DURING Christy Ring’s record- breaking career, spanning four decades (1939 to 1967), hundreds of tributes were paid to him by his peers, opponents, media, and fans.
After his death in 1979 the
testimonies to his greatness would have filled several books.
One such tribute, my favourite, came from an unusual and unlikely source penned by the legendary English journalist David Jack.
Coming towards the end of the 1954 calendar year the popular English paper Empire News commissioned its sports writers to compile articles on their biggest sporting thrill for that particular year.
Roger Bannister ran a four-minute mile, which was naturally a certain inclusion, as was Chris Chataway’s 13.51.6 world record in the 5,000 metres.
Another writer wrote of his attendance at the sensational ‘Battle of Berne’, the World Cup quarter-final between Brazil and Hungary.
Amazingly Jack, the doyen of sports journalists, travelled to Dublin for an All-Ireland hurling semi-final and penned a beautiful piece under the heading ‘Give me hurling every time’, which is included below.
Before quoting David Jack’s article in full, it is worth remembering that it was written for English readership and not for the Irish editions.
Sports people from across the channel and the oceans were known for exaggeration and patronising flattery which the editors of Irish newspapers were delighted to quote.
“My sports thrill of the year was at a hurling match.
“Ever been to one? I hadn’t until I went to Croke Park, Dublin, in August. And the match was Cork v Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final.
“Outside the ground a beggar with a sandwich board was making a collection. I dropped 6d in his hat — and read the wording on his board. It read: ‘drive the Englishman out of Ireland. Contribute to Sinn Féin’.
“I would have liked to take back my 6d. But I didn’t dare.
“The match was on. Right from the first whistle it was dominated by a balding, stocky, Cork hurler who looked the double of Sailor Browne of Charlton Athletic and England centre-forward fame.
“Christy Ring was his name, and I soon realised he was the idol of Cork.
“Every time this genius with the bent hockey stick had possession Galway were in trouble.
“From all angles and all distances he gathered the ball and with nonchalant flicks slammed it home for a goal or point.
“Cork scored 4-13 to Galway’s 2-1. Genius Ring scored plenty of Cork’s points. I can’t remember how many. But those he didn’t score he made for his colleagues.
“I read after the match that Galway were thankful that Christy wasn’t as devastating as usual — well, if that was only half a Ring, I must be in Croke Park when the bell tolls. That would be a sporting thrill to beat the lot.”
With his rolling gait and muscularly stocky build, he reminded his team-mates so irresistibly of the cartoon character Popeye that they nicknamed him “Sailor”.
But Bert Brown was never a figure of fun; rather he was an enchantingly gifted inside-forward who might have scaled the giddiest heights of the game had his career impetus not been shattered by the outbreak of the Second World War.
He played for Charlton, Nottingham, Aston Villa and England.