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Highlights on Off The Ball

Mackey or Ring? Iconic image offered fresh perspective by Camogie star

As Limerick and Cork prepare to meet in the All-Ireland hurling final this weekend, the Dublin Ca...

Mackey or Ring? Iconic image o...

Mackey or Ring? Iconic image offered fresh perspective by Camogie star

As Limerick and Cork prepare to meet in the All-Ireland hurling final this weekend, the Dublin Camogie star Aisling Maher offers a fresh perspective on an age-old question. 


I. 'Mackey or Ring? Ring or Mackey?'

The rivalry between Limerick and Cork has been epitomised in a photograph.  

Mackey or Ring? Ring or Mackey? Does putting one name ahead of the other hint at a preference before there’s even time to answer?  

An image from the 1957 Munster final, its allure even stretches into the minds of Kilkenny greats. 

“Christy was going off with an injury and he was going around by the back of the goal,” Tommy Walsh told OTB Sports, a replica of the photograph pasted up in his home, “and Mick Mackey, the great Limerick man, was actually an umpire.  

“So, Mick Mackey turned around to say something to Christy or the other way around. The big heading for many years then was what did Mackey say to Ring, or what did Ring say to Mackey?” 

Ring, a hurl in his left hand and the right arm supported in a sling. Mackey, in his mid-40s and looking a little stouter in retirement. Down on the ground in front of them a photographer from Sligo called Justin Nelson, capturing the moment. 

He surely saw who said what first. Was it Mackey, or did Ring initiate it?  

“Christy Ring, Ireland’s Babe Ruth of hurling,” the New York Times described him during a 1966 exhibition game in the Bronx. Mackey, the greatest hurler of them all according to Irish sports journalists polled five years earlier.  

Both men drove for a living, curiously enough. Ring operated a lorry for Shell Oil, Mackey a van for the ESB. 

Something, something, ‘energised the people of Ireland in more than one way then…’ Shite. What did they think about during those drives? ‘Mackey or Ring? Ring Or Mackey?’ No chance.  

Is seeing believing? Not too many remain who have seen both men play. It doesn’t stop everyone else talking though.

A retired Mackey and injured Ring photographed standing something close to still. Little wonder it continues to captivate.  

Aisling Maher


II. Aisling Maher, Hurler-Artist

Aisling Maher does most of her drawing in the attic.  

Music will typically be playing, or a podcast, as a camera positioned just above the table she is working on captures the process of creation.  

“Instagram seldom portrays reality,” she explains, the resulting videos available to view alongside the finished product which she will post on a dedicated page. 

She remains critical of her artistic abilities, but more money has been made creating commissioned pieces than she will earn playing camogie with Dublin. Maher sets herself high targets though.  

What’s the artist’s equivalent of an All-Star?  

Truthfully, the art has always served a complementary role to her sport.  

“Camogie has always been intertwined with my identity,” she insists. “Art gave me a little bit of respite from the training and intensity of everything else. 

“It’s a brilliant feeling though when you get to give somebody something and they love it.”  

The dichotomy of charcoal best facilitates her artistic sensibilities. A greyish, blackish colour against a white backdrop, it allows her to pursue a photographic likeness without sacrificing the signs of the craft.  

“I don’t like when you look at something and nearly cannot tell whether it is a photograph or a painting,” she admits. “It defeats the point of it.”  


III. 'Charcoal is very non-committal'

A hurley maker in Kilkenny commissioned Maher to draw him a copy of Ring talking to Mackey, or maybe Mackey talking to Ring, she didn’t ask.  

He had seen a portrait she had painted of Anne Dalton. She welcomed the offer, and the resulting pieces now hang in his shop. Accompanying the Limerick man and Cork man were a series of similarly iconic Kilkenny men he had wanted drawn too.  

Art replicating images of scenes most are already familiar with, there is an appeal to the hand-crafted nature of these replicas, these copies, these covers.  

It comforts us, perhaps, to know others are thinking about these moments too.  

“Any mark that you make can be rubbed away,” she notes of charcoal’s benefits. “It is very non-committal.” It allows her plenty of time to think.  

How many photographs did Justin Nelson take from his position on the ground of Mackey and Ring? Why did he stick with the one we know? Did the others reveal anything more? 

“There’s just great character in that photo,” she believes, the roguish smirk of Mackey, the half-hidden face of Ring. 

Is he turning to walk back towards Mackey?  

As she recreated an image captured over 60 years before, Maher wondered what might have been said to whom too.  

An All-Star Dublin camogie player who sells art works of iconic hurling moments on the side. It feels like that should be a bigger deal.  

Aisling Maher

IV. 'I warm-up with earphones in'

The rivalry between Limerick and Cork has been epitomised in that photograph. One could say a significant portion of the GAA’s history is played out in there too.  

Two Irish icons, their faces are perhaps more familiar than many modern hurlers with helmeted heads. Decades dead, Mackey and Ring continue to inspire.  

Gaelic football has its heroes also. The LGFA and its members have gone some way in recent years to shine a light on their rich history too. For modern achievements to have any meaning they must be set against some historic barometer.  

Aisling Maher worries what Camogie is doing to promote its own story, its heroes, its history.  

Sitting there in her attic, trying to capture the likeness of a photograph in two-tone charcoal, the camera records it all overhead. She is unafraid to show the frailties of her process, determined that she can work out any issues through hard work and patience.  

“I warm-up before matches with my earphones in,” she explains, her teammates aware by now that she isn’t interested in chatting. “I’ll be practicing frees with a high-tempo playlist on just before games.”  

Does Aaron Gillane do that? Or Patrick Horgan? It feels like we’d know.  


V. Revelation

Over a decade ago Michael Moynihan revealed in an Examiner column what is believed to have been said by Mackey to Ring, Ring to Mackey.  

‘This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.’ 

Maybe it is time to start telling new stories.


If you're interested in learning more about Aisling Maher and her artworks, click here

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Aisling Maher All-Ireland Senior Hurling Final Camogie Christy Ring Cork Dublin Hurling Limerick Mick Mackey