
“Nobody ever knew until the man was dead and 40 years later somebody going through his belongings, books and things like that, found this cine camera. It was shown out there and then put aside.
“It was brought home, people looked at what was in it - Christy Ring scoring that point. Gael Linn took it up later, they put it into a film and so on. He was that well liked. That shot is there since, it is a wonderful shot. The history that was behind it, the times that were in it, there was no live television in those days.”
Ó Muircheartaigh enjoyed watching Ring’s career unfold. Away from the matches, tales were passed through the generations too about his exploits.
“He was unique,” Ó Muircheartaigh remarks. “Christy Ring, I heard them saying one time, that nobody who ever hit him with a shoulder put him to the ground. 'Nobody ever got me to the ground.' Mick Mackey and Christy Ring, they were rivals, playing mighty games against each other, playing for Munster with each other.
“Christy Ring, I would say, the most incredible athlete. He won a minor title with Cork in 1938, at that time he was selected at right half back.
“He had extreme confidence in his own ability from the start. He started at right half back, they got a 21 yard early on and he wasn't the designated free taker. He went up quickly and told the person about to take it that he could score a goal from that.
“He wasn't short of confidence ever and I said to his brother when he told me this story, 'did he score the goal?' Of course he did.”
Ring had a penchant for grabbing critical goals, but the longevity of his career remains a source of conversation.
“Minor in '38, he played a bit of senior in '39, when I tell you I broadcast many games he played in, I remember broadcasting the Railway Cup of 1963, there he was still on the Munster team at the age of 43 winning his 18th Railway Cup medal,” Ó Muircheartaigh recalls.
“He told me himself once, never in 25 years did he ever have a lunch or a dinner at home on St Patrick's Day. He was playing every single one, whether as a winner or a loser. He won 18 Railway Cup medals playing for Munster. Of course he captained Cork on a few occasions.”
With Cloyne and Glen Rovers, Ring was a most feared opponent on the club stage in Cork. His last All Ireland final appearance, though, with Cork remains etched in Ó Muircheartaigh’s mind.
“He was a man that could get incredible scores,” Ó Muircheartaigh comments. “There was no giving in until the very end, he was as passionate about practicising and practising and more practising the skills of the game.
“He wasn't a very talkative man, he concentrated on his own game and his own fitness, what he could do for Cork, what he could do for Cloyne, where he was born, and later on when he went with Glen Rovers.
“I think he won maybe 13 Cork Championships with the Glen, he was the first to win eight All Ireland medals. He was going for his ninth in '56, in that wonderful game. In some ways the best hurling game I ever saw, Cork and Wexford in the All Ireland Final.”
Sub plots existed. Wexford felt that sufficient credit hadn't been afforded to them a year previously when claiming national silverware.
“Wexford had won in '55, but people made little of it because they didn't play Cork, didn't play Tipperary, they won an easy All Ireland people said,” Ó Muircheartaigh comments about the sense of grievance.
“The Wexford players didn't like that. They had won the All Ireland, but they didn't get the credit, and you could understand it. They didn't beat Cork or Tipperary, they didn't meet them. They won and the following year they were in the League Final. I remember every puck of that game too playing against Tipperary.
“Somebody made the statement during the week if Wexford beat Tipperary they wouldn't believe it until they saw it written on the scoreboard after the game. It was a fantastic game, Wexford trailed by 14 points at half-time.
“I know there was a bit of a wind there, but they were 14 points down. Eventually they finished up winning by four or five points, that was a big day for them, to have beaten in Tipperary in Croke Park.”
The summer followed and the Championship culminated with an eagerly anticipated tussle involving Wexford and Cork at the Jones Road venue. “In the All Ireland final Christy Ring did get a chance for a goal coming towards the end that would have put them ahead,” Ó Muircheartaigh adds.
“Somebody else said that a Cork player came in his way so he had to lean back and he didn't connect as well as he could. It was blocked down by the goalkeeper and cleared down the field and Wexford got a goal. That was the end of a great game of hurling.
“To show the regard Christy Ring was held everywhere, once that game ended, once the final whistle blew, Bobby Rackard was there, and maybe one of his brothers, they shouldered Christy Ring. They had won the All Ireland, they had beaten a strong, powerful team, Cork, but the thoughts of the full back and corner back lifted Christy Ring on their shoulders.
“Christy was going for number nine, he didn't get it, but the Wexford men, even though they had won, they didn't race towards their own men at that moment. They acknowledged the greatness of Christy Ring from Cloyne. He was unique and to last how long he did, played every game, wouldn't miss a challenge game or anything like that.
“His soul was put into hurling and he did it credit for the number of years he was there. He was an amazing player, you had others too, you could list a lot of wonderful players, but he was exceptional in many ways.”