By John Scally
On Cork hurling’s roll of honour pride of place goes to Christy Ring. In 1944 Limerick drew with Cork in the Munster Championship. In the replay the Shannonsiders led by five points with fifteen minutes to go as Mick Mackey scored a goal only to see it disallowed. Cork pegged back the lead to draw level and in the dying seconds ‘the wizard of Cloyne’ struck. Never were truer words spoken:
Now Cork is bate, the hay is saved,
the thousands wildly sing.
They speak too soon, my sweet garsun,
‘cos here comes Christy Ring.
Cork had won the three previous All-Irelands and were bidding to become the first side to win the four-in-a-row. Ring’s brother, Willie John, ran in from the sideline to tell Christy, “If you get the ball into your hand run with it because your man’s legs are gone.”
Seconds later Ring got the ball and made a 40 yard solo run, which has become part of hurling legend, before unleashing a powerful shot for the decisive goal. After the match Willie John asked Christy why he had not gone for safety and taken a point. Ring replied, “That would be too easy. Anyone could have scored a point.”
Christy was famous for his commitment to training. One story that has gone into legend dates back to the time his wife gave birth to their first son. A few hours later Christy was said to have been on his way to training when he was greeted and warmly congratulated by a neighbour.
When she saw his gear and hurley she said, “I’m surprised to see you training just after your wife gave birth to your son.”
Christy coolly replied, “I don’t care if twas a young piglet she had. I’m not going to miss training.”
For years and years Ring wreaked havoc on Tipperary hurlers. The great Tipp star Mick ‘Rattler’ Byrne said to him at one stage, “By God, Christy, we’ll have to shoot you.”
Ring calmly replied, “Ye might as well. Ye’ve tried everything else.”
One man does not make a hurling team – though Ring had his doubts. One Sunday he was jumping over the stile instead of displaying his pass as he went into a match. An irate county board official, a former team mate of Ring’s, caustically inquired where was the wizard of Cloyne’s pass?
“I don’t have it.”
“But Christy, you ought to have. You won no less than eight All-Ireland medals.”
The reply was fast and devastating: “And if I hadn’t been carrying passengers like you, I’d have won at least eight more!”
Despite his interest in other sports, Gaelic games were Jimmy Magee’s first love. It was listening to the wireless commentary of the famous 1947 All-Ireland final between Kerry and Cavan in New York, the only one ever to be played outside Ireland, that that the twelve-year-old boy first dreamed of becoming a commentator.
One of his great heroes was Christy Ring, a friendship cemented during their involvement in the Jimmy Magee All-Stars which raised over six million euro for various charities down through the years.
Ring was not above putting Jimmy in his place. During one match for the All-Stars when Magee was not showing much mobility Ring barked at him from the sideline, “Did you find it yet Jimmy?”
“What’s that Christy?”
“The thing you’re looking for. You’re running around the same spot, Jimmy. You haven’t moved out of it.”
On one occasion the motley crew of Magee All-Stars played a match in New York. Before playing the team were watching a softball game and when they were asked to try out this strange game it was decided that Ring should be the team’s representative.
The Cork legend though feigned ignorance to his hosts. “Give me that, that there what-do-you-call-it. Is that a bat or a stick, or what do you call it?”
After he was told it was a bat he inquired with a puzzled tone. “Now do you hold it like this or like that?”
After been shown how to hold the bat he asked them to provide their best pitcher. When an athletic young man appeared he gave a mighty effort but Ring struck it into the stratosphere and out of the stadium.
All the softball players looked at him in shock and awe. Ring nonchalantly said, “That’s a home run now, isn’t it?”
Taken from John Scally’s new book ‘100 Extraordinary GAA Occasions’, available in all bookshops now.