MICHEÁL O’Hehir once said “the name Christy Ring conjured up hurling magic in the minds of many” — and many of these had never seen him play.
Ring had what they called today the X-Factor. However, he could back it up with glorious deeds and magnificent scores at crucial times which often snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
Ring drew tens of thousands to hurling matches and made a lot of money for the GAA. Whether it was championship, challenge, league or tournament games with either club or county huge crowds flocked to see the maestro.
Neutral hurling supporters who would never have a chance to get a ticket to see an All-Ireland final would travel to Cork from faraway places to see “The Ringer” play in a Cork county final.
This swelled the attendance on Leeside as it became known as the little All-Ireland by the Lee.
Ring, with good and bad Cork hurling teams, always provided great rivalry for other counties in Munster Tipperary, Limerick, Waterford and Clare, while in Leinster Kilkenny and Wexford teams loved to boast how they defeated a Cork hurling team which included Ring.
In the 1940s, 50s, and 60s roadside amateur commenters were commonplace around the highways and byways of Ireland.
They all attempted to emulate Michael O’Hehir, invariably their commentaries focused on Christy Ring and the imaginary goals he scored in the most dramatic of circumstances. Often time was running out and Cork or Glen teams were in arrears. Huge local crowds would gather around the would-be commentator as he described in great detail the style, pace and veracity of Ring.
The crowds would roar and cheer and as the ball entered the back of the net.
Many would jump for joy and leap around the road such was the magic of Ring and the brilliance of the local commentator.
One of these commentators lived out in Rylane, the heartland of mid- Cork.
Jeremiah Duggan or Ger Duggan as he was known to locals knew every blade of grass in Croke Park. He was very familiar with the scoring goal as it was known at the town end of Semple Stadium in Thurles. He knew all about the old Cork Athletic Grounds. He could describe the dungeon dressing rooms, the famous cage and the three-corner corrugated open-air toilets.
Yet amazingly Duggan was never inside the gates of any of these venues. He had an encyclopedic knowledge built up over years of research from detailed conversations with those who were there. He was always in command of his brief and had accumulated a fast knowledge on Ring. He did masterful commentaries which are to this day legendary in the annals of mid-Cork folklore.
Ring was a man who always had his ear to the ground and got to hear of Duggan and his commentaries. With the assistance and co-operation of a local Ring arrived in Rylane in the famous shell oil lorry he drove in his day job. He knocked at Duggan’s door accompanied by Jim Cregan who was his lorry helper and brother of Denis 'Dino' Cregan the former Lord Mayor of Cork.
Sheepishly Duggan opened the door of the little cottage situated on a conacre. Immediately the surprised Duggan welcomed Ring and offered tea and sweet cake. Ring declined the hospitality but said he had a few hurleys in the lorry and would like to have a few pucks in the acre.
There was no camera in the house but within five minutes an old brownie camera was borrowed from Casey’s farm across the fields. This was a memorable day for the colourful commentator and when asked to describe later, what he remembered most about Ring, he said “ when he shook hands he had hands like shovels”.
Ring was a shy man but always spoke his mind. He was deep of thought but always loyal.
In the early '60s the nuns of St Mary‘s of the Isle school invited him to tea. That week he was featured in The Fold which was a Catholic Diocesan magazine. Sr Peter was the nun who invited Ring and St Aly's across the road was a secondary school renowned as one of Cork’s leading camogie schools.
She invited Ring to address the camogie team and he obliged. When asked sometime later why he agreed to attend the school Ring replied “when the Glen won theie first county in 1934 the jerseys they wore were knitted by the nuns in St Mary‘s of the Isle convent".
Ring had a phenomenal drawing power. His name preceded him throughout Ireland, Britain, and America. On one occasion while in the US he met Babe Ruth the legendary baseball player.
Ring and Ruth exchanged sticks in the high band stadium and while Ruth hit the sliotar high into the stands Ring met the ball with the bat on the volley and whipped it clean out of the stadium to the amazement of all around.
