IT began in Cloyne and it ended in Cloyne.
Christy Ring never lost his love for his native place, even if it was in the Glen Field, in Blackpool, the home of Glen Rovers, that he developed his extraordinary career.
One hundred years ago today, October 30, 1920, Ring, the hurling maestro, was born and went on to become a legend of the game. His name still conjures up memories of the vast contribution that he made to the sporting story of this island.
The very mention of his name, 41 years since his sudden passing, in 1979, aged just 58, still has huge significance.
For the older generation, there is no argument: Ring was, is, and always will be the greatest hurler ever to don a jersey.
Far beyond our own shores, he was an iconic figure, an idol to countless numbers, and for those still with us who had the privilege of seeing him at the height of his career, the memory has never faded.
They say that the savage loves his native shore: That was Ring. Cloyne was always his shore, the place of his birth, the place where he first picked up a hurley, and where he served an apprenticeship with the game that is a never-ending story.
If your name is Ring, there surely is a connection somewhere to Christy, and very recently, his nephew, Willie, took time out for The Echo to recall his memories of the great man.
“Going back to his early days and I remember Michael O’Brien, the former teacher here in Cloyne, and he did mention it, but I had heard it from my father, earlier, that Maurice Spillane, who was the teacher in the school, put up a prize for the best pupil and Christy won it.
“Times were tough then, when Christy was young. My own father was older, but my grandfather died at 46 years of age, so there wasn’t much chance of going up the line in education back then.
“He went into Williams, in Midleton, then started driving, and was going to serve his time as a mechanic, but he didn’t finish that out,” Willie says of Christy.
“He played minor when he was 14, with the club, but Cloyne were going through good times and bad and it wasn’t until Jerry Moynihan came in, as a teacher, and he got it really going again.
“Cloyne hadn’t a minor team in 1937 and 1938 and he played with St Enda’s in Midleton and they won a county and he got onto the Cork minor panel in 1937.
“There was a great man in Midleton, Tom Powell, and he famously said that if there was a better young fellow in Cloyne, he hadn’t seen him.
“Cork won the All-Ireland minor in ’38 and he scored a goal from a free. He was over-age in ’39 and he came onto the Cork senior team after the 1939 All-Ireland, after Kilkenny had beaten them.
“I think, himself and Din Joe Buckley came on in the same game in the national league, so that was his start with the Cork seniors and he was there until 1963, when he opted out.”
Ring was born in a townland named Kilboy, outside of Cloyne, and the family subsequently moved down to Chapel Street.
“So, he lived with his parents opposite the church, where the hurling field is now and where his monument is now, the site of the parents’ house. The hurling field was the centre of attraction for every young fellow in his time and in my time.
“He could go out his back door onto the hurling field in Cloyne and my earliest memory of him in that field, I still remember it. My father, Willie John, was standing in goal and Christy was outside, taking 21-yard frees. He might have stopped a few of them, but one he didn’t and it hit me and flattened me.
“My grandmother wasn’t amused, but I was lucky that my father would bring me to the matches from six onwards.
“I can remember the 1952 county final, the ’Barrs and Avondhu, and I was at the 1954 All-Ireland final.
“In fact, Christy gave me his hurley to mind, while he was going up to collect the cup. That, of course, showed you how casual it was in Croke Park back then.
“My father and I were actually sitting with the Cork subs on the sideline. I remember all the games and you could be losing by a few points nearing the end, but everybody expected him to pull the rabbit out of the hat and turn the game.
“The 1956 Munster final, against Limerick, when he scored 3-1 in about seven minutes. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of Limerick people had left the ground. The match was won, but it wasn’t, as they found out walking out of the pitch.” With 14 county medals with the Glen and one football with St Nicholas, Ring’s life was now in Cork, but he always returned to Cloyne, almost weekly, such was the lure of his home place.
“Yes, he was in an advisory capacity when we won the county junior in 1961; my father was the trainer. He was with the ’58 Cloyne team as well.
“He’d come down every Saturday from Cork; he’d arrive in and straight out onto the hurling field.
“I was a teenager now, but there would be 50 or 60 fellows out there with him, playing backs and forwards.
“He’d be there with them for hours and he could be playing a county final the following day with the Glen.
“He’d always call down to my father. My father was the eldest and Paddy Joe, and they were always very close; my father and Christy, in particular. They would sit down for hours and the talk was always hurling, analysing the opposition, the Cork fellows, too, making changes if things didn’t work out.”
The aura that surrounded Ring somehow still remains; the name stops you in your tracks. “Yes, there will be arguments saying this fellow was as good, that fellow, but how can you compare times?” Willie asks.
“The only thing I can go on, from the mid-1950s on, the changes to the game, the rules, you’d see very good, stylish, fast hurlers and maybe the advantage was with the backs then.
“And for a forward to be good, he had to be able to look after himself, or else he wouldn’t survive.
“So, I wonder, with a lot of the players now, who were not built like that, would they have survived back in those days?
“People will have different opinions, but the fact that he didn’t play inter-county since 1963 and they are still talking about him, writing about him, that tells you.
“I remember, Liam Griffin, a few years ago, when they were making comparisons, he said Ring was the one man they all had to be measured against."
His battles with Tipperary are the stuff of legend. Cork and Tipp: It was war back then; fierce rivalry, fierce respect.
“Yes, that’s fair to say. You had that famous Tipp hurler, the ‘Rattler’ Byrne, a fierce foe on the field, who became a great friend to Christy in the years that followed.
“I stayed, myself, in the ‘Rattler’s house and up on the mantelpiece, in his house, was a photo of Christy.
“Jimmy Doyle, when he died, he had a photo of Christy in his wallet. Christy had huge respect, too, for Tipp and he once said, ‘Without Tipperary, hurling is only half-dressed’.
“He said: ‘On the field, they were our greatest enemies; off the field, our greatest friends’. Look at the day they buried Christy in Cloyne. On that Sunday, they were all there: Jimmy Doyle, Micky Byrne, Tommy Doyle, Mick Mackey, from Limerick.
“The first man I met in Ballinlough, in the church that morning, was Bobby Rackard, from Wexford.
“John ‘Kerry O’Donnell’ flew in from New York.”
Willie remembers Christy being a very quiet man, too. “Yes, he never drank or smoked. If he was back in Cloyne, he would go the rosary and he had a habit of standing at the gateway talking to old men.”
“He always kept an eye on local people in hospitals, went to see them, and went to funerals.
“He worked for Irish Shell and he practised all the time. He was very strong, had fierce power, and he carried a very heavy hurley. “He gave one to me one day to carry and I will not forget the weight of it’’
And his toughest opponent?
“I remember him telling me that it didn’t matter, but he said to me about Bobby Rackard and I won’t forget it: ‘That man will never hit me with a hurley.’ I thought that was the best tribute he ever paid to an opponent.
“ I told that to Bobby and he said to me, ‘I never went out to hit him, I always went out to play the ball’.”
Christy had great time for that Wexford team and was delighted when they won an All-Ireland, especially the Rackards
“It’s something that a lot of supporters don’t realise that when they were on the field, as John Doyle said, it was warfare, but off the field there’s great GAA people in every club in every county. Look, he was my uncle and I was so proud of him. I was a groomsman the day he got married.
“To us, he was like a god; there was no one who could compare. He was a perfectionist and he just kept on perfecting."