Football for all from small to Mulhall!

Yesterday, our interview was mainly about Noel’s history coaching and managing various local clubs and of course the Ladies Irish team for six years. Now, back to Cabo, apples and views from his football friends, players and fellow coaches.

Noel, aged 82, has been a Cabo coach since 2015, starting with an U-8 Saturday team for the season, and he currently coaches the U-11A boys (soon to be U-12s), having personally put that team together to play on Sundays.

He offers a wealth of football experience and knowledge: he has clearly made an impact on colleagues, players and parents and brings to the club his love of the game but also fair play and respect.

As a coach, I sense he’s always keen to learn more and so help his players develop. He explains how one of his career highlights was being invited to dinner at the Dalkey Island Hotel by legendary goalkeeper Pat Jennings, who was over here doing a goalie clinic at UCD. Noel took his son Thomas with him to the event and reports Jennings was a gent and a real football man. Takes one to know one…

After dinner, Pat offered to lend Noel his goalkeeping notes – his personal secrets, Noel says: reluctant to agree to such a generous offer, Noel just asked Thomas to get reception to photocopy two pages, handing the full set of notes back after just a few minutes. Noel says he was thrilled to leave that memorable evening “a better coach”, armed with a few new tips to use over the coming years.

Noel has been made very welcome at Cabo and was happy to join the extensive team of volunteer coaches and managers. He always watches the June Mini World Cup and when approached to be a manager by the club’s James Kenny, the only thing Noel was worried about was the arctic cold in Kilbogget Park – something that has put off many spectators at times! He likely found out about that freezing wind watching his grandson Jack Cleary play for the club over the last decade: we happily admire Jack in full Cabo kit in a team photo Noel shows us, then are charmed to meet his mum Michelle, Noel’s eldest daughter, when she pops over to see her parents.

In his excitement starting with the U-8 boys, Noel explains that he was keen to get going over the summer before the season started. Such is his vast experience and knowledge of the local game, he was well aware that he’d lose players to other clubs if he didn’t get them training. Noel likes the personal touch – and to chat, as we are finding out – so to assemble his lads, he got hold of their numbers and rang each family in the age group to say training was starting straight away. He wasn’t put off when only three turned up the first time, then five the next: quickly, there were enough players for five teams and he laughs, saying that his new problem was finding enough managers for them all.

Having coached countless boys and girls, men and women’s teams over his illustrious 70-year career, and ever charming and self-aware, Noel admits he’s probably brought up other kids more than his own three, Denise, Thomas and Michelle. Wondering if they share his love of the game, grinning, Noel reveals that he was perhaps a little too honest with Thomas, when he suggested he was a brutal goalkeeper and should stop playing before he got killed! Thomas turned to the less risky game of golf, heeding the warning from his father not to get deep into football, so as not to neglect his own family. But Thomas didn’t hang up his goalie gloves for good and likes to remind Noel that he once played in goal against the Liverpool legends, a rare football feat that even his father didn’t manage!

Lily, Noel’s wife of fifty-nine years, reveals she’s not too into the game – she prefers her own hobbies, though happily she says the couple has many wonderful friends through football, both locally in Sallynoggin but also in the USA. Lily knows just how keen he is to get back to Kilbogget Park: in turn, Noel says Lily is his strength and he never could have achieved anything in his life without the good help and support of his fantastic wife.

Modest to a fault, Noel makes it clear he looks after, or rather is part of, two teams – one of players and one of coaches. He currently coaches alongside Derek Gough, Antony Moran and Gar O’Neill and works closely with the Age Group Coordinator, Kirsty O’Neill. She tells us it is a privilege for the boys to have Noel as their coach, saying “he’s so dedicated to these boys and they all respect and look up to him”. Her son Jamie plays on the team and Noel has been a major influence on his progression as a player but also in giving him more confidence.

Derek Gough has coached with Noel for five years and in his view, Noel is a real character and a gent. Derek told us that Noel “is someone who I have always admired and looked up to. His passion for football coaching especially with the kids is next to none and he always comes down to their level”.

After nine years coaching at Cabo, Gar O’Neill says Noel is one of the greats, considering him a father figure to the coaches and a grandfather figure to the players. “The boys would run through walls for him”, Gar says, adding “he always has a story (or two!) for any situation you might ask his advice on, and he lives for his football and his team and is tireless in getting the best out of them”.

All the parents and coaches we spoke to are so appreciative of what Noel does for them, giving the boys a love of football. U-11 striker Josh O’Connor adores his coach and says: “Noel treats us all like a family: he says we are a band of brothers. He never misses a training or a match and on the rare occasion he’s not there we miss him so much”. When Noel calls in the lads in after each game, he gives them each an apple, as their wages! Clearly this fruit and football combo works well, as together coaches, parents and boys make a formidable team. The last few seasons have been successful, including this year winning the U-11A league unbeaten.

During this long lockdown, Noel is only too aware how much everyone is missing football, himself included. But whilst he normally keeps his team going with apples, now he’s gone digital, and keep them going via his team’s WhatsApp group. He sends regular messages and provides skills challenges for the lads to complete if they want, if they can. However, true to his belief that football doesn’t need to be competitive at that age, he’s not keen that the lads get hung up on filming epic videos of 100s of keepie-uppies: rather he wants to keep them motivated, so he sends videos of great players like Messi, signing off each message with typical class – “Yours in sport, Noel”.

Cabinteely FC should be very proud and grateful to have a such a football and family man as Noel Mulhall on their coaching staff – such passion for the game, interest in helping children develop and enjoy football, and kindness in sharing just a few of his fabulous stories with us.


Page owner: Fergal Young
Last updated: June 14, 2020