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Mick Ring hangs the City kit in the referee's room, to ensure there are no potential causes for confusion.
Mick Ring hangs the City kit in the referee's room, to ensure there are no potential causes for confusion.
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A day on the road with one of Cork City's unsung heroes... behind the scenes with club kitman Mick Ring

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.

“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. Just for clarity, examples of each must be hung in the referee’s room, alongside Rovers’ kit elements, to make sure he’s happy.

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.”

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.