The Noel Cantwell Walk, named after the Cork-born former Manchester United skipper and Republic of Ireland international who also played cricket for Ireland, was unveiled on the city’s Mardyke yesterday — a kick of a ball from where he sported and played as a child.
His widow, Maggie, said Noel, who was one of Ireland’s first big international soccer stars, was always very proud of his Cork roots. “He was a true son of Cork. I am here with my daughters Elizabeth and Kate, and my two grandsons, Samuel and Joseph, and we are absolutely delighted,” she said.
Lord Mayor Cllr Mary Shields unveiled a plaque on the walkway during a ceremony attended by a host of sporting figures, including assistant Republic of Ireland manager, Roy Keane, FAI chief executive, John Delaney, FAI President Tony Fitzgerald, rugby legends Tom Kiernan and Barry McGann, David Griffin, the president of the Munster Cricket Union and Kieran Aherne, the president of the Cork County Cricket Club.
Mr Delaney said Cantwell had a towering presence on the field. “My words will probably never do justice to the immense talents and achievements of a player like Noel,” he said.
“He was always very proud to wear the green jersey and will always be remembered for his performances with Ireland and of course Manchester United.
“36 caps for his country back then is equivalent to 70 or 80 caps today because international matches then weren’t played as frequently as they are today. It just shows how great a player he was. “And he scored 14 goals with 36 caps — an incredible ratio probably only matched by Robbie Keane now.”
Mr Cantwell, who was born on February 28, 1932, played for Cork Athletic and Western Rovers before joining West Ham, aged 18. He made 235 league appearances for the club, scoring 16 goals and helping them win the Second Division title in 1958, which brought the club back to top flight football for the first time since the 1930s.
In 1960, aged 29, he was snapped up by legendary Manchester United manager, Matt Busby, for £29,500 — a then record for a full-back — and was a key player as Busby rebuilt his squad following the Munich Air Disaster.
Cantwell scored 19 goals in 144 appearances during his seven-year career at Old Trafford, captaining United to the 1963 FA Cup title and wining the league in 1965 and 1967.
He won 36 caps for the Republic of Ireland between 1953 and 1967 and narrowly missed out on leading his country to the 1966 World Cup Finals in England.
He later managed Coventry City and then Peterborough United for five years, winning the fourth division championship and securing promotion in the 1972-73 season.
He spent five years managing in the US and won the Eastern Division Championship of the North American Soccer League with the New England Tea Men in 1978, before returning to Peterborough.
Despite his soccer commitments, he also played cricket for Ireland five times, between his debut against Scotland in 1956 and his last match in 1959.
Mr Griffen said he was a very fluent, stroke-making batsman and a brilliant fielder who declined a professional contract with Essex. He also won a Munster Junior Cup playing rugby with Cork Con in 1951. Mr Cantwell died in Peterborough on September 8 2005, aged 73.
Independent Cllr Mick Finn, who proposed the walkway honour, said he was delighted that Mr Cantwell has been formally recognised in his native city.
“The turnout at the launch is a testament to the respect in which he is still held,” he said.