Review: New show on Christy Ring an emotional tribute to hurling's greatest

Terrific documentary cast fresh light on Ring's life and career
Review: New show on Christy Ring an emotional tribute to hurling's greatest

Christy Ring in action for Cork against Dublin in the National Hurling League at The Mardyke, Cork on March 9, 1952.

CHRISTY Ring: Man and Ball is a wonderful tribute to one of the most iconic sportsmen in Irish history and Cork's greatest hurler.

There was pressure on all involved to deliver a show worthy of an icon but, just like Ring when he came up from wing-back as a Cork minor to bury the goal that secured the All-Ireland against Kilkenny, they didn't disappoint.

It's a labour of love, shaped with care and passion. It touches on all the key moments in Ring's career, but also shines a light on the man behind the myth.

That's no mean feat when footage is limited. The producers unearthed some terrific action of club championship on Leeside, while the use of colourisation brings vivid life to old photos, from Ring in his earliest days to a bloodied warrior on the cusp of retirement after a bruising battle with UCC.

The Echo Christy Ring special wll be reprinted by popular demand on Christmas Eve.
The Echo Christy Ring special wll be reprinted by popular demand on Christmas Eve.

Will Sliney, who has drawn Luke Skywalker and Spiderman while working for Marvel, and the original hurling king Cú Chulainn in his own graphic novel, produced some stunning artwork to link the segments. Ring the superhero, pure class.

Marking 100 years since Christy's birth, it's also perfectly timed after a few recent disappointments to remind us of those halcyon days when Cork hurling signified glamour and glory. In the third section, featuring his contribution as a selector to the three-in-a-row heroes of the 1970s, Dr Con Murphy recalls him sending the players off from the dressing room in Croke Park, hurley in his grasp and his other hand clenched into a fist with the battle cry: "We're from Cork". 

Naturally, the traditional sceál centres around his majesty for Cork, the match-winning goals, the eight All-Irelands and Wexford chairing him from the field in 1956, and his sustained brilliance for Glen Rovers, hurling in their famed geansaí until his 47th year. There's the detour to America as the Babe Ruth of GAA, but some of the best scenes here are in Cloyne.

The likes of Bunty Cahill and Jimmy Aherne take us directly back to his childhood, his natural talent but also his ferocious will to win. 

"He was earmarked from day one from the school team, a class above the rest," recalls Bunty. 

His nephew David Ring explains that when a prize for the pupil with the best marks in primary school was a hurley, a young Christy made sure he came first and got his hands on it.

Jimmy takes us back to when "the grass and hurley would be whistling with power; over the bar from 70 yards out." There were street leagues that revealed that tigerish drive from Ring's earliest days to the Saturday afternoon games he'd return to take tear in back in Cloyne even when he was in his pomp.

A standout sequence starts with Denis Coughlan, who hurled with Ring in the 1960s, recalling the time that legendary ferocious strength accidentally snapped his camán. As a replacement, Ring offered him a stick he'd used in the All-Ireland finals from 1952 to '54. 

We're then brought to Liam Walsh's in Lisgoold by Donal Óg Cusack. They craft a replica with suitable reverence and pure love for hurling.

ONE OF THE GREATS: Cork hurlers Diarmuid O'Sullivan (left) and Donal Óg Cusack at the Christy Ring monument in Cloyne, County Cork, in 1999. Picture: INPHO/Patrick Bolger
ONE OF THE GREATS: Cork hurlers Diarmuid O'Sullivan (left) and Donal Óg Cusack at the Christy Ring monument in Cloyne, County Cork, in 1999. Picture: INPHO/Patrick Bolger

Patrick Horgan, who took over from Ring as Cork's all-time topscorer, roadtests it in the Glen Field. Hoggie marvels at how small the bas is and how much more difficult it is to strike a sliotar with. Before then nailing the first free he takes with it!

Ring to Coughlan to Cusack to Horgan, tracing the lines through Cork hurling history.

Projected images on Cork City Hall, at the Christy Ring commemoration event. Picture: Michael O'Sullivan /OSM PHOTO
Projected images on Cork City Hall, at the Christy Ring commemoration event. Picture: Michael O'Sullivan /OSM PHOTO

Donal Óg later explains how the Cloyne crest has a star with a tear inside it, signifying Ring's birthplace but also his departure to the Glen. The former All-Star keeper gets emotional when reflecting on the end of his hurling career and this documentary is certain to provoke a similar response 

On one hand, as poet Theo Dorgan delightfully puts "word of mouth had stitched a suit of armour around him, he had become like something out of the Arthurian fables" but also a "dogged ordinary, man, who drove a petrol truck for his living." Cusack compares him to David Beckam, in terms of being a cultural and sporting figurehead.

There are a number of excellent contributors, including Jimmy Barry-Murphy, Diarmuid O'Donovan, Gerald McCarthy, Donal O'Grady, Frank Murphy, Ray Cummins, John Fitzgibbon and more. 

Glen Rovers' Simon Kennefick heads in for a goal against the Barrs. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Glen Rovers' Simon Kennefick heads in for a goal against the Barrs. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Another wonderful scene shows his grandson, Glen forward Simon Kennefick, recreating Ring's skills-reel from the Mardyke. History brought to life. 

Christy Ring: Man and Ball will be revisited time and again by Cork supporters. Fair play to gach duine.

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