Wednesday 20 June 2018

Legendary Irish sportsman's final homecoming: Ashes of Manchester United's Noel Cantwell to be spread in Cork today

Republic of Ireland captain Noel Cantwell and England captain Bobby Moore lead their respective side's out ahead of a friendly between the Republic of Ireland and England, Dalymount Park, Dublin. Picture credit; Connolly Collection / SPORTSFILE
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

A LEGENDARY Irish sportsman who captained Manchester United to their first major trophy after the Munich air tragedy will have his ashes spread on the Cork cricket ground he once graced as a schoolboy.

Ireland, West Ham and Manchester United star Noel Cantwell died in 2005 at the age of 73 - but while his beloved wife, Maggie, kept his ashes at their UK home until her death last year, his family felt the proud Corkman should be brought home.

Today, his daughters Kate and Elizabeth, will attend a special ceremony where Mr Cantwell's ashes will be spread at Cork County Cricket Club.

The sportsman, who was born in 1932, was as gifted at cricket as he was at football.

He played for Ireland at international level in both cricket and football before devoting himself full time to the latter.

Councillor Mick Finn said it was "wonderfully fitting" that such a proud son of Cork should return home.

Republic of Ireland captain Noel Cantwell and England captain Bobby Moore lead their respective side's out ahead of a friendly between the Republic of Ireland and England, Dalymount Park, Dublin. Picture credit; Connolly Collection / SPORTSFILE
Republic of Ireland captain Noel Cantwell and England captain Bobby Moore lead their respective side's out ahead of a friendly between the Republic of Ireland and England, Dalymount Park, Dublin. Picture credit; Connolly Collection / SPORTSFILE

In March 2015, Mr Cantwell was honoured at a special ceremony attended by Ireland manager Martin O'Neill and former Manchester United captain, Roy Keane, where a laneway was named in his honour.

His family said he would have loved the idea of his native city commemorating him with a road between two of his favourite sports fields.

The road, a walkway between the Mardyke and Western Road, is now named after Noel Cantwell.

Cork Cricket officials, David Griffin and Kieran Aherne, both attended that ceremony in honour of one of the greatest cricket players ever produced in Cork.

The 2015 ceremony was also attended by Mr Cantwell's wife, Maggie.

"Noel was a true son of Cork. He loved this city and he was never more pleased than when we would sail up the River Lee on the good old Innisfallen (ferry) and spend our summer days in the Mardyke and Clonakilty," she said at the time.

"We are absolutely overwhelmed. I am quite shaken really, it is quite wonderful," she said.

Maggie Cantwell died in February 2017.

The Cantwell family settled in Peterborough in the UK where Noel and Maggie raised their daughters, Kate and Elizabeth.

As a teen, Noel Cantwell played both football and cricket at grounds either side of the walkway now named in his honour.

While he would go on to represent Ireland at cricket, it was in football he made his name by starring with Western Rovers in Cork as a 17 year old.

He earned a transfer to first Cork Athletic and then almost immediately afterwards to London club, West Ham.

The Irishman played for the London club for eight years and became friendly with such future managerial greats as Ron Greenwood, Malcolm Allison, John Lyall, John Bond and Harry Redknapp.

In 1960, just 18 months after the Munich air disaster, Manchester United manager Matt Busby signed him for a record fee to anchor a youthful new side which would go on to include Bobby Charlton, George Best, Denis Law, Nobby Stiles and Paddy Crerand. Cantwell captained the Red Devils to their breakthrough FA Cup win in 1963 and won two league titles with the Manchester giants.

The Corkman was also credited with having a major influence on United’s style of play and would be honoured by his fellow players by being appointed chairman of the Professional Footballers Association (PFA).

He left United in 1967 at the age of 35, just one year before their famous European Cup triumph.

Denis Law paid tribute to him by saying: “Noel was a leader of men - you wanted to follow him.”

Noel Cantwell would go on to manage teams in the United States and England including the New England Teamen, Coventry City and Peterborough.

He also won 36 caps for the Republic of Ireland and was hailed by John Giles as one of the key influences in the emergence of a stronger Irish side in the 1970s.

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