'Our Edith Piaf in the Evergreen' - a player's tribute to Noelle Feeney

I see her now, appearing before us as we come out heads high into the cauldron of colour, noise and smoke, each man focusing on his own thoughts, trying to remain unnerved for the battle ahead, writes Neal Horgan.

There she is, waiting just outside the tunnel, as we enter the pitch – she is catching each City player by the hand, one after the other, wetting our hands and sometimes our heads with her holy water as we try to get out past her and into the light.

Each player is like a new baptism for her, as she seeks to bring some luck for “her fella’s” for the duration of the game or maybe longer. Some see her coming and try to make an escape but there’s no escaping her hand.

I’d tried in vain over the years to escape Noelle’s holy water. Your best bet would be to come out straight after one of her favourites, someone like Pat (P) Morley or John O’ Flynn, players whom she might decide to kiss on the cheek whilst spraying the water, giving you a tiny window to sneak past.

But it was never any good. Noelle would always get you, if with just a drop.

Sometimes if you were unlucky she’d get you in the eye, partially blinding you for the first few minutes of a match. From Noelle Feeney there was no escape. City till she died, City till she died.

I can’t remember when I first met her or when she first came to my attention. What I do know is that for the 10-15 years that I spent with the club, Noelle was always there.

One minute she’d be escorting some dignitary around the dressing room, the next she’d be stuffing jaffa cakes and oranges into the side pocket of your gear bag.

No job was too high or too low for our Noelle, not if it was for her boys. And we, the Cork City players, were her boys.

Since the club’s foundation in 1984, Noelle - intelligent, cheerful, charitable and always caring - was a huge part of Cork City FC.

To the players, she was a constant help through good and bad times. Noelle was always there if you needed her. “Ye alright boy?” she would ask.

Noelle Feeney, Cork City, pours a cup of team for Liam Kearney.

Just don’t try to cross her. During my time at the club, one or two of the more foolish bosses tried to remove Noelle from team affairs.

For what ambitious professional football manager has room for an anachronism like Noelle in an industry that worships the modern and all those cutting-edge methods that must be imitated?

No room in the modern game for sentiment, loyalty, and old friends. No room for Noelle, they thought. So some managers, with their power, tried to defeat her.

But the wiser managers understood that Noelle was part of the fabric of the club and the city and knew better than to mess with her because, on your side, she was a powerful ally.

And a funny thing, looking back, the City managers who most embraced Noelle were the managers who enjoyed the most success. That’s not a coincidence. City till she died, City till she died.

I can hear her voice now. All her boys can.

I can hear the high pitch with the unapologetic Cork accent raised in song: ‘Simply the best, Bbetter than all the rest.’

Our Edith Piaf in the Evergreen. Win or lose, she’d sing for her boys.

Noelle Feeney. Simply the Best.


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