Ringy still Hurlings Warrior Prince

February 10th, 2015
by Weeshie Fogarty

Christy Ring was born in October 1920, ninety five years ago this year. Winner of eight All Ireland medals, Ring, possibly the greatest hurler to have played the game is commemorated in Cloyne his home village with a statue, another statue stands poised at Cork Airport, and in Cork city a bridge and a GAA facility, Pairc Ui Rinn, bear his name. I have just finished reading a superb hurling book by Dermot Crowe and Ronnie Bellow entitled, Hell for Leather, A Journey Through 100 Games and as expected in the publication fascinating memories of Ring are revived.

In a time when hurling's appeal has never been greater redefined in the past decade by a magnificent Kilkenny team, rejuvenated by Clare's 2013 All Ireland win and Dublins re-emergence  the game exerts an obsessive grip on players and followers alike. There is nothing more captivating than to park yourself before your TV during those long hazy Sundays of summer and marvel at the supreme skills, bravery and manliness of the players. Its mesmerizing stuff, compelling viewing and surly hurling is the greatest field game in the world.  Hell for Leather brings the reader on a memorable journey from 1887 right up to Clare's champagne hurling re-play win over Cork (5-16 to 3-16) in 2013.

I have vivid holiday memories of my grandfather, a Tipperary farmer getting the Nationalist newspaper (the Kerryman equivalent of that county) every week and turning straight away to the sports pages to read about the county's hurling fortunes. Then he would begin to hark back to all those legendary Tipperary men whom he has seen in action down the decades, but one name always came from his lips, Corks Christy Ring.

In Hell For Leather there is a brilliant chapter entitled, Ring the Merciless, describing in vivid detail how the Cork great had inspired the Rebels to halt Tipperary's push for a Munster and All ireland four-in-a-row in 1952. This was a massive challenge for Cork, tied with Tipperary then with sixteen All Irelands apiece, Tipp were closing in on Corks treasured record of four Munster titles in- a- row.  Selector Sean Og Murphy is said to have delivered an impassioned dressing-room speech asking the players if they were going to be the first Rebel side to lose to Tipperary four years running. Ring went out to give the former famed full back of the 1920s the answer he wanted.

It is accepted that the second half display in Limerick that day in 1952 given by the Cloyne wizard was probably the greatest of his colorful career as he literally single handed drove Cork to victory.  The champions led by 2-5 to 0-5 at half time but, in the second half Ring hurled like a man possessed. Tipp had no answer; they scored just one point for the remainder of the game as Cork cut loose to re-claim the Munster title. They went on to defeat Dublin in the All Ireland final, 2-14 to 0-7.

Two of the most iconic and brilliant hurling photographs I have ever seen include Christy Ring. One taken by Justin Nelson in Limerick following a Munster final sees Ring leaving the field injured, walking behind the goal, his right arm is in a sling, his head is slightly turned to the right, his hurley is in his left hand and he appears to be speaking to one of the goal umpires. But here is no ordinary umpire, that towering figure is none other than Mick Mackey former great Limerick hurler. Mackey, a huge man is looking at his former opponent; he is dressed in an open necked shirt and the mandatory white coat of the umpire tied with just one button. A supporter dressed in black Sunday suit is kneeling on the grass looking up in admiration at both men. It is one magical moment frozen in time, it's a delightful shot, but the eternal question has been and always will be, what words passed between these two renowned hurling greats? Of course we will never know.

Also included in this superb Crowe/ Bellew book with the chapter regarding the 1952 Munster final is my second memorable photograph which captures Ring in all his bloody glory. This brilliant black and white photo literally as the old adage says, speaks a thousand words. Taken immediately after the game, Ring the warrior king is pictured surrounded by a group of ecstatic supporters. His forehead is wrapped in bloody bandages, there's what looks like dried blood on his face and even though he looks completely drawn, haggard and spent, there's the hint of a smile on his face.  He is like a man out of the trenches of the first World War. A famous Cork shout I heard at a hurling final many years ago immediately comes to mind, "be a man, up the blood and bandage". Now I understand what it means.

Christy's right arm rests on the shoulder of a young lady, she is the only woman in the shot and has on her left lapel a Cork rosette and pinned on her right lapel is a pioneer pin. But what really catches the eye is the fact that her right hand is extended outwards and in it she is holding an old 1941 Kodak Box brownie camera which is facing the group. Is this the very first ever selfi photograph taken? The men in the photograph are as was the tradition back then when going to the big games dressed in Sunday suits, white shirts and ties.

In the final chapter, the epilogue to this compelling read the authors end by posing the most relevant question of all in relation to this greatest of all games. "The last new addition to the All Ireland roll of honor was Offally in 1981. What are the chances of new names been inscribed on the Liam McCarthy in the coming century? Can counties like Antrim, Westmeath and Kildare make the break through? Can Laois and Kerry add to their sole All Ireland titles?"  Wouldn't it would be fascinating to take a leap in time to 100 years from now and see if hurling has broken free from its geographical shackles.

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