THERE are many people here on Leeside and across the GAA landscape who wish that they were born earlier.
If they had been they would have the joy and privilege of seeing Christy Ring at his most brilliant best.
For those of my generation, the great man was nearing the end of his glorious career, both in the red jersey of Cork and the hooped jersey of Glen Rovers. I saw him play just a couple of times but the passage of time, however, has dimmed those memories.
The first time was in Midleton in a tournament game with Limerick to mark the opening of the club’s Clonmult Memorial Park. It was a horrible, wet Sunday back in 1962, the match itself was of little consequence but the maestro from Cloyne still managed to bang home a couple of goals.
I saw him play a couple of times with the Glen in the old Athletic Grounds and one can still remember a hush descending on the crowd every time he got on the ball.
Bred, born and reared in Cloyne and forever one of theirs, it was with the great Blackpool club that he became a hurling institution.
Denis Coughlan, another of the Glen and Cork hurling greats and football too for that matter played alongside Ring for four years in the Glen jersey, winning two Cork SHC titles in 1964 and 1967 and he has nothing but the fondest and greatest memories of the great man.
“Firstly, I would have to say that Christy was a very kind and considerate person, a man who was very good to give you advice, general advice if one needed it.
“Yes, I had the privilege of playing alongside him for a couple of years and I was fortunate to play on the team with him from 1964 to '67.
“We had some great players on those teams and we won a few titles. I was very young in those years and really didn’t know him that well and it wasn’t only afterwards that I got to know him and got very friendly with him.
“I remember it being a joy to watch him in training and I can remember him taking shots against our goalkeeper Finbarr O’Neill who was a very good goalkeeper.
“Christy would be testing him out, taking 21s against him and moving closer and closer every time. He had ferocious power in his shots but Finbarr used to do well."
The former Cork dual star whose autobiography is now on the bookshelves and is sure to be a very good seller here in Cork and beyond such is his own vast contribution to the games has vivid memories too of Christy’s contribution when he became a Cork selector and was a key figure in the three-in-a-row team of 1976, 1977 and 1978.
“Definitely, Christy was with us in those great years and, obviously, played a big role as did all the rest of the selectors who were there. I must say that he mixed very well with the players, those from the other clubs, the Barrs, the Rockies, Bishopstown and so forth.
“He was very good with the players, a great man on a one to one basis and, obviously, he got huge respect from the players. He was very sharp, very astute and had a great hurling brain. He was very quick when it came to making switches with the other selectors.
“He had, of course, great experience himself as a player with such a long and successful career.’’
Christy’s premature passing in 1979 at the the age of just 58 shocked the entire sporting nation and deprived Cork of a man who had so much still to give to the game on Leeside
“Yes, it was a huge shock to all of us when we heard on that Friday evening that Christy had passed away.
“You could not and you did not want to believe it. It affected everybody and I believe that it had a bearing in our bid for the four-in-a-row in 1979.
“It definitely affected the players and of course he was missed so much by them that year when we lost. There was a great camaraderie within the Cork camp in those years and Christy was very much part of that.
“Players might still have been a bit in awe of him but when he spoke they listened."
His loss to the Glen was immense too, according to Coughlan.
“Firstly, his loss to his family was the greatest of all. He was a great family man.
“Obviously, here in the Glen his loss was immense too. After his playing career ended he still made a big contribution at debates at AGMs. Again, in those things when he spoke you sat up and took notice. I suppose really there was no other like him.
“He came to us from Cloyne and fitted in so well and his record simply speaks for itself, 14 county senior titles. That won’t be done again at that level. He was a huge loss to us all."
Indeed he was and one can vividly recall being in Cloyne on the Sunday morning that they buried him, now over 41 years ago.
It was a bitterly cold morning and the funeral cortege took over three hours to arrive from Cloyne from the church in Ballinlough where he had been removed to
Some of the greatest hurlers from across the country were in Cloyne that morning to say farewell to the greatest of them all, something that they themselves acknowledged
And his former teammate and the then Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, delivered a heartfelt eulogy at the graveside
“As a hurler he had no peer. As long as young men will match their hurling skills against each other on Ireland’s green fields, as long as young boys bring their camáns for the sheer thrill of the tingle on their fingers of the impact of ash with leather, as long as hurling is played, the story of Christy Ring will be told.
“And that will be forever.”
He was carried to his last resting place on the shoulders of his teammates, one of whom, Paddy Barry, was heard to remark: “We carried him at last.”
One observer said that the crowd was the biggest in Cork since the funeral for ‘the martyr Lord Mayor Tomas MacCurtain.’
Ring has a special place in the annals of the GAA. He first sprang to prominence in 1935 when at the age of 16 he played for Cork minors.
In his 24 years playing for the Cork seniors, he amassed eight All-Ireland winners’ medals, nine Munster championships, three league medals and a staggering eighteen Railway Cups — when they were a premier competition. He retired in 1964.
His best guess was that he had played over 1,200 games. He left behind a treasure trove of memories but a small archive of interviews because he famously said: “All my talking was done on the field with a hurley.”
Nobody will ever dispute that fact, it’s 100 years ago today since he was born and little did anybody know then what the years that followed would bring.
Christy Ring was simply a one-off, he was simply the best.