Apart from the huge crowds who attended all championship matches where he played, he also had an enormous following who turned up for interprovincial Railway Cup matches. In the mid-1940s to raise much-needed funds for both clubs, the Glen and the Barrs organised the annual Eucharistic Cup challenge match.
This was played every year at UCC grounds at the Mardyke on the night of the Eucharistic procession. While this was only a challenge game it drew thousands to the venue each year as the pride of the northside and southside was at stake.
This game always produced helter-skelter hurling with no quarter asked or given. Ring was the draw that brought about the packed venue year after year.
On a summer’s Friday evening in 1958 the Glen played St Vincent’s of Dublin at Croke Park in a tournament game. Ring scored three goals on the night and left the mesmerised attendance of over 30,000 people delighted they were there.
The then Bishop of Cork, Dr Cornelius Lucey, saw the marketing power of Ring and organised inter-county club tournaments. These were great games that attracted huge crowds with the proceeds helping to build five churches in the city.
In 1962 Francie O’Regan was elected captain of the Glen. O’Regan was born in Blackrock, played football with St Vincent’s and hurled with the Glen. More than anything else in his life O’Regan wanted to captain the Glen to win a county title. He made this known to Ring in no uncertain terms.
That year the Glen coasted through the first two rounds, however in the semi-final with 10 minutes to go the Glen were three goals down to Imokilly.
O’Regan told later of how he feared his dream would never become a reality and from corner-back he raced up the pitch and shouted to Ring “you got three goals with four minutes to go against Limerick six years ago” — this was in reference to the famous 1956 Munster semi-final and O’Regan added: “would you now get three for me”.
O’Regan said Ring failed to reply but he gave him a look that he will never forget and within the next six minutes Ring banged three goals and the Glen were in the final.
In that county final the Glen played UCC. The first game ended in a draw and in the replay, the Glen were two points down with one minute to go and with a last-gasp 21-yard free Ring rattled the college net and the title rested in Blackpool with a team led by Francie O’Regan who went on to publicly thank Ring for making his dream a reality.
In 1971 the then taoiseach Jack Lynch presented Christy Ring with the very prestigious Texaco Hall Of Fame award. On that special night, Ring was asked two questions by reporters, the first referred to a famous photograph of Mick Mackey and Ring. Mackey was an umpire during a Munster Championship game and an injured Ring with his arms strapped had to leave the pitch. As he did Mackey leaned over and said something to Ring.
The question was what was said. Ring smiled — reflected for a moment and gently replied: “Era it must have got lost in the wind.”
The second question Ring was asked on the night was what instructions did Glen players receive going on to the field of play. Ring replied you were told never lay down to an opponent, if you were struck you did not look to a referee but hit back even harder and if you saw an opponent strike another Glen player you immediately retaliated for him because if you hit one Glen man you hit the lot. But he quickly added Glen players were instilled with the motto “play hard, play tough but play fair”.
Later that year in September 1971 the Goulding’s Fertiliser company made a presentation of a parcel of land to Glen Rovers. This was converted into playing pitches in the heart of the Glen.
The managing director of the company Sir Basil Goulding during his speech praised the club for their illustrious success over the years. He then singled out Jack Lynch and Christy Ring as outstanding ambassadors who were known respected and admired not only in Cork but throughout the entire country.
Over the years Christy Ring did a lot of good work in a private capacity. Little of this work was ever known because that’s the type of man Ring was. When he first came to live in Cork city, he had a flat over the fountain café on the Grand Parade. Each morning he attended the 7.30am mass in the nearby St Augustine’s Church.
Ring’s history-making eighth All-Ireland medal was donated to the Augustinians. That cherished medal was then added to an artistic chalice in the church.
In gratitude to Ring's generosity, the church had special postcards made up illustrating a photo of the chalice and distributed this special souvenir, Ring's status was not that of legend, wizard or genius — Ring was truly an immortal.