It’s just after 12.30pm in the day when Garda Mick Ring takes your humble correspondent into his custody for 12 hours.
Don’t worry, there was nothing sinister going on – when Anglesea St-based Ring isn’t keeping the traffic flowing freely and safely, he’s the Cork City kitman and our mission was to shadow him for a trip to Tallaght Stadium and back as City took on Shamrock Rovers.
Kitman is to do the role a disservice really, if we were going all business-speak we’d call him logistics manager.
You’ve probably seen him pre-match at Turner’s Cross, out on the pitch pre-match with all of his duties done. Considering it’s a position so intrinsic to the running of things though, it’s one very much apart from everything else.
A lot of Ring’s work is carried out in solitude. The night before the trip to Dublin, he packed all of the relevant gear into two skips and assorted bags. For the longer away journeys, John Caulfield’s side will travel up the night before and stay in a hotel en route, but anything in the greater Dublin area is easy to negotiate.
Ring, in his Fiat Talento, supplied by Finbarr Galvin Ltd, travels a few hours before the team bus, with a quick stop for coffee at the McDonald’s in Cashel keeping him fuelled. We’d like to say that deep confidences were revealed and that next season’s adidas kit designs were revealed to us on the M8, but Ring’s levels of discretion are what you’d expect from a garda (or John Caulfield’s inner circle).
With traffic moving freely, we are at the Maldron Hotel in Newlands Cross (formerly Bewley’s) in next to no time. It’s where City have their pre-match meal before games in and around Dublin, but for Ring it’s just a quick stop to throw back some chicken and curry – physio James Peckitt is there before us, but everybody else is still travelling.
At some grounds, the away dressing room is rather tight and so the team will put on most of their gear at the hotel.
“When they finish their meal we’ll go into a meeting room and I’ll lay out the warm-up gear and shorts and socks there,” he says.
“I’ll bring the shirts with me then. We do it going to Drogheda, Bohs, Dundalk and Finn Harps, where the dressing rooms are tight.”
Tallaght Stadium is easily accessible from the Maldron. As the newest stadium in the League of Ireland, it should be up to the highest standards in terms of logistics, but driving to the entrance in the Fiat is prevented by the presence of bollards. Not an insurmountable problem but awkward, given the amount of cargo. With everything packed in an orderly fashion, unloading is relatively easy once everything is in the dressing room.
City kitman Mick Ring in the process of unloading the various items from his van
“I definitely like to be in the stadium an hour and a half before the team get here, to have everything done right,” he says.
“Ideally, I’ll have things arranged before I leave home, I’ll have the kit arranged numerically so it’s just a case of banging them up. All the jumpers are folded and ready to go, so it’s all pretty okay.
“Jerry Harris gave me the checklist he used to use.
“After a few weeks, I had it all in my head, you go into autopilot, you know what you’re doing and you go about your business.”
City are wearing their red third kit for this game, as both the green home and white away kits would clash with Rovers’ famous hoops. That’s a fairly straightforward one to sort, but if there are any doubts in the lead-up to a game, Ring will contact his equivalent at the opposition club to sort things. Goalkeeper colours have to be taken into consideration too – home goalkeeper is after away outfield in the priority order, with away goalkeeper next and the poor officials last – while the bibs worn by the subs warm-up must also be distinctive.
Mick Ring hangs the City kit alongside the Shamrock Rovers strip in the referee’s room, to ensure there are no potential causes for confusion
Each player has two shirts – most opt for two short-sleeve but a few, like Alan Bennett and John Dunleavy – prefer to have one long and one short. Additionally, some players opt to wear socks with the feet cut off as they have their own compression socks.
Warm-up balls and cones are unloaded too, as well as a brand-new clock Ring has purchased in Argos as the previous one has been broken. Water, energy drinks, Jaffa Cakes and Haribo Tangfastics are there for sustenance – though some of the latter are, shall we say, unaccounted for by the time the team will have arrived. Oh, and the tactics board.
In every League of Ireland away dressing room City have played in since John Caulfield’s arrival, there is a masonry nail, ready to have the tactics board hung on it. One of the backroom staff – who shall remain nameless, in case the league sanction him for vandalism – literally brought a hammer with him to every away game.
The music Ring plays is more than acceptable to this writer’s ears, but he has been sacked as the DJ when the team are present, with Karl Sheppard’s Spotify preferred instead. They won’t lack for room, anyway.
“This is great, it’s probably the best away dressing room,” Ring says.
“The away one in Turner’s Cross is small, but I remember a few years ago West Brom were over and I was apologising to their kitman, he said, ‘It’s fine, it’s better than the one in St James’ Park!’.
“This is ideal, you’ve a separate shower area, a separate physio area, most places don’t have the two. Sligo have a bigger one, but this is just better.”
