The Leeside legends series: Christy Ring was the greatest hurler of all time

The Leeside legends series: Christy Ring was the greatest hurler of all time
Christy Ring was the greatest Cork hurler of all time and, despite what they'll say in Kilkenny, the best to ever play the game.

HE REPLACED Limerick’s Mick Mackey as the king of hurling and his reign lasted a lot longer.

Nobody would doubt that he was Cork’s greatest hurler and very few would argue that he was the greatest ever.

Christy Ring: the man whose immense talent and indomitable spirit are the stuff of a legend. 

Christy Ring stands to attention for the anthem prior to the Glen and UCC quarter-final game at the Athletic Grounds. This was Christy’s 27th season in the Glen Rovers jersey. Picture: Kevin Cummins
Christy Ring stands to attention for the anthem prior to the Glen and UCC quarter-final game at the Athletic Grounds. This was Christy’s 27th season in the Glen Rovers jersey. Picture: Kevin Cummins

Not only did he land eight All-Ireland senior medals, he was a colossus in the Railway Cup when it was a hugely prestigious competition, a force of nature for the Glen in the Cork championship, and served as a selector to Cork's three-in-a-row winning team until his untimely death.

Born in Cloyne in 1920 he began playing his hurling with the east Cork village and even in those early days his skills stood out.

From his debut in Killarney in the All-minor final of 1937 he was destined to wear the red and white jersey of Cork for many years as he became Cork’s free taker from a very young age.

Tipperary’s John Doyle once said that such was Ring’s strength and courage around the square that three men couldn’t contain him and at crucial stages of a game he could whip himself up into a hurling frenzy.

At senior level he played his first game for Cork in 1939 and his last game in 1962.

Christy Ring after the Munster final against Tipp in 1952.
Christy Ring after the Munster final against Tipp in 1952.

There are so many stories about the maestro that are still talked about like the time when Limerick were two goals up in the final quarter of the Munster final of 1956.

Christy was being shackled by Donal Broderick for most of the game but late in the second half he unleashed three classy goals and a point that put the Rebels firmly back in the driving seat.

It was such displays that cast Ring into the realm of a legend.

Glen Rovers’ Christy Ring bursts past the Blackrock defence during the 1956 final at the Athletic Grounds.
Glen Rovers’ Christy Ring bursts past the Blackrock defence during the 1956 final at the Athletic Grounds.

On another famous day at the Old Athletic Grounds in Cork when at the age of 39 in November 1951 he scored six goals and four points against Wexford in what was one of his finest displays in the red and white jersey.

The key to Ring’s success was his self-belief.

It was also his ability to pass on that confidence to his teammates and that leadership made him stand head and shoulders above his peers.

Christy was the first hurler to win eight senior All-Ireland medals and his skill to be deadly on the ball was a constant threat to defenders.

Off the pitch Ring was a very reserved and shy person but once you were classed as his friend his loyalty and generosity knew no limits.

Outside of his club and county successes he amassed a total of 18 Railway Cup medals from 1942 to 1963.

Before any big game Christy would never practice taking a free as he felt that once the ball was thrown in it was only then that it mattered.

When interviewed by RTÉ in was asked had he any advice for up and coming hurlers his reply was amusing. “They should never take their eye off the ball even when it’s in the referee’s pocket.” 

It's a line that has echoed through the generations.

Christy Ring runs on to the pitch at Páirc Uí Caoimh after Glen Rovers won the 1976 county.
Christy Ring runs on to the pitch at Páirc Uí Caoimh after Glen Rovers won the 1976 county.

Christy was also a deeply religious man and mass played a big part in his life and his friend Fr Bernie Cotter SMA, who was his teammate in the late 1950s, was once asked to described Ring’s skills.

Fr Bernie said: “A golfer plays a variety of shots with a selection of different clubs.

“Christy had an enormous repertoire of strokes, the strong forearm drive at goal, travelling with torpedo like trajectory, the drop puck, the sideline cut- often of prodigious length, the overhead flick, the short arm unhookable, stabbing shot putting points over from a ruck and the lethal knee high double.

“All of these were executed off either hand with one hurley, but with a virtuosity which defied the limitations of the ash stick.”

His name lives in hurling history and the City of Cork honoured him by naming a bride across the River Lee The Christy Ring Bridge. After recent county final triumphs, the Glen team walked the Seán Óg Murphy Cup across that bridge.

Graham Callanan carries the cup over the Christy Ring Bridge in 2015. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Graham Callanan carries the cup over the Christy Ring Bridge in 2015. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

In his native Cloyne there is a bronze statue that honours him in an especially fitting manner, striding into battle with a hurling in his hand.

There is no doubt Christy Ring was the greatest hurler to grace any GAA pitch in this country and his achievements will stand the test of time. In the words of Mick Mackey, Ring could in moment of pure hurling magic change the whole tenor of the game.

His biographer Val Dorgan said it best: “In my experience Ring was so good I cannot imagine anyone will ever compare to him as there were no flaws in his game.

Fitting words to an incredible hurling artist!

Christy Ring in action for the Glen in 1955. 
Christy Ring in action for the Glen in 1955. 

FACTFILE:

Christy Ring is the holder of eight Senior All-Ireland medals.

He scored an incredible six goals and four points against Wexford in a National League game of 1959.

Ring won a total of 14 Cork Senior County hurling championship medals with Glen Rovers.

Christy Ring died in March 2 1979 at the age of just 58, which shocked GAA fans on Leeside and beyond.

Outside of his club and county successes he amassed a total of 18 Railway Cup medals from 1942 to 1963.

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