NEXT October marks the anniversary of the birth of Christy Ring, arguably Ireland’s greatest hurler and an avid supporter of boxing.
Ring arrived in Blackpool from Cloyne and won All-Ireland medals, Railway Cup titles and a first County Senior Championship with the famed Glen Rovers eight-in-a-row hurling team of the 1930s and early 1940s.
From an early age, Ring expressed a keen interest in world heavyweight boxing and could rattle off all the champions from John L Sullivan’s reign to his favourite, Muhammad Ali, or as Ring referred to the 1960 Olympic gold medallist, Clay.
Ring struck up an enduring friendship with the hurling trainer Mickey O’Brien after arriving in Blackpool. O’Brien teamed up with Glen Rovers from the Glen Boxing Club where he was one of the coaches who succeeded the club’s first trainer, the acclaimed Irish heavyweight champion Pakey O’Mahony.
O’Brien had the capacity to gets teams in top shape and was as a leading masseuse in his day. Ring gravitated toward the trainer and took full advantage of his advanced knowledge of physical fitness.
Ring was a regular caller to the Glen BC in Springlane at the time and worked the bags, skipped the ropes with the best of them and ran through the Glen side under the supervision of O’Brien.
At the time, Blackpool was a close-knit community, but Ring slotted in immediately. In the hurling club’s history, “The Spirit of the Glen”, Ring remarked that he was accepted with open arms from day one.
“This is an honour which I will always cherish, and the more I became part of the club the greater my appreciation and enthusiasm was for the loyalty shown by club members at all levels, he said.
“When I happened to stray out to Blackpool, I was a stranger, but I was accepted as one of their own.”
Meanwhile, the Glen Boxing Club celebrated their first Senior Elite boxing champion after Gunner Murray beat Pete McGuire on March 1, 1947 to secure the 57kg belt.
Murray was putting in a final training session the night before departing for Dublin’s National Stadium. But all activity stopped when Ring visited the club to wish Murray well and express confidence that the featherweight belt was coming back to Cork.
Murray beat McGuire on points at the home of Irish boxing and was congratulated by Fianna Fail chief seconds Jack Lynch who was at ringside in the Stadium.
Amongst Ring’s other friends involved in hurling and boxing were Paddy 'The Champ' Martin, Kid Cronin, John Martin, Denis O’Riordan and Tom O’Donoghue.
Most of the Glen’s young boxers would pack their small clubhouse when Ring was doing his winter training with the boxing unit.
He was also a regular at tournaments at City Hall and was at the venue the night Paddy Martin defeated the Jamaican champion Joe Bygraves.
Ring also followed the career of Leeside middleweight Mick Leahy. Following Leahy’s British middleweight title win in 1963, Ring was the first to congratulate the champion on his return to Cork on Blackpool bridge where a famous photograph illustrates the day the Glen’s greatest hurler met the Glen’s greatest boxer.
In the winter months, Ring continued to train with the boxers to improve his fitness. In 1962, Glen Rovers departed their old field in Kilbarry and occupied a new ground in Springlane known as the Nurseries.
At this point, Ring’s old trainer Mickey O’Brien had retired after leading the club to an astonishing 13 Senior County titles. He also trained the Cork minors, who were led by Johnny Clifford, to an All-Ireland minor title.
In 1964, at 44 years of age, Ring captained the Glen in his last County final and helped beat their old rivals St Finbarr’s, with Ring, the top scorer in the game, contributing a goal and four points.
When the team arrived back in Blackpool with the cup, the first thing Ring did was visit his former trainer Mickey O’Brien in Springlane.
O’Brien was thrilled to see Ring as were his two young nephews.
Those two young men were Michael O’Brien, the current President of the Cork County Boxing Board, and Billy Lynch who has served the Glen Rovers hurling club in many capacities and is part of their male choir to this day.
Ring’s forthcoming centenary will invoke many fond memories of his time spent with the hurlers and the Glen BC, Ireland oldest boxing club, and that iconic photograph with Mick Leahy on Blackpool bridge.
Leahy famously beat the legendary Sugar Ray Robinson in Scotland in 1964, but had the grace to admit that Sugar Ray, generally considered the greatest pound-for-pound fighter of all time, was way past his best.
Muhammad Ali, Ring’s hero, once said that Harlem stylist Sugar Ray was his hero.