With everything pretty much done, there is time to flick through the programme – Rovers give a generous allocation, it must be said – while Ring waits for the text from assistant manager John Cotter listing the starting line-up, which he will then fill out on the official teamsheet.
“This is the calm before the storm,” he says, “this is the neatest the dressing room is going to look for the rest of the night.”
The Cork City kit laid out, waiting for the team’s arrival
He’ll stay around the dressing room before kick-off, just in case there are any needs to be attended to, but generally things run smoothly. Afterwards, it’s just a case of leaving the skips out for the players to throw their stuff into – ideally turned right-way round. At one game this season that he couldn’t attend, he had the van parked outside Turner’s Cross and called for the skips at 10pm during a break in work.
With the skips back in the van, it’s straight for home, calling to Bishopstown to put the gear into the wash. He’s back in Inniscarra at 1.30am, a long day and just one of many in a season.
It’s the kind of organisation which comes second nature to a man who has played a key role in helping Cork City to become champions of Ireland.
Mick Ring’s father Denis was a founder member of Cork City, he himself has been chairman of Foras and sister Eileen has played for the club’s women’s side.
It’s a family steeped in the club but, with a wife and two young sons at home, it’s natural to ask him if he ever gets sick of his voluntary role.
“There are times when it is, like any job,” he says.
“There’s the odd day where you’re not too keen but once I hit the road for an away match, I’m grand.
“I’m thinking about the match and setting up, and the thing is that I’d be going to all of these matches anyway.
“This morning, I was playing cars with the small fella and wishing I didn’t have to leave but that’s the nature of it.”
So is there a long-term plan, a timescale on how long he intends to it?
“It’s hard to know,” he says.
“It’s definitely getting harder, having two kits. It was okay with just the first fella, Cillian, but it’s not fair to Sarah now.
“I remember going to Europe when Darragh was just two weeks old and I said, ‘I won’t go to Estonia if you don’t want me to’, but she said it was fine. Maybe she was glad to be rid of me!
“I classify this as a hobby, really. That being said, when every season ends, I’m glad of the break.
“Even that, at that stage I’ve the training gear ordered for the following year, it comes in before Christmas and there’s a good few days in sorting that out.”
Of course, if he had given up at the end of last season, say, he’d have missed the experience of being involved in a league-winning season.
“That’s the thing about it, you’d be kicking yourself,” he says.
“The day when we won the FAI Cup in the Aviva was brilliant and to be out on the pitch made it extra-special.
“If I was watching it on TV or up in the stands, I’d have been thinking that I should be out there. It was fantastic.
“I’ll give it another while, unless it gets to the stage where it becomes too much, but I don’t think I’d every walk away fully. If I had to step back, I’d still try to stay involved some way.”
Combinations and communications
Mick Ring has so many Cork City shirts that he has a website where they can all be viewed.
There are some real beauties and rarities which nobody else owns, so being kitman is pretty much the perfect role for him. In the 2017 season, he was able to kit out the team in nine different strip combinations – has he a favourite look?
“It’s not as exciting as you’d think!” he laughs.
“Some of the lads would be asking some days alright and I’d say, ‘Because I’m telling you to wear it!’.
“Sometimes it’s nice to see what certain combinations look like. I like the away kit, the white shirts, green shorts and white socks, it’s nice with the green socks too.
“When we had red away kits, we couldn’t really mix and match, so it is kind of handy. Even if your white shorts weren’t ready, for whatever reason, you can throw in the green and it wouldn’t make that much of a difference.”
The nine different kit combinations worn by Cork City in 2017
Perhaps surprisingly, there are no real bizarre kit superstitions within the dressing room.
“Some guys change shirts at half-time, but that’s more of a comfort thing than anything else,” he says.
“A few fellas wear baselayers, some fellas cut socks, but again that’s more for comfort. If any fellas have superstitions, they’ve kept them quiet. I haven’t got the blame for anything going wrong, not yet anyway!”
Like goalkeepers, there is an unofficial kitmen’s union, with nuggets traded on a WhatsApp group.
“A few of us will bang information back and forth, even contacts for different places,” he says.
“A club you mightn’t have been to in a while, say – like Drogheda this year, we hadn’t played them in a few years and I didn’t know who the kitman was.
““McGinn Park [Derry City’s temporary home in Buncrana] this year, I hadn’t been there before so I was asking a few of the other lads how they had gotten on.
“A couple of them told me it was tiny, so that was another place we togged off in the hotel.
“Gavin, the Derry kitman is a fireman, and Colin, who’s with Bohs, is in the Army, so we’d always be hopping off each other. I’d text Gavin and say, ‘Sorry for waking you up if you’re at work!’.”