Ray Cummins is a Cork GAA prince

Ray Cummins is a Cork GAA prince
Ray Cummins, Eamon O'Donoghue and Jimmy Barry-Murphy against Wexford in 1976.

AN article in the match programme for the Munster SHC opener between Cork and Tipperary last Sunday week contained a feature on one of the greatest Cork hurlers and footballers of all-time.

Of course, in that category there are quite a few names that spring to mind, but Ray Cummins was surely right at the top of the list.

The author, Seamus O’Doherty, a regular contributor on big match-day programmes in the province, recalls the vast contribution that the legendary Rockies player made to his club and county during the most illustrious of careers.

Every honour in the game was won by the towering full-forward and even to this day his feats are recalled.

O’Doherty wrote: “Ray Cummins from Blackrock was introduced as a second-half substitute at full-forward in Cork’s win over Tipperary in the Munster final.

“We had seen him play at left half-back in the 1966 All-Ireland minor final draw and subsequent loss to Wexford and in those games he was trying to emulate his father Willie (1939) and brother Kevin (1964) in captaining Cork to All-Ireland minor glory.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen but a stellar career was just beginning in those two games and what followed was a story of achievement unmatched. O’Doherty continues: “He was a left half-back in those days but by the time his senior career ended with Cork 16 years later he was recognised as one of the greatest full-forwards of all-time and right up to this very day."

His hurling prowess was matched by his football feats and in 1971 he was a dual All-Star and played a major role two years later when the Sam Maguire Cup returned to Leeside after a 28-year absence.

Ray battling the Dubs in '74.
Ray battling the Dubs in '74.

The caption for his hurling award that year after Cork had triumphed in the first 80-minute All-Ireland final read: ‘For introducing a new degree of subtlety into full-forward play. For his perfect co-ordination and wide variety of his attacking play continually setting up scores’.

The author goes on to write: ‘Ray’s career was laden with success but in an interview around 1997, he told Brendan Fulham, author of Legends of the Ash, that no medal won or victory gained had given him more pleasure than the friendships made through the medium of hurling’.

“Hurling folk are unique and nothing I have experienced binds people together quite like the love of hurling or the mutual respect of the honest hurler, whatever his skill level,” Cummins said.

His contributions to various Cork teams through the years are vast and would fill this page, and more if documented.

The author of the match-day article selects the year 1976, the first of the three-in-a-row when Cork were a side apart from all others as being particularly memorable because of the fact that his brother Brendan played alongside him in the Cork attack.

From this scribe’s perspective, the 1978 Munster final with Clare stands out. He won a penalty for Cork in the opening minute which Tim Crowley converted and subsequently had a huge influence on the game, easily coming out on top in his joust with the Clare full-back Jim Power.

The Clareman was eventually sent off for persistent fouling as Cork went on to retain the Munster title on their way to the second of the three-in-a-row of All-Ireland titles.

During his time on the edge of the square he faced some of the greatest defenders of that era, men like Pat Hartigan from Limerick, Kilkenny’s Brian Cody, Tipp’s John Kelly, Wexford’s Willie Murphy and Conor Hayes of Galway.

Here at home he had many jousts with Tony Maher from the ‘Barrs and Martin O’Doherty from the Glen.

In his conclusion to the article, O’Doherty writes: ‘Ray faced Tipperary on eight occasions in the championship between 1969 and 1980.

‘He was a winner six times, losing once and one draw.

‘He scored 2-11 in those games but the manner with which he provided scores for others illustrated a key part of his multi-faceted game.’

Ray Cummins and Ger Cunningham. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Ray Cummins and Ger Cunningham. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Hurling Honours

Club: Six Cork County SHC titles, five with the Rrockies and one with UCC in 1970, five Munster club titles and three All-Ireland club titles.

UCC: One Fitzgibbon Cup.

County underage: One Munster minor title, two Munster and All-Ireland U21 titles.

Senior: Nine Munster medals, four All-Ireland medals, four national league titles, three Oireachtas.

Province: Two Railway Cup medals, three All-Stars.

A few years ago, the great man was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the GPA and on receipt of that award he spoke at how humble he was at being selected.

“It’s unusual, very welcome. Any recognition from your peers is great. In a way, though, I’m not big into individual awards in a team sports. Why? When last did a corner-back get a man of the match award? It’s a team effort, and the team depends on everybody functioning to the maximum.”

Cummins never managed Cork and he never pushed himself forward as a pundit.

That was regarded as a pity because he would surely have offered a vast range of knowledge.

In an interview a while back he said: “I still follow the game closely, it’s something in your blood, something that you never lose. What interests me is how the game has evolved over the years, and how teams have evolved with it’’.

It certainly would have been fascinating to see him in action in the modern era and one has no doubt he would still be a hurling prince.

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