Tuesday 6 December 2016

Noel was boxing's unassuming king of the jungle

Sean Diffley

Published 15/01/2011 | 05:00

Noel Andrews, the doyen of boxing commentators of a few decades ago, rests this week in his favourite corner of this island, the halcyon haven of the meeting of the waters, Avoca in Co Wicklow.

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The late Noel took over RTE radio and television duties when his more famous brother Eamon departed for the BBC.

Not that Noel had any great yearning for fame. It was always evident that when he wasn't describing the action in front of him in the 'sweet science', he was most content in the tranquil surroundings of his pub in Avoca, savouring those restful pauses from describing the plethora of punches at Madison Square Garden, Atlantic City or wherever.

Noel seldom exhibited undue excitement. He was invariably cool and urbane -- except on one occasion, in my experience. That was at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, the Games where Belfast's Mary Peters won gold in the pentathlon and terrorists invaded the Israeli quarters.

But Noel's departure from his usual calm self had nothing to do with those earth-shattering events. Noel, myself and Mitchel Cogley, then sports editor of this newspaper, were sitting harmoniously at our table in the media cafe, having a, er, social hiatus, when Noel leapt to his feet to accost a passing giant of a man.

"It's Johnny Weissmuller," whooped a suddenly elated Noel. "I'm thrilled to meet you. Won't you join us?". And the 68-year-old Weissmuller did just that, clearly pleased to be recognised.

Weissmuller, of course, won five Olympic gold swimming medals, the first when in the 100m in Paris in 1924, and was the first person to better a minute in the 100m freestyle.

He retained gold at the 1928 Amsterdam Games. Then Hollywood came calling in 1932 and he made his film debut that year in 'Tarzan the Ape Man'. Over the next 16 years Weissmuller played Tarzan in 12 films. In that encounter at the '72 Games in Munich, Tarzan was the soul of affability.

But, surprisingly, for the man who coined the famous phrase, "Me Tarzan. You Jane", his speaking tones were quite shrill, far from the image of the he-man of the jungle. I can't remember, though, what he had to imbibe that evening in Munich.

Noel Andrews moved smoothly from the radio days overseen in the 1950s from that corridor down the Henry Street side of the GPO, to the stately grandeur of Montrose when TV was introduced to us in 1961.

Noel covered the Olympics in Moscow in 1980, Los Angeles in 1984 and Seoul in 1988.

He faded into the undergrowth soon after and nowadays we have the likes of Jimmy Magee, or if you prefer sometimes to go north, there is Jim Neely and the BBC, to commentate on the boxing action beamed to our homes.

Noel has departed, typically, with little fuss.

Our sympathies go to Noel's family and it's comforting to think that up there in the sky, between the swimming pool and the boxing ring, Noel Andrews and Johnny Weissmuller will meet and the greeting will be: "Me Tarzan. You Noel".

Irish Independent

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