WHEN the great Irish basketball players are debated one name consistently pops up to the people who had the pleasure to witness him during the 1960s and '70s.
Enter the former Blue Demons ace, Noel McCarthy, one of the finest talents ever to grace a basketball court.
Brother Quinn at Blarney CBS was his first coach as he taught all the young lads in the school but it was at De Paul Boys club under Michael Lynch that McCarthy would continue with his progress in the sport.
Noel first handled a basketball in 1959 with a team made up from Altar Boys at St Vincent’s Church, Sundays Well, under the guidance of Fr Charlie Sinnott.
De Paul Boys Club was based at Sunday’s Well church but you had to be 14 to be a member so Noel didn’t qualify but joined the following year and his talent on the basketball court shone within a short time.
“We had only one basket in the crypt under the church so we couldn’t train between seven and eight while the devotions were going on but that was all in the package of being a member,” McCarthy said.
There was no such thing as plays when Noel played basketball as he reflected on his memories of playing.
In my time it was all about running the ball as weren’t blessed with height but basketball to me was fun when it was played with pace."
When Noel gained an International Cap with the Irish U15 team he had the distinction of being the first player from the DePaul/Blue Demons fold to be honoured.
“Our club wasn’t solely basketball as we had table tennis and it was a good place for young people to congregate and it made good men of us as respect was always number one among the members,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy’s talent, drive and commitment to the sport was instantly recognised as he led De Paul teams to many honours at underage level.
Upon graduating from De Paul Noel was at the formation of Blue Demons, and was player/coach during the Demons initial 1966/67 season in senior competition when they captured the Cork Senior Championship. This was to be the first of many honours Noel helped to secure for Blue Demons.
While he was developing to be a major force in playing the game he was encouraged by one of the guiding lights of De Paul Boys Club, Mr John Coughlan, to help the juveniles of De Paul, a Blue Demons nursery with the coaching of their teams.
“John Coughlan was a brilliant leader and a lovely man and although life has changed for him in recent years I do feel we owe him a debt of gratitude for the work he put into the club and sport over many decades.”
Noel lost his father Andrew when he was only a raw 12-year-old and believes that was the one void he had in his life: “I remember playing finals and many fathers would be there encouraging their kids but for me at that time it was sad losing my Dad as such a young age.”
Noel continued to bring a great deal of success and helped to develop many players but it was his will to win that opponents found hard to handle.
He was again honoured with International honours when he was selected on the Irish Senior team to compete at the 1972 pre-Olympic tournament in Amsterdam along with fellow Corkman, and great rival from the Neptune club, Tom Crowley.
“I have no doubt Tom Crowley was the greatest player I ever played against as he had it all and Neptune were very lucky to have him.”
Blue Demons had been competing in national club competitions since 1968 with numerous successes at tournaments throughout the country.
When Basketball Ireland commenced the first National League (which has since become the Super League) in the 1973/74 season Demons were the inaugural winners.
“Looking back I think Demons was all about community as we were friends and neighbours and when the going got tough we always stuck together.
In recent years losing my great friend Peter Coughlan upset me terribly as he was a man that I respected for many reasons but sadly he was taken from us well before his time.”
His attributes as a player were many but his rebounding skills were a revelation and one remembers the night he schooled Albert King a future NBA player when he came to play with the New York Hawks at the Parochial Hall at midnight in the art of rebounding.
McCarthy was simply awesome as he jumped out of the gym rebounding as if his life depended on it and that performance saw him receive many plaudits from the American coaching staff who were mesmerised by his athleticism.
“To be honest although we played in the Parochial Hall most of my time was spent training on concrete and tarmacadam and I honestly don’t know how we are not all crippled. Not surprisingly many former teams have had hips and knees replaced.
Amazingly when Noel retired from the game in 1976 he never saw a basketball game again until 2015 when he attended the Mardyke Arena for a 40-year reunion of the 1975 league winning team.
“I was very impressed with the facilities but for me the greatest buzz I got that night was meeting up with my former teammates.”
Married to Helen in 1971 they were blessed with three children Nicola, Joanne and Andrew and this year they will be celebrating their Golden Wedding anniversary.
The modern-day basketball players and fans had never the privilege to witness Noel McCarthy but his skills and determination will always be part of Blue Demons history.
Noel McCarthy was not just a superb athlete on the court, he was a champion in his willingness to win and a role model for so many people.
Demons 'til I die for this basketball legend.