Nicholas Christopher Michael Ring, better known as Christy Ring, an Irish hurler whose league and championship career with the Cork GAA senior team spans twenty-four years from 1939 to 1963, dies at Morrison’s Island, Cork, on March 2, 1979.
Ring establishes many championship records, including career appearances (65), scoring tally (33-208), and number of All-Ireland medals won (8), however, these records are subsequently bested by Brendan Cummins, Eddie Keher, and Henry Shefflin respectively. Ring is widely regarded as one of the greatest hurlers in the history of the game, with many former players, commentators, and fans rating him as the number one player of all time.
Born near Cloyne, County Cork, Ring first excels at hurling following encouragement from his local national school teachers Michael O’Brien and Jerry Moynihan. He first appears on the Cloyne GAA minor team at the age of twelve before later winning a county minor championship medal with the nearby St. Enda’s team. A Cork Junior Hurling Championship medal with Cloyne follows, however, a dispute with club officials sees Ring join Glen Rovers GAA in Blackpool in 1941. Over the next twenty-six years with the club, Ring wins one Munster Senior Club Hurling Championship medal and fourteen county senior championship medals. As a Gaelic footballer with the Glen’s sister club, St. Nicholas’ GAA, he also wins a county senior championship medal. He retires from club hurling at the age of forty-six following a victory over University College Cork GAA in the 1967 championship quarter-final. Over the course of his senior championship career Ring estimates that he played in 1,200 games.
Ring makes his debut on the inter-county scene at the age of sixteen when he is picked on the Cork minor panel for the All-Ireland final. In spite of victory, he is denied an All-Ireland Minor Hurling Championship medal as he is Cork’s last non-playing substitute. Still eligible for the grade in 1938, Ring collects a set of All-Ireland and Munster Minor Hurling Championship medals as a member of the starting fifteen. An unsuccessful year with the Cork junior hurlers follows before he makes his senior debut during the 1939-40 league. Over the course of the next quarter century, Ring wins eight All-Ireland medals, including a record four consecutive championships from 1941 to 1944, a lone triumph in 1946 and three additional consecutive championships from 1952 to 1954. The only player to lift the Liam MacCarthy Cup three times as captain, he is denied a record-breaking ninth All-Ireland medal in 1956 in what is his last All-Ireland final appearance. Ring also wins nine Munster medals, four National Hurling League medals, and is named Hurler of the Year at the age of thirty-eight. He plays his last game for Cork in June 1963. After indicating his willingness to line out for the team once again in 1964, Ring fails to be selected for the Cork team, a move which effectively brings his inter-county career to an end.
After being chosen as a substitute on the Munster GAA inter-provincial team in 1941, Ring is an automatic choice on the starting fifteen for the following twenty-two years. He scores 42-105 as he wins a record eighteen Railway Cup medals during that period, in an era when his skill and prowess draw crowds of up to 50,000 to Croke Park for the annual final on St. Patrick’s Day. Ring’s retirement from the game is often cited as a contributory factor in the decline of the once prestigious championship.
In retirement from playing Ring becomes involved in team management and coaching. As a mentor to the St. Finbarr’s College senior team, he guides them to their first two All-Ireland and Harty Cup triumphs in 1963 and 1969. At club level Ring is instrumental as a selector with Glen Rovers when they claim their inaugural All-Ireland title in 1973, having earlier annexed the Munster and county senior championship titles. It is with the Cork senior team that he enjoys his greatest successes as a selector. After an unsuccessful campaign in his first season on the selection panel in 1973, Ring is dropped the following year before being reinstated in 1975. Over the next three years Cork claims three successive All-Ireland titles.
Ring is most famous for his scoring prowess, physical strength, and career longevity. He remains the only player to have competed at inter-county level in four different decades. Often the target of public attention for his hurling exploits, in private Ring is a shy and reserved individual. A teetotaller and non-smoker throughout his life, he is also a devout Roman Catholic.
On Friday, March 2, 1979, Ring has a scheduled appointment with his doctor and former teammate Dr. Jim Young in Cork city centre. As he is walking past the Cork College of Commerce on Morrisson’s Island at 3:30 PM he suffers a massive heart attack and collapses. He is taken by ambulance to the South Infirmary Hospital but is pronounced dead on arrival.
Ring’s sudden death and the scenes which follow at his funeral are unprecedented in Cork since the death of the martyred Lord Mayor of Cork Tomás Mac Curtain in 1920. He is posthumously honoured by being named on the Hurling Team of the Century in 1984 and the Hurling Team of the Millennium in 2000, while he is also named as the Century’s Best Hurler in The Irish Times.