IN the long history of Cork soccer no player gave more to the cause than former Cork Hibernians’ league winner and Cork City title-winning manager, Noel O’Mahony.
An uncompromising central defender known for his total commitment, Noel was born in Ballyphehane on December 18, 1940, the elder brother of Pat who had a long career with Cork Celtic and Declan who starred in goal for Hibs and Celtic. He won a schoolboy U16 cup winner’s medal with Tramore Athletic in 1956, the same year he won the inaugural Cork Schoolboy’s League Player of the Year award.
He went on to further distinction two years later when playing heroically at the heart of Tramore’s defence during their FAI Minor Cup run and final success over Johnville.
While playing in the Munster Senior League his outstanding performances caught the eye of then Hibernians’ manager, former Republic of Ireland international, Tommy Moroney, who signed the young defender nearly 60 years ago this coming September.
O’Mahony slotted in alongside Patsy Dorgan on his debut at Flower Lodge in a 2-0 win over Drumcondra on January 14, 1962. The Cork Examiner reported ‘he made an impressive debut in the senior ranks. He succeeded so well in policing (Dan) McCaffrey, that Drums switched (Ray) Keogh in to lead the line during the second half. The right winger was livelier, but O’Mahony still ruled the roost.’
He quickly established himself in the first team even getting on the scoresheet in a shield defeat to Waterford in September 1963 four months after appearing in his first FAI Cup Final against Shelbourne. He had a falling out over wages and returned to Tramore for the 1965/66 season only to return to the heart of the defence for the 3-2 shield win over Sligo Rovers in October 1966.
He went on to become an integral part of Dave Bacuzzi’s championship-winning side of 1971 and double cup winners of 1972 and 1973. As well as playing in all three European competitions, he tagged on League of Ireland Shield, Blaxnit All-Ireland Cup, Dublin City Cup and Munster Senior Cup honours.
He even had the rare opportunity to line out alongside his brother Pat and fellow Celtic greats, goalkeeper Kevin Blount, Frank McCarthy, Paul ‘Golden Boy’ O’Donovan and Donal Leahy for a Cork Select XI against an International XI in late May 1963 on the occasion of Patsy Dorgan’s benefit match at the Lodge. The star-studded visitors ran out exciting 5-4 winners in a contest O’Mahony proved a match for highly-rated Aston Villa and Northern Ireland international centre-forward Derek Dougan.
Of the 228 players who played with Hibernians, O’Mahony made the most appearances, clocking up 441 appearances in his 15-year tenure with the Ballintemple based club.
Following Hibs’ shock exit from the league in 1976, O’Mahony’s first taste of football management was with Albert Rovers who were elected to the League of Ireland as Cork Celtic’s replacement.
He took the Leesiders to a League Cup Final and a Munster Senior Cup triumph before heading to Newcastlewest in Limerick. After giving future Cork City star Patsy Frayne his debut in senior football, O’Mahony went on to replace Tony ‘Tucker’ Allen as Cork City boss for a brief period in 1986.
In December 1988 he returned to City, this time taking over from former Everton star Eamonn O’Keeffe. He steered the Rebels to two losing FAI Cup Finals, the first against Derry City in 1989 after a replay and the second three years later against Bohemians.
In between, he suffered further disappointment in the league when his charges lost out to a Tom McNulty goal for Dundalk at Turner’s Cross in a last match of the season title decider.
As he had demonstrated in his playing career, O’Mahony was not one to quit and his hard work in transforming City from novices to championship material was finally realised in April 1993 when he led the club to their first title success in a never to be forgotten 3-2 win over Shelbourne at the RDS.
In a dramatic twist, he resigned in the summer of 1993 only to pick up the reins for a third time in 1994/95.
On Tuesday, May 31, 1994, over 2,000 fans turned out for his testimonial between City and an International Select, which City won 4-3. He passed away on May 30, 2013, leaving a rich legacy of over 50 years of committed service to Cork soccer.