CHRISTY Ring is gone 40 years. He is still missed and Cork is still craving for a successor.
He was my God, my idol. I once cycled to Limerick when I was 15 just to see him play against Tipperary in the Munster Final. It was worth it.
Ironically, he spoiled the game because I was watching only one player, and when he changed over at the interval so did half the crowd.
The hurling purists back then were licking their lips in anticipation at yet another Cork and Tipperary final. They knew it would be a blood and thunder occasion where these fierce rivals would give their all for their respective counties.
Surely the golden age of hurling was between 1949 and 1954. In those six years Cork and Tipp clashed in the Munster Championship in six titanic struggles, fought out with an intense fervour, and the victors went on to win the All-Ireland title each time.
Memories flood back to our packed front room, wireless blazing forth, with our collective hearts in our collective mouths. Michael O’Hehir held us in the palm of his hand. When television arrived in Ireland it was a poor substitute. All the mystery disappeared.
Way back then, money was not an issue. The players gave everything but never received a cent. Now some golfers demand appearance money before they condescend to strike a ball, tennis players get huge sums of money for winning second-rate tournaments, and quite ordinary and robotic footballers are transferred for millions.
Money moguls pull the strings, commercialism reigns supreme and many big sports clubs are more like supermarkets.
Sometimes, in a reflective mood after an acute attack of nostalgia, I think back on players who unfortunately missed the sporting boat. One man especially, born before his time and surely the original superstar, is Cork hurler Christy Ring.
Imagine if he was 25 years old and playing at the present time. The thought is mind-boggling.
Not alone was he the most charismatic player of all time at his chosen sport, but for a quarter of a century he was outstanding when the standard was at an extraordinary high level.
To him it wasn’t just a game. It was life itself.
I first met Christy Ring when I was 11. We had won a local final and he presented the trophies. As the great man shook my little hand two things stood out: one was his massive wrists and, secondly, he had the most unusual steel blue eyes. I’ll never forget what he said to me: “Keep your eye on the ball, even when it’s in the referee’s pocket.” That night I floated home.
Will there ever be a more dramatic Munster Final than that of 1956? With five minutes remaining Cork were being thrashed by Limerick, and that fine hurler, Donal Broderick, was playing a blinder on Ring. Then, in five pulsating minutes, ‘Ringy’ scored three goals to win the game for Cork.
Even today, 63 years on, the two most famous Limerick hurlers are Broderick and Mackey, but for contrasting reasons.
That September, those giants from Wexford stood between Ring and his ninth all-Ireland medal. Memories of that thrilling game still haunt me; Ring’s goal which electrified the 83,000 crowd, the Wexford goalie’s late important save which got better and better as the years rolled by, Ring running in to shake his hand, and, at the final whistle, in a lovely gesture of sporting reciprocation, the Wexford backs shouldering Ring like a king from Croke Park.
It is difficult to sum up all his sporting abilities. Once, when he was in his forties, he scored six goals and four points in a league game against Wexford.
If you take Carl Lewis, Pele, Babe Ruth, Lester Piggot, throw in Arkle, add the strength of an ox, and the cunning of a fox, then you have Christy Ring. He played with fire in his veins and a pride and passion in his performance.
n Ring’s era, men were men and hard knocks were given, taken and forgotten. His likes will never be seen again.
My irreverent children mock me when I polish my little silver “egg cup” I received all those years ago. I ignore them because that night I met my God. Yet I hang my head in shame at the way the great man has been treated.
For some strange reason, a statue of him has been dumped miles away out in a field by the airport. Bring him home. Please bring him home.