THERE can’t have been too many people with Liverpool leanings to have taken on the role of Manchester United’s kitman, but Mick Ring’s professionalism can be assured at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
More so than the Reds, Ring’s real love is Cork City, where he has been kitman for the past five seasons as the club have enjoyed success under John Caulfield. It was through Roy Keane, via Caulfield, that the request came for the Anglesea St-based garda to look after the famous red, white and black strips.
“It happened early on,” he says, “there were meetings about the organisation, it might have been the day of the launch actually, John Caulfield rang and said Roy Keane had been on to him.
“Now, Roy wouldn’t know me at all but he asked John if his kitman would look after it. I actually had to say no first as I was looking at the training schedule in work and I thought I’d be away but thankfully things worked out and I was delighted to be able to do it.
“Our physios – Gráinne Desmond, Joe Normoyle and Kevin O’Brien – are involved too on the United side, helping them out with whatever medical needs they have.
“The Celtic and Ireland kitman for the game is Malcolm Slattery, who’s actually the Shamrock Rovers kitman. He works for Toplion, who have the New Balance brand in Ireland, and they’re doing the kits for them.”
Ring got to work with Liam Miller during his one campaign with City in 2015, but he says the midfielder was as far removed from a prima donna as possible in terms of kit foibles.
“You do have some guys that come and have quirky things,” he says.
“A lot of it is straightforward and doable but Liam was totally normal, no demands at all, you’d never have thought that he played at the level he had.
“There was a real modesty there.”
Just prior to the interview, Ring had received word that the Celtic kit had arrived for him to pass on to Slattery – Celtic kits will be worn for one half, with Ireland used for the other half – while he was waiting on the delivery of the new adidas United kits from Lancashire.
In many ways, while today’s game is a bigger occasion than a normal League of Ireland clash in terms of sheer numbers, for Ring it’s a more straightforward outing.
Prior to City clashes, he has to liaise with his opposite number and the match referee to ensure that no elements of the kits clash, but things should fall into place for this. United’s new goalkeeper shirt for 2018-19 is green, but thanks to some foresight, the back-up blue outfit will be available for the Red Devils’ custodians.
“All the names and numbers are done,” Ring says, “and there’s not as much gear as for a City game.
“For City, I’d know all the sizes of the jerseys and shorts for each player and all the individual bits and pieces like who wears baselayers and who wants their socks a special way, but there’s none of that here.
“There was a list of things from United, so that’s all I have to deal with, and there won’t be as much warm-up gear, either. I don’t have as direct an involvement as for a City game, so it’s fine once I’m used to the surroundings.”
In a job like a kitman’s, pre-planning and preparation is all-important and this game is no exception for Ring.
“I’ve all that done,” he says.
“When we went down to Páirc Uí Chaoimh for one of the match meetings, I specifically asked to see the dressing rooms and where to drive in and out.
“It’s ideal, really, I can drive the van right in the tunnel under the stand and up to the door of the dressing room. In ways it’s a bit like the Aviva Stadium, which is the only thing I can compare it to.
“Some of the League of Ireland venues can be awkward in terms of where you can park and then moving the skips of gear, but this will be great.”
Kick-off today is of course at 3pm, but by then Ring will have the majority of his work done.
“They want me in there for one o’clock,” he says, “but that’s too late for me.
“It takes a while to get things set up and get everything right, so I’d say I’ll be there for around 11, I must drop a few things to the team hotel beforehand.
“On a day like this, you really don’t want anything going wrong, so you make sure you’ve enough time to sort it all.”
After a normal match night, Ring heads for City’s training ground at Bishopstown to launder the gear – following an away game, this can mean a finish of 2am or so. That’s another thing which he won’t miss having to do once Graham Kelly blows the whistle today.
He has offered to wash whatever needs to be washed, but the likelihood is that the kits will be used for futher fundraising.
And, while he is a Liverpool fan since childhood, there’s no fear of the United players finding prawns in their socks or shirts with the sleeves cut off.
“I’ve been a supporter of City and Liverpool since I was a child,” he says, “but I’ve never hated anyone.
“I’ve been at Anfield but I’ve been to Old Trafford too, the way I look at it with guys like Ryan Giggs is that you’d love to have them at your club. I’m from Cork, so why would I dislike a load of guys from Manchester?
“There’s huge respect there so I’m just looking forward to enjoying the occasion and rubbing shoulders with such quality players.”