Ring of steel

March 31, 2004
'Maroon and White' profiles Tommy Ring, the goalkeeper turned poacher who was named on the Westmeath Topic Hurling Team of the Millennium a few years ago. One of the greats of Westmeath hurling is undoubtedly Castlepollard's Tommy Ring. A player who started his career as a goalkeeper, Ring went on to become one of the county's most prolific forwards, being named at right half forward on the Westmeath Topic Hurling Team of the Millennium in 2000. A distant relative of the legendary Christy Ring, Tommy grew up during an era when hurling was the only sport played in Castlepollard. Even though his father Cornelius died when he was just 10, Tommy regarded him as a major influence on his hurling career. A native of Cork, Cornelius came to 'Pollard as a garda after being previously stationed in Omeath, Co. Louth (where he met his wife Lena) and Moate. Tommy's sister Marian, who is also deceased, brought him to his first All-Ireland final in 1950 when Tipperary beat Kilkenny. In 1954, he went to work on his uncle Mick's farm near Charleville, Co. Cork. During that time, he played with the local Meelin club and benefited greatly from the coaching he received from John Joe Brosnan, who was also a prominent member of the Duhallow divisional board at that time. Ring won a juvenile championship medal with 'Pollard shortly after returning home in 1955. That same year, he represented Westmeath at minor level and was again eligible for the grade in '56. He also made his senior debut for Westmeath in the latter year and had established himself as the county's first choice goalkeeper by time the Leinster championship of 1957 came around. Ring continued to play in goal for the county team until 1963 when he moved outfield. He quickly established himself as a brilliant half forward and was a prolific scorer until his retirement from the inter-county scene in 1972. "A bit like the 'Jobber' McGrath, I started off as a goalkeeper, but my ambition all along was to play outfield. I eventually made the switch to the forwards in 1963 and that's probably where I played my best hurling," he recalls. Tommy regards the National League Division 2 successes of 1961 and '64 among his career highlights, but bemoans the fact that Westmeath didn't avail of the opportunity to play in Division 1 on either occasion. "If the county board hadn't lacked ambition that time, I think we could have gone on to win a Leinster championship," he claims. "It still upsets me when I think of how we were deprived of the chance of playing in Division 1. That would never have been allowed to happen if Eamonn Moynihan had been alive at the time. Eamonn trained us in 1959 and had served as county board chairman before his death in 1961. There is no way he would have turned down the chance of playing in Division 1." Ring continues: "It's not unrealistic to think that we could have won a Leinster title. Offaly were promoted from Division 2 in 1966 and within three years, they appeared in a Leinster final. We had fellas like 'Jobber' McGrath, Paddy McCabe, Jack Power, Pat Jackson, Brendan McMahon, Jimmy Carey, Sean Stokes and Jimmy Rooney playing with us at that time who were capable of holding their own in any company." Ring's most memorable game was the 1967 Leinster championship victory over Offaly at Birr. "What was so special about that one," he remembers "was that we got revenge on Offaly for the hammering that gave us in Cusack Park the previous year. They thought they had nothing to do but to turn up and fulfil the fixture, but we gave a great peformance to win by 5-10 to 4-8. I scored 1-5, but it was a real team effort overall." Another game which sticks in Tommy's mind is the Leinster championship clash with Kilkenny in 1960. "We held our own for 50 minutes, but they pulled away after two of our best players went off with injuries. Had the two lads not got injured, the outcome might have been very different," he says. Ring's talents didn't go unnoticed to the Leinster selectors who picked him for Railway Cup duty in 1960 and '64 (he won a Railway Cup medal in the latter year). In 1967, he was selected to take part in the Cardinal Cushing Games in the US. Tommy won his only Westmeath senior hurling championship medal in 1961 when he captained Castlepollard to a 2-9 to 1-4 victory over St. Patrick's in the county final. The following year he moved to Dublin where he played with the New Irelands club before returning to play with 'Pollard in '66. A short time later, he joined Kilmacud Crokes with whom he played out the remainder of his club career. Ring featured on the Crokes team which lost the 1968 county final to UCD after a replay, but that disappointment was atoned for when he helped the Stillorgan outfit to win senior championships in 1974 and '76. With the assistance of Cork man Dick Irwin and local schoolteacher Paddy Walsh, Tommy revived the Commercials hurling club in Rathcoole where he continues to live with his wife Therese. His son Connie - who is a well-known figure on the Dublin club scene - played with Commercials before transferring to Craobh Chiarain in 1990. Since joining Craobh, Connie has won three senior championship and seven league medals and has also played for the Dublin senior team. Tommy's daughter Eimear has also inherited his love for the game, having won three senior camogie championships with Ballyboden St. Enda's as well as an Ashbourne Cup medal with University of Ulster, Jordanstown. Ring has taken encouragement from Westmeath's progress under Tom Ryan and reckons they are good enough to beat Dublin in this year's Leinster championship. "I know Westmeath will have to win a couple of games before they can talk about playing Dublin, but assuming that game does come to pass, I'd expect Westmeath to beat them. People in Dublin would probably laugh at me for making such a prediction, but Westmeath have come on in leaps and bounds this year and I don't think they would have anything to fear if they met Dublin in the championship," he opines. On being named on the Westmeath Hurling Team of the Millennium, Ring comments: "Obviously it was a great honour to be included on the team. Westmeath has produced some tremendous hurlers down the years and this is something that can never be taken away from you."

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