1997 When sport takes second place

Sometimes we take ourselves and our sport too seriously. I am not advocating a frivolous attitude to our games, far from it, but sometimes there are more important things than a stick and ball game. 

1997 was a disappointing year for Clontarf after the highs of 96, but during the year we lost a good friend which makes cricket almost irrelevant. Gerry Ring (from now on called by his oh so original nickname Ringo) had joined the club in his late teens.

He played on the junior teams mainly 2nds and 3rds and was a handy bowler and a batter who loved to give it a bash. However he was one of the nicest people you could wish to meet. A smile was never far from his face, he was endlessly good natured, good humoured and widely popular.  Added to the mix, he was a talented musician and singer, he was the one who would produce a guitar as a night in the bar wound down and keep us there for that bit too long. 

(Ringo and Susan Bray (O’Neill)

What sort of guy was he?  Well maybe this story will give an indication. The first team had an Irish Senior Cup game away to Sion Mills in 1989 and the captain, his good mate Alan McClean, was desperately short a player to travel.  Ringo put his hand up to play, however the night before the game was the opening night of the Irish Musical Societies annual competition in Bangor where Ringo and his musical society were performing.

Still, he came across from Co. Down after the opening night to play the game and help out his friend. We got a fearful thumping from a Sion side who had Raymond Moan and Bobby Rao in top form.  It was a game in which he understood his primary role was as a fielder before jumping back in his car at the end of play to perform once again that evening on stage.  That was Ringo.

He was an excellent fielder which leads to another memory. He was chasing a ball to the car park boundary in Castle Avenue one day, the ball just winning the race and as it hit the rope and popped up, Ringo arrived and beautifully volleyed the ball in a little fit of pique at having just missed out on saving the boundary. Unfortunately he volleyed it straight onto the windscreen of Edie Craig’s windscreen. Poor Edie who was there to organise the tea for Ringo and his team mates was aghast, Ringo apologetic and to rub salt in the wounds the ball skimmed off the windscreen and headed off across the car park and down the lane out of the club. A quick apology to Eddie and an embarrassing chase down the lane for Ringo.

The Clontarf gang at Gerry and Hazel’s wedding 

After he got married to Hazel, Ringo moved to Sligo for work reasons so our contact was hugely reduced.  While there were occasional visits and meetings, we were all living our lives when word came that Ringo was ill.  He was in Mater Hospital in Dublin where tests and eventually a biopsy would indicate the level of seriousness of his illness. We decided to visit him, the gang of lads who had grown up with him around Clontarf.

We were nervous, earlier that day the biopsy had taken place after all. We met in the canteen and before Ringo made his entrance we tried to work out how this meeting would work. Honestly we were at a loss and this was a group of people rarely at a loss. McClean, Prendergast, Forrest, Smith etc were all known for their ability to talk (at some length) but this was a tough one, what subjects could we broach in such serious circumstances.

When Ringo arrived there were brief discussions about the biopsy and how he had stitches in his side. “So, lads, no making me laugh please, I could burst the stitches”  We all nodded in agreement recognising that in this situation we all had a responsibility to our friend. At a guess this deal lasted about 30 seconds.

As often happens in these circumstances we resort to stories, stories of times past, of funny incidents, of people and places. Uproar ensued. Staff at the canteen were not happy, Peter Prendergast was asked to leave the area when recounting the tale of Edie Craig and the volleyed cricket ball. At one stage, tears in eyes, Ringo reminded us that he wasn't supposed to laugh “Lads, you're killing me”. Immediately the group fell silent, as Ringo’s reality was presented to us in the starkest terms.  

Then Ringo began laughing at his own words and the uproar resumed. We left the Mater uplifted but word came back the following day that the results of the biopsy had come back and the news was bad, as bad as could be. In the following months Ringo organised a fundraising concert in Abbey Presbyterian church for the Camphill Community to enable them to buy bells, his love of music and its therapy potential never far from his mind. Only when we met him at that event did we realise just how sick he had become in such a short period of time. That he could consider others at such a time was truly humbling. But that was the man he was.

Hazel and Ringo with Frances McDermott at Alan McClean’s wedding

Ringo died in 1997 and we made the journey across the country to see him off. At only 34 it was almost too much to bear. Hazel had lost a husband and their 3 daughters, a father. Losing a friend pales yet all these years later, we still talk of him, we laugh at the stories, we cringe as we remember McClean and Prendergast “accompanying” his excellent guitar playing, we remember his genuine smile and friendship. Perhaps this is what sports clubs are actually about? 

And that might be the end of it yet but sport finds its way of pulling people together. When Ringo and Hazel’s daughter, Lesley, came to Dublin and decided to play the game her Dad had loved in her rugby off season, she settled on Pembroke where Ringo's old friend Peter Prendergast’s daughter, Orla, spends her summer too.  The lovely coincidence has allowed us to remember her Dad all over again and give the old stories another outing.

There was plenty of cricket in 1997 of course, the newly named and sponsored Lewis Traub league (50 overs) was won by Pembroke who also won the Senior Cup beating the previous year’s victors, The Hills in the final.  

The senior league was won by Carlisle captained by an old schoolmate and good guy, Richard Davies.  

Clontarf, well after winning the league in 96, we were relegated to Section B in a disappointing year but let’s face it, there are more important things in life.