By John Harrington www.gaa.ie
Tomorrow, Friday the 30th of October, is the 100th anniversary of the birth of legendary Cork hurler, Christy Ring.
Regarded as the greatest hurler the game had ever seen during his own playing days, such was his cultural as well as sporting impact that many successive generations who never saw him swing the ash are still happy to put him on that same pedestal.
What was it that made him so special? Why is he still revered in Cork as little short of a hurling deity? And how about Christy Ring the man, what sort of personality was he?
With the remove of all of these years, perhaps the best way to colour between those lines is to quote those who knew him best. His family, friends, those who hurled with him, those who hurled against him, those who had the pleasure of watching him play in his pomp, and, not least, the man himself.
Many of the below quotes were gleaned from ‘Christy Ring: Hurling’s Greatest’, the hugely informative autobiography of Christy Ring written by his fellow Cork native, Tim Horgan.
CHRISTY RING THE HURLER…
Christy found no problem coping with four or five hours training every day. This was not just a puck around the field. It was first-time pulling on the ground, doubling on the ball in the air, sideline cuts, and free pucks. Relaxation never entered Christy’s mind while training and he practised from both the right and the left. All through his career he firmly believed in training and always keeping fit. Willie John Ring, Christy’s brother.
I remember quite well when Christy was very young and there was a ruck, he’d always be in the middle of it. He was very small, he’d be under your feet he was so small, and he’d a man’s hurley that his father had cut down to size for him. He’d be inside in the middle of it all and he’d come out with the ball, always. And there was an old man, Pad Aherne, living by the field and he’d be learning over the garden wall, watching us. I remember well one day he said to Christy, “You’ll play in Croke Park yet, boy!” Paddy Motherway, childhood friend
You have read a lot about the hands of Bobby Feller, ace Indian sportsman, Ben Hogan the golfer, and Ted Atkinson the jockey, but, in my opinion, the hands with the greatest athletic prowess of all are those of Christy Ring. A hurley in his hands is like a magic wand in the hands of a magician or a violin in the hands of Menuhin. Bill Carlos, journalist with the New York newspaper, The Advocate.
Ring and myself wouldn’t shake hands at the start of a match. Not one word would be exchanged between us during the course of a game. The real hurlers I knew didn’t indulge in idle chat. You see it was the era before the advent of television cameras. A lot of niceties like shaking hands before the ball was thrown in and swapping jerseys afterwards, even the odd embrace, are the fashion today. We lived in a far tougher and harder school. But, believe me, Ring could take defeats like a man. He would be the first to congratulate you in victory even if Cork were unlucky to lose on the day. I always admired him for that. John Doyle, Tipperary hurler
He rarely did the same thing twice. You might think that you had him figured every now and then, but the illusion lasted only until the next ball arrived. He was like an eel. Even when you were right there with him, he could somehow glide out of reach to send the ball soaring. His concentration was the most striking thin gabout him during a game. Even when the ball was at the other end of the field, his steel-blue eyes were on it and you felt that nimble brain of his knew exactly what was going to happen. Des Ferguson, Dublin hurler.
Just listen to the crowd every time Christy moves near the ball. It is not without good cause that this anticipation arises whenever the ball comes within his reach. The saying is only too true – you can bate an egg and bate a carpet but you can’t bate Christy Ring. Tony Wall, Tipperary hurler
In training he was just fantastic. There was nothing he couldn’t do with a ball. Sometimes when we finished training at the Glen Field he’d have a kind of challenge game with Patsy Harte. The two of them would hit balls at the crossbar from the 21 and I’d say Christy would strike the bar eight times out of ten. Other times he’d go in goal and stop shots from all angles. Then after we were finished he’d call a few youngsters who were watching and tell them to have a go, one by one. He’d save all the shots and then, to each lad’s amazement and delighted, he’d let in one, knowing that each young fella would go home all excited and tell everyone he scored a goal against Christy Ring. What a boast that was for a young fella and what a psychologist Ring was. Jackie Daly, Glen Rovers team-mate.
When Ring hit the ball you wouldn’t see it go into the back of the net. You’d watch what hurley he used and you’d model yourself on Ring. He always hurled with a heavy stick. Theo English, Tipperary hurler
The range of skills he perfected through diligent practise was absolutely wonderful. There were certain fields he’d stop at during the course of his work and he’d take his hurley and ball from the truck and practise there. I knew one field near Innishannon where he regularly practised, much to the delight and pride of the farmer who owned the field. He subsequently gave that part of the field as a direct contribution to the Ring Memorial Fund. Con Murphy, Cork hurler and GAA administrator
I remember sitting next to Ring one day after a Cork and Waterford League match. We were watching Tipperary and Limerick in the second game and at one stage Jimmy Doyle, who was new to the scene, took a free and sent the ball sweetly over the bar. “Did you see that?” said Christy, giving me a nudge. He was all excited. “See what?” I said. “Did you see the follow-throught? I must practice that myself”. I couldn’t believe it. Here was Ringey with all his honours learning something new from a young hurler and planning to work on it. Ned Power, Waterford hurler
Christy was a terrific competitor. He was very keen, very quick, and he had a great hurling ability, great ball control and he could come out of nowhere. He could nearly smell where the ball was going to drop. Of course, people in other counties were all saying, “If we put Ringey away, we’ll put Cork away”, but you could never put Ringey away. There was always the danger that he was going to break through, that he was going to get clear. You see, he was the danger. He was the inspiration. He was the man who put the world into hurling. Mick Mackey, Limerick hurler.
