There was little she wouldn’t — or couldn’t — turn her hand to if it was needed, writes Niamh O’Mahony.
A wise man once said that simple is both difficult and expensive to achieve. His theory was this: Nothing that works well does so without dedication, passion, commitment, and plenty of ongoing thought and revision.
As the Cork City FC and League of Ireland communities gathered together to mourn the passing of one of their own earlier this week, the word ‘simple’ was used quite a bit. Every mourner had their own story to recollect about Noelle Feeney, aka Mrs Cork City, aka the First Lady of CCFC.
She did the ‘simple’ and small things well, she kept things ‘simple’ and the club ticking over during the toughest times, and there was nothing like the opening notes of Tina Turner’s ‘Simply the Best’ to motivate her into finding a microphone in double quick time…
To use that wise man’s theory though, there was nothing easy or straightforward about Noelle’s contribution to a club that has seen the best of times and the very worst of times during its relatively short existence.
There was little she wouldn’t — or couldn’t — turn her hand to if it was needed.
From encouragement and motivation (holy water in the tunnel), to fundraising, catering duties or building a respected name for her football club deep within Cork’s sporting community, failure never came from a lack of effort.
For most, Noelle was the first recognisable face they knew behind the scenes at Cork City back through the years. Sit into a taxi in Dublin or have a drink in a pub in Galway, and they’d ask about Noelle once they spotted the Cork City crest on your jacket.
She is recognised as one of the first women to be involved in a significant way at a high level within a League of Ireland club, and paved the way for others to follow. That revelation was important too: The tea lady or supporters’ coordinator could easily rise up to club director or sponsor liaison — once he or she really understood what the club was truly about.
“Noelle was one of those special ladies that had all the capabilities of holding things together and driving on with what needed to be done. Yet, she also had the heart to look after the small things that are so important to people. She remembered people’s birthdays, anniversaries, family stuff. She knew everybody,” said John Kennedy, vice chairman of Cork City FC.
“I knew her before I even knew Cork City. I was a lost child in Turner’s Cross in 1989, she found me and I’ve been here ever since. She had the vision to see that if you can encourage young people to come along, you are creating something for life. That’s how I got more involved — I started to bring young people along.
“If you gave her the story of a family, she’d go to the nth degree to get it right for that family whether it was clothing, household stuff, or food. She’d always phone up later asking about them and seeing what else she could do. If it was a young girl’s birthday, she’d have a doll to give, and the amount of Barbie dolls I was given over the years because Noelle remembered somebody and somebody’s circumstances…”
Noelle’s kindness wasn’t reserved for occasional visitors to Turner’s Cross though.
It was felt by managers, players, supporters, sponsors and visiting officials alike. Tributes and condolences have flowed in from around Irish football this week — a nod in itself to the esteem in which she was held by many.
“I remember Noelle right back from matches when I was a young City fan,” Alan Bennett, whom she christened ‘Ben’, recalled. “She was the one that was always there. When I started playing with the youths, she was there. She was always at the games and then you’d see her at Bishopstown while we were training. When we won the youth cup, she was there and when you made it into the first team, she was there. I saw her a few weeks ago when I popped in. She was there with Johnny Dunleavy, and Denis Behan was there at the same time. We talked about old times, and Denis told a story of a day she was making cheese sandwiches out in Bishopstown. She had soup and sandwiches ready for the lads after training and, out of 20 players — and it would have to be Denis — his sandwich had the easy single plastic left on the cheese, so when he took a bite, he coughed and spluttered, and he’s loud enough at the best times!
“She was the same no matter if she was talking to me, a fan, a sponsor – whatever.
“She was always the exact same person and that’s a huge credit to her.”
Long-time City fan Gerry Desmond once wrote that Noelle had the honour of being known by one name — akin to the many talented footballers we’ve seen from Brazil over the decades.
She was also named one of the 10 most influential women in European football by the Sunday Times in 2005. Think about that: Seventh out of 10 of the most influential women in football in Europe.
“Long before ‘football in the community’ became a buzz-phrase in the League of Ireland, Noelle had it nailed at Cork City,” Gerry explained. “In a GAA-dominated county, she put the club in the community and put the community spirit in the club as she went about her business both on match days and throughout the week.
“The stories and anecdotes about her could fill a newspaper, could fill a book. Everyone has a Noelle story to tell, everyone who ever met her has a story to tell. There are just countless tales and great memories from all over the country and all over the continent.
“We all know some of what she did, but none of us know all of what she contributed. If she has a legacy at Cork City FC, I believe it is in setting it on a path to being a true community club, with proper community values.”
It’s best then to leave the final words to William Shakespeare, who found the right way to express so much in so many different occasions.
“(She) was a (wo)man, take (her) for all in all, (We) shall not look upon (her) like again.”
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