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'Christy Ring unleashed a devastating display of hurling to score 3 goals in a 4-minute spell'

Read an extract from Semple Stadium: Field of Legends by Liam Ó Donnchú.

THE FOLLOWING PASSAGE is an extract from Semple Stadium: Field of Legends by Liam Ó Donnchú. 

When Ring Was King

1944 The Great Bicycle Finals: Munster Senior Hurling Final

The Munster final between Cork and Limerick was played at Thurles Sportsfield on 16 July. Seldom had a contest gripped the imagination of the hurling public to the same extent as this one.

Cork were going for three in a row in Munster and their fourth consecutive All-Ireland. Because of the war and ‘Emergency’ travel restrictions, the bicycle was the mode of conveyance for 80% of the attendance of 20,000, so this came to be known as ‘The Great Bicycle Final’.

On the Saturday afternoon the ordinary rail and bus services were bursting at the seams when they arrived in Thurles, and later in the evening hordes of cyclists joined them; soon all the hotels and boarding houses were taken up.

Fortunately, the weather was kind so the latecomers were able to sleep in the open air or in some convenient hay barn or outhouse.

From dawn on Sunday morning, all roads leading to the town were black with lines of cyclists and horse-drawn vehicles of every description stretching back for forty miles. Nor were the foot-slogging brigade outnumbered; indeed many walked all the way from Limerick.

By midday the scene in Thurles was unforgettable. Under the broiling sun, Liberty Square presented an old-world atmosphere, chock-a-block with bicycles. There were cycle parks in every street.

The day was glorious and the match was a cracker. Mick Mackey, who had been playing senior hurling for Limerick since 1929, was on fire, whipping over points from acute angles and pitching in with two goals. After scoring his second one, he ambled past his marker, 22-year-old debutant Con Murphy, a future president of the GAA, and smilingly commented, ‘They’ll surely be taking you off now.’

Johnny Quirke, Blackrock, scored his third goal in the final minutes to pull Cork a point clear, but at the death, Dick Stokes equalised for Limerick, 6-7 to 4-13.

The replay back in Thurles on 30 July caused huge excitement as well. With the country ravaged by war-time petrol restrictions, thousands set off for Thurles Sportsfield by every improvised means of transport, and once again the footsloggers took to the roads.

65-year-old Peter Ryan from Lisnagry, Limerick, walked the 35 miles to Thurles – such was the spirit of the times. 18,000 spectators turned up, an estimated 15,000 of them on bicycles.

Hard to believe, but the replay was every bit as good as the drawn game. These were two of the finest hurling games ever played.

With seven minutes left in the match, it looked as if Cork were done for. Trailing by four points, Mick Mackey burst through for his second goal, but, in the days before the advantage rule, play was called back for a foul on him. Limerick missed the resulting free. Cork nicked a goal and a point to equalise.

With a minute left, Mackey’s effort for a winning point went wide. As the final seconds ticked away, Christy Ring collected a ball in his own half-back line and soloed to within forty yards of the Limerick posts, where he unleashed a rasper.

Amid the clash of ash the ball ended in the net to give Cork the verdict, 4-6 to 3-6. ‘Someone asked him,’ maintained his teammate Din Joe Buckley, ‘why he had not taken a point to win the game. “Anyone could do that,” he said.’ For those who were in Thurles that day, the goal remained a cherished memory of a wonderful artistic effort by a master hurler.

1946 Easy for the Rebels: Munster Senior Hurling Final

The 1946 Munster hurling final at Thurles Sportsfield on 14 July failed to live up to expectations and was really a disappointing day for the 39,000 attendance.

The game lost interest midway through the first half. Mick Mackey was the only bright spot on a weak Limerick team, but on this occasion, he was unable to cope with his fast marker, Din Joe Buckley.

With Mackey held, the Limerick challenge collapsed, and Cork, captained by Christy Ring, were not unduly pressed to win by 3-8 to 1-3.

The game proved that the experience and guile of the ‘old hands’ cannot stand up to youthful speed and dash. Mackey’s sterling inter-county career was drawing to a close, and this year also saw his teammate Timmy Ryan effectively retire from inter-county hurling.

1949–1951 Tipperary’s Three-in-a-Row

Tipperary’s fortunes changed in 1949 when they broke Cork’s stranglehold on the championship, beating them in a first-round replay by 2–8 to 1–9.

In the Munster semi-final, Tipperary beat Clare 1-15 to 1-7, and Limerick fell to them in the provincial final by 1–16 to 2–10.

The novel pairing of Tipperary and Laois met in the All-Ireland final. Laois kept in touch until half-time 1–5 to 0–3, but Tipperary finished strongly, winning by 3–11 to 0–3.

In the 1950 Munster semi-final against Limerick, Tipperary scraped past by three points to set up a meeting with Cork in the Munster final, which Tipperary won by 2–17 to 3–11.

