Humble Christy Ryan won it all for the Barrs: A great player and a gentleman

Cork GAA united in grief after the passing of a true dual icon
Humble Christy Ryan won it all for the Barrs: A great player and a gentleman

Dublin captain Tommy Drumm, right, shakes hands with Cork captain Christy Ryan, while referee PJ McGrath looks on before the 1983 All-Ireland football semi-final replay at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

SUCCESS as a player is rarely the measure of a man despite their achievements. Such is the case with the late Christy Ryan, who passed away recently at just 63 following a long illness.

Medals don’t define individuals though in Ryan’s case his collection is as broad as it is impressive, ranging from minor honours through considerable adult success with his beloved St Finbarr’s and in the red of Cork, too.

But, it’s Christy Ryan the man who will be remembered fondly as his former football coach Pat Lougheed outlined when paying tribute.

“He was a great man, a great player and a gentleman to boot. A gentle giant,” he said.

“Christy was a great friend of mine and I’m very sad at his passing. He was one of those players who never boasted about his achievements.

Christy was a normal, easygoing person who never talked about himself. 

"He just loved being around his colleagues. There are so many standout games where Christy is concerned, but one, in particular, comes to mind.

“We were up in Scotstown in the semi-final of the All-Ireland club and it was one of the toughest matches I ever saw in my life. And typically, Christy was brilliant that day, simply outstanding.

“He was full-forward on the Cork minor team in 1975 before we put him back centre-back and the rest is history,” Lougheed recalled.

Barrs captain Christy Ryan leading a lap of honour after their 1975 Cork County Minor Championship victory. From left: James O'Callaghan, Pat Russell, Anthony Lyons, Bar Long, Tom O'Connor, Liam O'Sullivan.
Barrs captain Christy Ryan leading a lap of honour after their 1975 Cork County Minor Championship victory. From left: James O'Callaghan, Pat Russell, Anthony Lyons, Bar Long, Tom O'Connor, Liam O'Sullivan.

Ryan started his adult career with the Barrs as a young full-forward on the intermediate team before becoming one of the great centre-backs in the next 10 years. Many regard that as his best position despite his versatility and ability to play in many different roles either side of the half-way line.

Club stalwarts reckon he competed in a remarkable 20 county finals, starting with the 1977 hurling success against great rivals Glen Rovers and wrapping up his football haul in 1985 against Clonakilty.

In all, Ryan won 11 county medals in the famous blue jersey in those years, including a couple more in hurling in 1988 and 1993.

His five football counties began in 1976 with victory over St Michael’s, continuing against Castlehaven in 1979, UCC the following year, and Duhallow in 1982.

Ryan won six counties with the Barrs in hurling, setting out as a wing-forward in 1977 and finishing at full-back in the side which pipped Carbery after a replay in 1993.

His other victories came at the expense of Blackrock in 1982 and Ballyhea two years later. It’s no coincidence that his time with the Togher club came when they were one of the dominant forces in football and hurling on a national scale. The first of their three All-Ireland club football titles came in 1980 following the 3-9 to 0-8 win over Connacht champions St Grellan’s from Galway.

The Barrs retained their crown the following season, denying Walterstown from Meath by 1-8 to 0-6 in the decider. And the Togher club were champions again in 1987 after defeating Clann na Gael from Roscommon by 0-10 to 0-7 in the final.

Foundations

Ryan also collected an All-Ireland club hurling medal in 1978, when the Barrs defeated Rathnure from Wexford by 2-7 to 0-9. The foundations of those brilliant teams were laid by all-conquering minor sides who completed the league and championship double in both codes with Ryan captaining the footballers.

During a long inter-county football career Ryan, who was also a Cork hurler, won a national football league medal in 1980. He was part of two successful Cork teams in Munster, leading the side on that famous day, when Tadhg Murphy’s late goal rocked Kerry in the 1983 final at Pairc Ui Chaoimh.

Four years’ later, Ryan bagged his second Munster senior medal, when Cork overcame their great rivals by 0-13 to 1-5 in the decider in Killarney. The St Finbarr’s ‘great’ was full-forward in 1987, when Cork reached the All-Ireland final only to lose to Meath.

After hanging up his boots, he became very involved with coaching and team selection until his illness.

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