- Born 15 January 1913 Fermoy, Co Cork
- Died 26 December 2006 Lucan, Co Dublin
- Educated The King's Hospital School, Dublin; Dublin University
- Occupation Schoolmaster
- Debut 20 August 1947 v MCC at Lord's
- Cap Number 436
- Style Right-hand bat.
- Teams Dublin University, Civil Service, Clontarf, Cork County, Bohemians
Noel Mahony, tall and thinly built, was a sound opening batsman, well known for his strong defensive skills, though he could exhibit a wide array of strokes when the need arose. However, though he played nine matches for Ireland, leading the side on six occasions, not unsuccessfully, his main contribution to Ireland was as a coach and as the developer of a proper coaching system throughout the country.
Aged 11, he entered King's Hospital, where apart from a five year break to gain a degree and teaching qualification, he was to remain for the rest of his working life. He was five years in the School XI, being captain in his last three. He also showed himself a useful outside half. As significant, for the future, as his cricket playing contributions was his meeting of minds with the school's professional. Jimmy Angell, an obscure Englishman from their northern leagues, was no great player, but he was an excellent coach and gave the young Noel a love for coaching which never left him.
Home in the holidays involved not only playing cricket, but watching the big matches at The Mardyke. Here in 1929, towards the end of the long summer holidays, the sixteen year old Noel saw Cork County take on Cambridge University Crusaders. Among the visitors was Ranji's nephew, the brilliant KS Duleepsinhji, who, the following season would make a superb hundred in the Lord's Test v Australia, only to see it eclipsed by a chanceless 254, which the maker, a young man from New South Wales, named Bradman, was always to regard as his best ever knock. However when Duleep played in Cork, The Don was only a name and 12000 miles away. The Indian's brilliance, he made 168*, dazzled its youthful spectator and was never forgotten.
On leaving school he moved to play for nearby Civil Service, still a Senior Club but struggling to remain so. Other good players, such as Jimmy Boucher and Frank Connell did not remain there long, and Noel, helped by gaining something like a regular place in the Dublin University side from 1935, his second season there, was soon to follow their example. He enjoyed his time with "Service," but his abiding memories were of scoring a duck v Clontarf, of all teams, as the Park side crashed to 35 all out, and of dropping a catch that denied a bowler named Freddie Flewett, of a hat trick. Flewett was known for his command of invective, and, in the words of the Club's history, "coloured the air for the next few minutes." Nevertheless Noel had a successful and happy time there, but, in 1938 began his long career with Clontarf.
He was to play for the Castle Avenue side regularly until 1955, then somewhat spasmodically until 1963, when he finally retired. He scored a, then, club record 5904 runs at 33.54 with 4 hundreds and 41 fifties, the latter also, at the time a record. Arguably, his first hundred, 104 v YMCA in the 1947 Cup Semi Final at Claremont Road, was his best one, though his 69 in a losing cause v Phoenix in that year's final was possibly the better innings. The Sydney Parade wicket was a slow turner, and Noel had to be at his best to post 69 out of 151 all out. He was the only batsman to face the great JCB (7-51) with any confidence. Ernie Bodell bowled well in the Phoenix innings but Shane Jameson, son of Tom of Hampshire and Ireland, made an undefeated half century to bring the trophy to the Park, by two wickets.
Noel's most prolific season was 1952 when he won the Marchant Cup by scoring 534 runs at 59.33. He also won the club's own prizes Oulton Cup in 1944, this being awarded to the player in each Clontarf team who has contributed the most on and off the field. That was the first season in which he captained the club. He was to do so again the following season and in 1953 and 1955. Strangely, for so talented and knowledgeable leader, he was not in charge at either of the club's Cup Final wins during his career. When he announced his pending retirement in 1955, he was the youngest of the Club's four captains! He was President in 1961-62.
He had always maintained his Munster connections, playing for Bohemians, thus adding to his 6500 competitive runs for his three Leinster clubs, and Cork County during the summer holidays. In 1948 and 1949 he captained a County XI v an English Counties XI at the seasons' ends. The hosts won the first match and had the better of a draw in the second, in which Noel contributed a stylish second innings 41. It appears that the visitors were well entertained which, no doubt, served to even up the ability levels between the teams. He also represented both Leinster and Munster in the old style Interprovincials.