Having beaten Galway by seven points in the All-Ireland semi-final, it was a Tipperary/Kilkenny final. The game was tough, but Kilkenny looked to cause an upset, leading 0–7 to 0–5 at half-time. Tipperary recovered and led 0–9 to 0–8 in the final stages. Two goals were exchanged and Tipperary led 1–9 to 1–8 in the nervous last few minutes, but they held on to win.

Tipperary’s opening Munster game in 1951 was against Waterford, and the Déise put up a mighty fight to lose only by a goal, 2-10 to 1-10. The semi-final against Limerick was much different, and Tipperary won easily, 3-8 to 1-6.

It was a scorching day at the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick, when Cork stood between Tipperary and three Munster titles in a row. Tipperary led 0–9 to 1–4 at half-time. The second half was hectic, with the lead exchanging and Christy Ring firing on all cylinders.

An amazing Ring goal plus points set up Cork for a three-point lead with one quarter to go. Ned Ryan got a goal back for Tipperary and points were swapped as the game neared its end. Sonny Maher then put over the winning points for Tipperary’s third Munster title in a row, by 2-11 to 2-9.

The All-Ireland final, which was seen by 70,000, saw Tipperary wearing Munster’s blue and their opponents Wexford, Leinster’s green. Wexford took an early five-point lead, but at half-time Tipperary had recovered to lead by a goal. The second half was all one-way traffic as Tipperary coasted to victory, by 7–7 to 3–9.

liam-odonoghue Liam Ó Donnchú

1955 Clare Surprise Cork

Clare may have had a lot of talent, but they were pitted against the vast experience of Cork in the first round at Thurles Sportsfield on 5 June.

Before a crowd of over 25,000, Clare had a dream start with a goal in the first minute by Jackie Greene, and another by Des Dillon later in the half. They were in a strong position at half-time, leading by seven points on a score line of 3-6 to 2-2.

Early in the second half, Cork began to make inroads into the Clare defence. Particularly effective was Christy Ring, and, with 10 minutes to go, the sides were level.

It looked as if Cork had survived when Ring sent over from 60 yards to put Cork in front. But then, the Clare hero Jimmy Smyth rode to the rescue with two points to give Clare a winning score of 3-8 to 2-10.

Clare continued to surprise when they defeated Tipperary by 1-6 to 0-8 in the Munster semi-final at Limerick on 19 June, before being surprised themselves by Limerick, 2-16 to 2-6, in the Munster final on 10 July.

1956 Ring Sparkles: Munster Senior Hurling Final

The Munster hurling final was back in Thurles on 22 July, for the first time since 1948.

In anticipation of a huge attendance, 70 crush barriers had been erected on the embankments, ensuring greater comfort and safety for spectators. 27 special trains brought approximately 13,000 supporters, and the atmosphere in the town was typical old-time Munster final flavour. Almost 50,000 packed Thurles Sportsfield for the spectacle.

This was hurling of rare splendour and must rank with the best. It had intensity and excitement coupled with a multiplicity of incidents.

Cork’s ageing team was pitted against a youthful Limerick side, whose speed appeared to be giving them the edge. If ever a match was won by one man, this was it.

Entering the last quarter, Limerick led by 2-5 to 1-3, when Christy Ring unleashed a devastating display of hurling to score three goals in a four-minute spell.

Taking a pass from Hartnett, Ring fought his way past the despairing tackles of two Limerick men and from a kneeling position, palmed the ball into the back of the net.

A minute later, he did it again – a solo down the left wing for his second goal.

The young Limerick team, shaken but undaunted, replied with a goal.

But Ring wasn’t finished, as he grabbed the sliotar from between the hurleys of two defenders and crashed home the goal that sealed Limerick’s fate, 5-5 to 3-5.

1961 Ring’s Scoring Spree: Munster Senior Hurling Semi-Final

Cork and Waterford attracted a record attendance of 42,824 to the Munster semi-final at Thurles Sportsfield on 9 July.

The game proved a rip-roaring contest which was balanced on a knife-edge.

An injury that forced Waterford’s full-back, Austin Flynn, to retire unsettled their backline thereafter.

Christy Ring capitalised on the situation, embarking on a scoring spree, registering 3-4. Ring lifted the Rebels and they withstood huge Waterford pressure to win by 5-7 to 2-7.

1962 Ring’s Last Hurrah: Munster Senior Hurling Semi-Final

It was appropriate that Christy Ring would play his last Munster championship game for his beloved Cork at Thurles Sportsfield; a semi-final against Waterford on 8 July.

Thurles was the place that, for over two decades, he adorned the ancient game with his unique and exceptional talent. He had amazing natural ability to deal with a ball no matter what way it came.

As he said himself, ‘I had fierce determination to win, I challenged for every ball, I was a great competitor, always out to win the ball’.

Off the field, Christy is remembered as a shy man who gave very few interviews. He famously commented: ‘All my talking was done on the field with a hurley.’

An extract from Semple Stadium: Field of Legends by Liam Ó Donnchú. Published by The O’Brien Press. Available from all good bookshops now, priced €24.99 

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