Family of Irish sporting legend delighted to 'bring him home'

The family of an Irish sporting legend who died in the UK 13 years ago said they're delighted he's finally home after scattering his ashes on a famous Cork cricket ground. 

Family of Irish sporting legend delighted to 'bring him home'

Noel Cantwell's daughters, Kate and Liz Cantwell, were speaking after a moving prayer ceremony on the grounds of the Cork County Cricket Club on the Mardyke, where the Cork-born former Manchester United skipper, Irish soccer and cricket international embarked on his illustrious sporting career.

Born on the Mardyke in 1932, one of the best full-backs of his generation and one of Ireland’s first international soccer stars, he died in Peterborough, England, on September 8 2005, aged 73.

Kate, who was joined by her sons, Sam and Joe, her sister, Liz, and extended family and friends, said yesterday was a day of mixed emotions.

"I've had my dad with me at my home for 13 years. But this is a really special place for us. It's like coming home really. I always felt that he should come back to Cork, because this is his home," she said.

Following prayers by Fr John Finn, she told the gathering: "I know you will continue to tell the stories about the Cantwell boys, and my dad's memory will definitely live on here forever."

Kate said her father, who was born on December 28, 1932, at Elm Villas on the Mardyke, the youngest of eight children, loved as a child to play cricket with his brothers, Frank and Gerard, at the Cork County Cricket Grounds.

She described him a natural sports man, who could pick up a ball of any size, a bat or a club, and play football, cricket, and rugby to a high level.

Cantwell played for Cork Athletic and Western Rovers before joining West Ham, aged 17 - lying about his date of birth so he could sign, Kate revealed.

Noel Cantwell
Noel Cantwell

He scored 16 goals during his 245 league appearances, and in 1960, aged 29, he was snapped up by legendary Manchester United manager, Sir 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.

He scored 19 goals in 121 league appearances during his seven-year career at Old Trafford, captaining United to the 1963 FA Cup title and winning the league in 1965 and 1967.

He won 35 caps for the Republic of Ireland between 1953 and 1967, scoring 14 goals during his international career.

Noel Cantwell with the FA Cup in 1963. He captained Manchester United in the final which they won 3-1 against Leicester City.
Noel Cantwell with the FA Cup in 1963. He captained Manchester United in the final which they won 3-1 against Leicester City.

He later managed Coventry City and then Peterborough United, winning the fourth division championship and securing promotion in the 1972-73 season, he coached in the US, winning the Eastern Division Championship of the North American Soccer League with the New England Tea Men in 1978, before returning to Peterborough.

"But if you were to ask my dad where home is, he would say Cork," Kate said.

"He loved this city like no other. He loved the characters, and the craic, and he especially loved the Mardyke, and his cricket club. Cricket was my dad's favourite sport."

Cantwell played cricket for Ireland five times, between his debut against Scotland in 1956 and his last match in 1959.

"He used to get into trouble with Sir Matt Busby because my dad would spend summers travelling to Ireland and beyond for cricket," Kate said.

David Griffin, treasurer of the Cork County Cricket Club, described Cantwell as a very fluent, stroke-making batsman and a brilliant fielder.

He was so good, he was approached by Essex with a professional contract - but Kate said he declined because it would mean no summer visits to Cork.

She also told how she used to take her dad's ashes out of the sideboard and pop his urn in front of the TV for 'good luck' during big games, most recently, the Manchester derby.

"When I got my dad out at half time to produce a little bit of magic, well sorry Mr Mourinho, I think your luck might have just run out," she joked.

The sisters said their mother Maggie, who died late last year, struggled with life after Noel died, and really never wanted to let him go.

They discussed with her their hopes of bringing their father's ashes home to Cork when they all attended the unveiling in 2015 of Noel Cantwell Walk nearby.

"She said 'I think it's time'," Kate said.

"Sadly she's not here to witness it but I know they're together and that she'd be so proud that we did it."

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