Every Cork hurler should aim to match the fire, fury and sheer brilliance of Christy Ring

Every Cork hurler should aim to match the fire, fury and sheer brilliance of Christy Ring
LEESIDE LEGENDS: Jimmy Barry-Murphy talking to Christy Ring in an iconic photo from 1978.

THE 40th anniversary of the death of the greatest of them all was last Saturday.

Christy Ring passed away on March 2, 1979, and remains the definitive Cork hurler. That’s saying something in a county that produced Jack Lynch, JBM, Joe Deane, Teddy Mac and more.

Ring was a Cork selector in ‘79, as Cork prepared for a tilt at four in a row. They retained their Munster title that summer but were caught by Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final. Many would cite Ring’s untimely death as a factor. Even if he wasn’t the most vocal presence in the dressing room, he had an aura no one could match.

Ring’s tally of All-Irelands was astonishing, even if Kilkenny set new standards in the modern era. After graduating from minor in 1939 he was the heart of the Cork teams in the 1940s and ‘50s that lifted Liam McCarthy eight times.

When you add in his haul as a selector, the Cloyne native was involved in 11 senior All-Irelands. Since ‘79 Cork have actually only won the title on six occasions, 1984 and ‘86, 1990 and ‘99, and back-to-back 2004-‘05.

There were two victories in the period between Ring’s retirement as a player and his involvement at management level, they were in ‘66 and ‘70. Overall that makes it 11 All-Irelands with Ring to eight without, since World War 2.

Can Cork finally climb the steps of the Hogan Stand again before this decade is over?
Nobody knows of course but that’s all that matters to the hurling faithful and it’s why the league isn’t being taken too seriously.

At the same time, we were getting a small bit restless after patchy performances in the losses to Wexford and Kilkenny. There isn’t any relegation this season, with Division 1A and 1B amalgamated and split evenly in 2020, but it wasn’t encouraging to get into a losing habit so early in the year.

In truth, Cork didn’t play a whole lot better against Clare than they had before that first victory, but they showed enough bite to retain the upper hand since 2013 over the Banner. Beating Limerick on enemy soil was a great result though, a real boost given the All-Ireland champions’ impressive form.

The Shannonsiders will still take stopping this summer, as they showed in a right battle with Clare in Ennis last Sunday. RTÉ put the spotlight on Cian Lynch in their highlights and his range of passing and vision was astonishing given the conditions.

His development from luxury forward, albeit one with some magical touches, into the heartbeat of an All-Ireland winning team has been a joy to watch. The physicality of Kyle Hayes and Gearóid Hegarty around the middle third combined with the size and aggression of Limerick’s wing-backs gives Lynch the license to move.

Negating his influence will be essential to derailing Limerick later in the campaign.

Hopefully, Cork can be the county to do that and atone for leaving last year’s All-Ireland semi-final behind them. As good as Limerick have been to date in 2019 it will be a big ask for them to sustain their intensity until August.

John Meyler, Fraggie Murphy and Donal O’Mahony are aiming to have the Rebels primed to play their best stuff later in the championship this time out. They’ve been slicker in the Munster series at Thurles than at crunch time in Croker in the last two years, which has cost them.

They were coming from a pretty low base after 2016’s losses to Tipp and Wexford so they had to hit the ground running. Perhaps they can pace themselves to maximise their chances of All-Ireland glory.

Gary Keegan worked behind the scenes to get Cork mentally tuned in for a two-year stint and now Munster and All Black rugby legend Doug Howlett is on board in a similar role. 

Howlett was interviewed by Denis Walsh in The Sunday Times where he explained what he would focus on with the group.

“Their preparations, individually assisting players in their match approach and mindset, while collectively developing a unity of purpose, passion and belief.

“I’ll be looking for any opportunity where we can make slight gains.”

Howlett is a Commercial Manager with Munster and studied in UCC to upskill when he retired from rugby. Indeed he was present last week when a new four-year sports strategy was launched in the College.

The timing couldn’t have been better for UCC, coming in the wake of a unique soccer-football-hurling treble in the Collingwood, Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cups. That Fitz success was a genuine boost for the Cork core in the side, after the frustration of last year’s U21 All-Ireland final loss when Cork were unbackable favourites.

It doesn’t make Mark Coleman, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Shane Kingston or anyone else involved a better hurler, but it has to lift their confidence. It was the same with Midleton CBS’ Harty Cup victory, which will increase the self-belief of whatever players eventually step up to senior for Cork.

There’s no doubt that the new breed of Rebel has the pace, skill and swagger of your prototype Cork hurler, but it appears there’s more balance to the squad since Meyler and his selectors recalled a few older faces. 

While Aidan Walsh, Stephen McDonnell and Cormac Murphy might not start too many championship ties they are viable options and if nothing else will make training more of a battleground.

It would be remiss of the senior management not to tap into the minors and U21s coming through but a few gnarly veterans can keep things interesting in A versus B games. When we talk about the strength of a squad we’re often referring to the quality of the subs that are available to be introduced.

No doubt that’s vital for any successful team but if there is no cutting or spite to training games then you will struggle with the white heat of matches.

Limerick unquestionably have that and it’s why John Kiely is able to incentivise players to do well at training. It’s hot and heavy enough to gauge who merits game-time after.

When all their hurlers are available, Cork should be able to do the same.

More in this section

Sponsored Content