Where was his greatness? I honestly don’t know and I am doubtful if the camera could dissect his worth. Even hurlers themselves cannot pinpoint his superiority but they are unanimous he was the greatest and they do not give praise lightly. He was a writer’s hurler, a commentator’s hurler, a supporter’s hurler, but, most of all, he was a hurler’s hurler. Jimmy Smyth, Clare hurler
CHRISTY RING THE MAN…
Christy loved singing patriotic ballads and on his way home in his car after winning matches we’d be singing all the way. Songs like ‘The Bould Fenian Men’ and other ones that John McCormack made famous. Tough Barry would try and get an operatic aria from time to time, but Christy always went for the rousing patriotic ballads. Willie John Daly, Cork hurler
I remember travelling down to Cork when I was a young reporter to do some interviews for the 1953 Final. The Cork hurlers were training in the old Athletic Grounds and a leading photographer asked Christy if he could take some pictures for one of the Dublin daily newspapers. Christy was furious that he should dare interrupt his participation in the training puck-about and he nearly took the head off the cameraman, who only wanted a few special pictures in the lead-up to the All-Ireland Final. Yet, over a cup of tea on the very same night, Ring promised me, a young and relatively unknown sportswriter, the hurley he would use in the following Sunday’s Final. True to his word, he delivered the stick when he travelled to Dublin the following St. Patrick’s Day for the Railway Cup Final. Mick Dunne, journalist.
He was not a social being. Once a game was over I liked to enjoy the craic and a bit of banter and talk about other sujects rather than hurling. But to Ring hurling was everything, it was life itself. He was as fit in February as he was in July and that was why he helped Munster win so many Railway Cups. When we did talk hurling I found he didn’t suffer fools gladly. His standards were amazingly high. If you didn’t measure up to them, there was no place for you in Ring’s book. He dismissed you from his mind and he could even tell you bluntly to your face if he thought you were useless. John Doyle, Tipperary hurler
Christy would insist on staying in Room 15 because he said it was his lucky number. In his younger days he played in many different positions but, in the 1950s, number 15 was his most familiar jersey with Cork and Munster. We always made sure Room 15 was available for him on St. Patrick’s Eve and, of course, if Cork were there on the first Sunday in September. John Deane, Barry’s Hotel accountant
He had a very keen intellect. He was a man of great perception and he was a good judge of life and of people. I had many instances that indicated that to me. He was a very good friend ad as well as that, in my capacity as a TD, he came to me often about problems, not his own problems. They were other people’s problems and he pursued and persisted in ensuring that whatever problems he brought to me were either solved or came to the point where nothing else could be done about it. Jack Lynch, Cork hurler.
Christy had a heart of gold. There wasn’t a day when he didn’t visit a patient in hospital and Mass played a great part in his life. He attended every morning if possible. He listened to the problems of people which he sorted out by takin gteh matter to local TDs, where he wouldn’t take no for an answer. These people cried over Christy’s dead body. There was no-one to help them when they were in need and the appreciated this quality in Christy’s character. Willie John Ring, Christy’s brother
There was a very caring side to Christy Ring. He did many thing to help people in a private way. He was very willing to give of his time and he would sit and talk with people who were ill or grieving. In the early 1950s my father spent almost three months in hospital with an eye injury. He wasn’t long in hospital when Ring came to visit him. Having satisfied himself that my father’s eyesight was on the mend, he leaned towards my father and asked him, “are you okay for money?” Diarmuid O’Donovan, friend of Christy Ring
CHRISTY RING IN HIS OWN WORDS…
Why did I take up hurling in the first place? The only reason I took up hurling was that there was nothing else to do in Cloyne village in my young days. There was a field where the lads went hurling and I joined them there as soon as I could. I spent many hours practising there with the local lads. Many of them, including my brothers Willie John and Paddy Joe, were very good hurlers, but they had other interests. I had just one – to learn the game of hurling and play it well.
There is no such thing as practice. There is such a thing as hard work. Hurling is hard work – it’s like carrying 100 bricks before you put up one. You must learn to carry them first. Then you’ll put them up. You must work step by step. The hardest things that you must do in training will serve you well in the game because you’ll never be asked to do them as hard again. The easy way happens in the game but, of course, it only seems easy because you have been doing the hard things in training.”
Hurling has always been a way of life with me. It was never my ambition to play the game for the sake of winning All-Ireland medals or breaking records but to perfect the art as well as possible.
I liked to play little tricks at times. One day in a match against the College I got a small nick on the forehead, no worse than a cut you’d get shaving, but I rubbed the blood all over my face until I looked like a Red Indian. Then I grabbed the next ball and headed straight for the goalie. I think he must have stepped out of the way when he saw this thing coming at him and I scored a goal.
You can call me a gambler. I try a move a hundred times in training and, when it comes off in a big match, the crowd goes wild and I say to myself – it worked.
My advice to young players would be –
1: Develop the greatest possible strength in your arms.
2: Practice swift pucking and striking.
3: Never hit the ball for the sake of hitting it – deliver it to the right place. To strengthen your arms you must play the ball on the ground – a soft ball that is hard to hit far. One day you might hit the ball ten yards, then twenty, but the day will come when you’ll drive it 80 yards. You’ll drive it that length consistently but you can’t do it without making your arms good and strong.
My hurling days are over. Let no-one say the best hurlers belong to the past. They are with us now, and better yet to come.