A much-anticipated documentary about Cork hurler Christy Ring was the subject of some lively chat on Today with Claire Byrne. Christy Ring: Man and Ball is made by Crossing The Line Films, the company behind The Game, a three-part series on the history of hurling. Paul Rouse, GAA historian and author of The Hurlers and Diarmuid O’Donovan, member of Ring’s old club Glen Rovers and an associate on the new documentary joined Claire for a chat about the man, the ball and the legend.
The enormity of Christy Ring’s fame was the starting point of their discussion. As Paul Rouse describes it, Ring enjoys a status which transcends hurling:
“In Irish popular culture, the name of Christy Ring, because of how he’s sung about, because of the books that have been written on him, it passed out into wider society and wider lore. And there are very few sports people whose name transcends the generations, and Christy Ring’s name transcends the generations.”
Diarmuid O’Donovan says Christy Ring’s confidence as a player built up over time:
“When he started out, he was the same as any other boy. When he was a minor, he was quite nervous about going to Croke Park, about playing with Cork. But over the years, as he played and as he got more experience, he became very confident in his own ability. And he worked very hard to do that.”
Christy’s had a job delivering oil to petrol stations around the country during the week, but Diarmuid says he became something else entirely at the weekend:
“He was an ordinary person doing extraordinary things on a Sunday.”
The chat touched on a painful incident which is said to have led Christy and his brothers to leave their local club at Cloyne behind. Part of the reason Christy left was down to his search for work in Cork City and Diarmuid says he’s no wiser as to the exact cause of the Cloyne disagreement:
“What the actual argument was, we will never know at this stage.”
Paul Rouse said Christy was always on the lookout for a game, one to watch and one to play. To this end, he always kept the tools of the trade in the cab of his oil truck, just in case:
“The story of Christy Ring is the story of a man with a hurley all the time.”
Claire moves on to the knotty question: Was Christy Ring a dirty player? Diarmuid weighs in first:
“I don’t think so. I think he played in the context of the time. He had to defend himself. And he had to be aggressive because the game was a much more aggressive game on a man-to-man basis then than it is now, it’s developed into much more of a team game.”
Diarmuid said there was an element of self-protection involved in a game that was much more physical than it is now:
“He was tough, but dirty is a different thing.”
Paul Rouse acknowledged Diarmuid’s loyalty as a Glen Rovers man to the towering figure of his team’s history, as well as recognising the hurling style of the Ring era, but he says there were some tough encounters by any standards:
“I think the reality of it is, you must place what he did in the context of his times and the nature of the game – absolutely agree. But there were a lot of incidents and he was hard and he was utterly ferocious; admitted by himself as a competitor. The nature of competitive sport is that the boundaries are pushed and the evidence would suggest that it got exceptionally physical in certain instances. And there was bad blood.”
Paul recalls the extraordinary story of Wexford’s All-Ireland hurling victory over Cork in 1956. When the game was at an end, he says something unprecedented happened:
“After the game, the Wexford players gathered around Christy, and even in the defeat of Ring, they carried him off the field. It was seen as being a statement of absolute respect for what Ring was and what he had achieved and a mark of how important it was for Wexford to beat him.”
Claire, Paul and Diarmuid were united in their view that the documentary Christy Ring: Man and Ball is beautifully made and if you’d like to see it for yourself, it’s on RTÉ One television tonight, Thursday 17th December 2020 and on RTÉ Player.
You can listen back to Claire’s chat with Diarmuid O’Donovan and Paul Rouse in full here.
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