Considered by many to be the greatest hurler of all time, this gifted sportsman from East Cork won eight All-Ireland Senior Hurling medals as well as a plethora of other titles and awards throughout his 23-year career, writes Sean Creedon.
How oft I’ve watched him from the hill move here and there in grace,
In Cork, Killarney, Thurles town or by the Shannon’s race;
‘‘Now Cork is bet; the hay is saved!’’ the thousands wildly sing,
They speak too soon, my sweet garsun, for here comes Christy Ring.
Some lines from a poem by Bryan McMahon which sum up Cork hurling supporters’ love and reliance for the legendary Christy Ring, who died at the age of 58, 40 years ago this month.
Who is the greatest hurler of all-time? That’s a topic often debated when hurling aficionados meet. Was it Ring, Mick Mackey, D.J. Carey, Henry Shefflin or maybe current star Joe Canning?
Christy Ring was born on October 30, 1920 in Kilboy, about a mile from the village of Cloyne in East Cork. He was the second youngest son of Nicholas and Mary (Lawton). He had two brothers, Willie John and Paddy Joe and two sisters Katie and Mary Agnes.
Christy’s father Nicholas worked as a gardener for local landowners. When Christy was six or seven the family moved from Kilboy to Spittal Street, Cloyne – known to locals as ‘Spit Lane.’ One of the benefits of moving to ‘Spit Lane’ was that there was a GAA pitch behind their house.
Christy’s father Nicholas had hurled for Cloyne and he gave his son a love for the game by giving him a lift to various local games on the crossbar of his bike.
In an interview with Donncha Ó Dúlaing for RTÉ shortly before he died, Christy said that he was out on that pitch practising every chance he got – after school, after Mass, after games. Christy told Ó Dúlaing that his first memory of hurling was listening to the 1931 All-Ireland hurling final between Cork and Kilkenny on Radio Éireann.
Back in the thirties there was no organised juvenile hurling or football fixtures, so Christy played for the Cloyne minors from the age of 14 on. However, Cloyne didn’t have enough players to maintain a minor team and he joined the St Enda’s club in Midleton with whom he won a Cork Minor Hurling title in 1938.
Christy had made the Cork minor team in 1937, but was a sub in the final which was played in Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney, where the young boy from East Cork didn’t see any game time.
The following year Ring lined out at right half-back on the Cork team that beat Dublin in the All-Ireland Minor Final at Croke Park. Even though he played in the backs, the young man clearly had plenty of confidence in his ability when it came to free taking. With ten minutes left to play and Cork’s lead reduced to two points, it was expected that captain Kevin McGrath would take a 21-yard free awarded to the Rebels. But up stepped the wing back to take the free and he blasted the slitoar to the net.