He graced Páirc Uí Rinn when it was the home of Cork soccer as Flower Lodge, a standout player with all-conquering Cork Hibernians. At Turner’s Cross, he brought Cork City league title success as a manager. And at Musgrave Park, he masterminded Cork City’s 1-1 draw with Bayern Munich in the Uefa Cup, back in 1991.
It’s little wonder that the whole of the Cork sporting world is in shock this weekend at O’Mahony’s passing.
As a player, Noel, from Ballyphehane in Cork City, had excelled — his brothers Pat and Declan also had spells in the League of Ireland — and he forged a reputation as a tough-tackling and no-nonsense defender, winning both the league and FAI Cup with Cork Hibs.
When his playing days ended, he went into management, first with then league side Newcastle West in Co Limerick.
In 1986, he began the first of three spells as manager of Cork City at Turner’s Cross, which would lead to the club’s first league title win, in 1993. Just two weeks ago, the side had a 20-year reunion to commemorate that achievement.
Declan Daly was captain of that side.
“I hear the world legend used too frequently but its different with Noel, he was a true legend of Cork soccer and League of Ireland,” said Daly yesterday.
“He was really proud to be part of the League of Ireland and gave everything towards it. Winning the league in 1993 was a tribute to him.”
The 1993 season went to a three-way play-off between Cork City, Bohs and Shels, where City came out on top to end an epic season.
“It was an incredible achievement and was unique because you won’t have another season that goes 38 games,” says Daly.
Daly says his gaffer’s outlook on life mirrored his attitude to football. “It was very simple but very honest. There was no hiding with him, he was a straight character.”
Anthony Buckley was the youngest player on the 1993 team, then aged just 19. He recalls a man “tough as nails” but who could also put on kid gloves for his players.
“Noel gave me my shot in League of Ireland. For my first three months he used even pick me up for training,” he recalls.
“I owe him an awful lot. I had come back from England and was thinking of packing in but he told me to stick at it and eventually gave me my chance.”
While Buckley was starting out on his career, Mick Conroy was already a Scottish Cup winner with Celtic but also benefited form O’Mahony’s tutelage at Turner’s Cross.
“He was a great educator — every member of that squad learned something from Noel,” said Conroy.
“He made me his assistant manager and that was a great honour. He had a great insight into the game and was a great motivator.
“He got the most out of his team. We had just lost out in the league in 1991 to Dundalk and I think that hurt Noel a lot. But he kept going and the league win in 1993 was a tribute to him.
“I’m absolutely shocked. When we met up two weeks ago he was in flying form, his health seemed fine.”
Cormac Cotter, a defender in the 1993 league winning-side, recalls a man obsessed with football.
“You never shirked a tackle or a challenge or you’d know about it,” says Cotter.
“I think you could say his dressing room style could be more Alex Ferguson hairdryer treatment rather than Andre Villas-Boas! It was old school stuff and he played his football accordingly.
“Above all he was a proud Corkman — essentially he’s been part of Cork folklore for the past 50 years.”
Both the FAI and Cork City FC expressed sadness yesterday at O’Mahony’s passing.
A Cork City club statement described O’Mahony as a “Leeside sporting legend”. “Noel will be sadly missed and the club wishes to express our sincerest condolences to his family and many friends. May he rest in peace.”
Noel O’Mahony is survived by his wife Noreen and partner Ann, his brothers Pat, Teddy, Donal and Declan and sisters Marcie and Sheila.
* There will be a minute’s silence before today’s FAI Ford Cup clash between Blarney United and Derry City at O’Shea Park.
His removal will take place this evening at 6.15pm from Sullivan’s Funeral Home, Turner’s Cross, with the requiem mass on Tuesday at 2pm in the Church of the Ascension, Ballyphehane, with cremation to follow at The Island Crematorium, Ringaskiddy.