Echo 130: Christy Ring's rule has passed through the generations

Christy Ring is the greatest sportsperson in Cork history as Éamonn Murphy explains as we celebrate the 130th anniversary of The Echo
Echo 130: Christy Ring's rule has passed through the generations

Christy Ring at the Féile na nGael Skills Competition at Ballinlough in July 1976.

CORK has produced generation after generation of great sportspeople across the 130 years of The Echo, especially in GAA.

Selecting a top-10 best or most influential athletes is extremely difficult, a list of the most talented hurlers to wear Rebel red just as tricky. Yet Christy Ring is an automatic in both categories. He’s the sports star most revered since The Echo was first published 130 years ago on Tuesday.

Ringy was an iconic figure on a national level, and despite winning trophies with Cork and Glen Rovers in an era with minimal TV coverage and no social media, transcended the sport in a way no one else did. He broke America long before U2.

CORK GREATS: Jimmy Barry-Murphy gets some tips from Christy Ring at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
CORK GREATS: Jimmy Barry-Murphy gets some tips from Christy Ring at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Outside of the GAA, he has two statues erected in his memory on Leeside and a bridge named after him. As Dave Hannigan wrote: “That the bridge named after him abuts Cork Opera House and the Crawford Art Gallery is appropriate, a recognition that he was as much an artist as a sportsman.”

Former Clare hurler Jimmy Smyth explained: “He would be the GAA’s Shakespeare. He was not alone a Cork man. You could never confine Ring to a county. Ring was Ireland. Hurling is Ireland. Ring was hurling. Ring is Ireland.”

He earned that status through a mix of talent but also incredible dedication and hard work. His grá for the great sport came from his father Nicholas but he didn’t even get his first proper hurley until he was 10, as a prize in school.

While he made his Junior B debut for Cloyne before he turned 13, as a goalkeeper, he was only a sub after being picked on the Cork minor panel three years later. In 1938 though he showed his potential and audacity, coming up from right wing-back in the All-Ireland final against Dublin to take over free-taking duty from Kevin McGrath and burying a goal from 21 yards when Cork were two up and the point was the safe option.

Paddy Hogan, who played in the half-back line with Christy Ring in the 1938 All-Ireland winning Cork minor team, and Donal Óg Cusack at the launch of Christy Ring: Hurling's Greatest by Tim Horgan. Picture: Neil Danton
Paddy Hogan, who played in the half-back line with Christy Ring in the 1938 All-Ireland winning Cork minor team, and Donal Óg Cusack at the launch of Christy Ring: Hurling's Greatest by Tim Horgan. Picture: Neil Danton

He wouldn’t take long to progress to the Cork senior ranks, featuring prominently in the four-in-a-row group of 1941 to 1944. His transfer to the Glen also yielded silverware but Con Murphy, GAA president, felt the 1946 victory was when he became a force of nature.

Up to that point. Christy Ring was regarded as a very good player on a very good team. From ‘46 on, he was seen as a match-winner in his own right.”

He’d hurl up a storm across the next two decades and then guide Cork to three in a row as a selector in the late 1970s before his untimely death in 1979 sent a country into mourning. What’s remarkable is that Ring’s magnificence has passed through the generations. His name is a byword for hurling brilliance.

Joe Deane with the Christy Ring Trophy for the best U16 forward in Cork club hurling, in 1993.
Joe Deane with the Christy Ring Trophy for the best U16 forward in Cork club hurling, in 1993.

The Christy Ring Trophy is presented to the best U16 forward in club hurling with Joe Deane, in 1994, one of the gifted stickmen to be honoured in Ring’s memory. His grandson Simon Kennefick has excelled for the Glen wearing a geansaí with Ring’s image on the front.

RTÉ’s superb documentary, first screened two years, ago guarantees his place in the pantheon of hurling greats. He wasn’t interviewed very often but even now his insights into the game are relevant for any young player.

Geraled McCarthy putting the finishing touches to the Christy Ring trophy. Picture: Maurice O'Mahony
Geraled McCarthy putting the finishing touches to the Christy Ring trophy. Picture: Maurice O'Mahony

RING ON...

PRACTICING:

“There is no such thing as practice. There is such a thing as hard work. Hurling is hard work, it’s like carrying 100 bricks before you put one up. You must learn to carry them first. Then you’ll put them up.

“You must work step by step. The hardest things that you must do in training will serve you well in the game because you’ll never be asked to do them as hard again. 

I got down to hard training and eventually wound up enjoying doing the hard thing. 

"And when you are talking about hurling, the easy way happens in a game. But of course, it only seems easy because you have been doing the hard things in training.”

Cork hurler Christy Ring in action for Munster. Picture: Connolly Collection/SPORTSFILE
Cork hurler Christy Ring in action for Munster. Picture: Connolly Collection/SPORTSFILE

BEING THE BEST:

“Modesty is not saying you’re no good when you know you are. It’s knowing how good you are and what your weaknesses are. During my playing career, I met a lot of players that were faster, taller, and better in several ways but to be good hurler, you have to have something the others haven’t got.

“I had that strength. I never met anybody physically stronger than myself. I achieved this strength by hard, physical training. Allied to this, I had fierce determination when going for a ball.

I would go through a stone wall to get a 50-50 ball. I would stop at nothing. My strength was largely hidden because I wasn’t a big fellow. 

"I never weighed less than 13 stone. I knew that weighing 13 stone and travelling at speed, I could take on any player. I only used my strength when needed.

“All round physical strength was my best weapon. I never did weightlifting or anything like that to develop this strength, l had it automatically and I’d say it was in the mind; 75 percent of everything is in the mind and it’s mind that counts.

“Most times, if you get the better of your opponents, the rest takes care of itself. When you are playing games a while, you have great confidence in yourself, if you are really a great player. You actually put it up to the other fellow. It’s like saying to your opponent, ‘that’s the ball and l am going to get it’. You let him make up his own mind but if you are really good you’ll get it... you have eight or nine skills that you have really perfected and you decided that you are going to use one or more of them. The game is all about confidence in what you have learned.”

Christy Ring seen her displaying his collection of medals; bottom are his eight All-Ireland senior medals.
Christy Ring seen her displaying his collection of medals; bottom are his eight All-Ireland senior medals.

HIS BIGGEST SUCCESS:

“The greatest win we ever had was against Tipperary in the 1952 Munster final. We went into Limerick in 1952 and we had trained hard, we had 10 changes from the year before. From a Corkman’s point of view, we said we were going out there to play for Cork, and when you play for Cork there’s no looking back. We played that day in Limerick but it was with heavy heart we came to Carrigtwohill that morning when Mattie Fuohy said he wasn’t playing.

“Mattie, I reckon, is the best man on our team. No doubt about it. Mattie is the man. We threw Wille John (Daly) back and we were short a forward, but when the full-time whistle blew in Limerick there were two points in it. I think that was a great achievement for this Cork. There were some of them new and some of them never hit a ball in a Munster final, but that day they hit them harder than any Cork team that came before.”

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