In 1937, having represented Leinster v Ulster in term time, he then turned out for Munster against Leinster in August. However the most bizarre interpro in which he played was probably the Ulster v Munster match at Belfast in 1948. The Munster team flew in two light aircraft; the second had not arrived when the match was due to start. Ordered to go in and stay there Noel did just that, though his team-mates could not. He made a long drawn out 70 odd, holding the fort - just - until the cavalry arrived. Munster lost by ten wickets, others have told of the hilarious escapades of some of the side on the return flight. Noel was on the other plane!
He made his debut for Ireland in 1947, scoring 31 and 40* v MCC at Lord's. In the first innings he and his Clontarf opening partner and fellow debutant, Louis Jacobson, put on 83 for the first wicket. It was, however Noel who saw Ireland home to a 7 wicket win. His 40* was the only double figure score for Ireland, apart from the redoubtable Mr Extras who contributed a handy 18. His next match was, in many ways, his best for Ireland. The full Yorkshire side, apart from Len Hutton, came to Ormeau and were held to a rain ruined draw. Their two pacemen Alec Coxon, who played for England v Australia the following week, getting abrasive opener SG Barnes for 0 in the first innings, and Ron Aspinall were too much for the hosts, but Noel with 42 was one of only two Irish batsmen to shape confidently against them. The other was Eddie Ingram (53), with whom Noel put on 89 for the second wicket after Jacobson had gone for 0. Barnes, who later took his own life, was Coxon's only Test wicket. He never appeared for England again. Aspinall became an umpire whose reputation was savaged in one of Raymond Illingworth's autobiographies.
Noel now became Ireland's captain for six matches, with a record of W 2, L2, D 2. He was to lead the side, when available, until defeat in 1951 at the hands of Scotland, saw him lose not only the captaincy, but also his place in the side, which he briefly regained for one match in 1953, when Glamorgan hosted Ireland at Margam, Port Talbot on a wicket unfit for any form of cricket, let alone a first class match. It was hardly surprising that Noel failed in this situation as did most of the other batsmen in the match. Ireland, needing 96 to beat a county for the first time, finished on 81-9. His most notable other score for Ireland came in the MCC match at Lord's in 1949 In a drawn match he began well, putting on 72 for the first wicket with Stan Bergin, before being bowled for 38 by the Teutonic sounding CT Reichwald, a medium pacer who never appeared in a first class cricket.
Noel's retirement from playing did not mark an end to his involvement with Irish cricket. He became the first National Cricket Association qualified cricket coach in Ireland, though he was closely followed by his teaching colleague John West. West's thin red headed figure was better known on the Rugby field, as a leading referee, but he was a competent wicket keeper and an obdurate left handed batsman, who represented Dublin University, Phoenix and Munster. He was also to prove an excellent coach. He helped Noel establish a network of coaches throughout Ireland.
Noel became Ireland's first Director of Coaching, a post which, as he often pointed out, carried no salary. He also coached Dublin University from 1985-88, helping them arrest, only temporarily alas, an alarming decline in their fortunes and coached the Irish Women in their first ever World Cup, in Australia in 1985. He was President of the Leprechauns and, in 1979, of the Irish Cricket Union. In his annual report ICU Hon Secretary Derek Scott wrote, "It was certainly of great benefit to the Union that his great ability and coaching skills should have been available to our players and committee. Long may it continue."
Cricket was not, of course, Noel's only game. He played rugby at senior level for Dolphin and Clontarf, helping the former win the Munster Senior Cup in 1944-45. In a replay Final v Southern Command, he kicked a penalty and conversion to see his side home 8 - 0, the try then being worth a mere 3 points. He was also an interprovincial table tennis player. Retirement from playing cricket, though he did play the game in some form in every decade of the 20th century save the first, gave him time to develop his golf. He captained the Hermitage and Greystones Golf Clubs, achieving his first hole in one at the age of 86. When over 90 he was playing off a handicap of 25.
For all his achievements, Noel probably regarded the "day job," teaching at King's Hospital, as his most important contribution. He was a fine teacher of mathematics and, for years, together with his wife Joan, ran the School's Junior Boarding House. Joan was said to be the only person who could beat him at table tennis! Noel Cameron Mahony was just two weeks short of his 92nd birthday when he died.
For just over two months, since the death of NH Lambert, he had been Ireland's oldest living player. He is profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats. Wisden, however, accorded him a mere one line obituary, which made no mention of his playing days.
Edward Liddle, March 2008