- Born 28 December 1932 Cork
- Died 8 September 2005 Peterborough, Cambridgeshire
- Educated Presentation Brothers College, Cork
- Occupation Professional Footballer and Football Manager
- Debut 30 June 1956 v Scotland at Raeburn Place, Edinburgh
- Cap Number 472
- Style Left-hand bat, Right-arm medium pace
- Teams Bohemians, Cork County
Noel Cantwell was a superb natural athlete, who first played cricket on the historic Mardyke in Cork. He played as a middle order batsman and for Munster and for the South in the long defunct trial against the North. He was a fluent stroke maker, often dominating attacks; he was also a brilliant fieldsman. He tended to be rather derogatory about his bowling, once describing himself as a "right arm medium chucker." This was not to cast aspersions on his action. but to show that he did not regard himself as a serious bowler. However he had the knack of taking key wickets, at club level, when most needed.
His competitive club cricket was played for Bohemians, then the strongest side in Munster while he also appeared frequently for Cork County in friendlies, the Mardyke side did not, at that time, take part in League or Cup competitions. Noel was joined in both these teams by his brothers Frank and Gerry. He also, played in four matches for the South against the North, showing to good advantage in the 1956 and 1957 matches. In the former year, at Ormeau, he made 64, an innings which took him 153 minutes and included 3 fours. Together with Stan Bergin he put on 140 for the 4th wicket. Bergin made 148, the highest score in these matches, the South totalling 328 but the second day was lost to rain. At Phoenix the following season, in yet another draw, he topscored for the South in their first innings with 78, (9 fours, 130 minutes), the South making 228.
His football commitments reduced his cricket opportunities, or he would have played many more times for Ireland. His debut, and sole first class match was against Scotland at Raeburn Place, Edinburgh in 1956. He bowled a few wicketless overs, but batted well. Scotland racked up a massive 411 before declaring, only fellow debutant Wesley Ferris having had any success with the ball. Noel's first innings 31 was timely; arresting a mini collapse after Stan Bergin and Herbie Martin had led off with 148. Again, in the second knock, a collapse threatened after the hosts had declared again, but Noel stood firm with Bergin and disaster was avoided. However his best batting for Ireland came against New Zealand at Ormeau in 1958. Ireland were bowled out for 130 by teenage off spinner John Sparling, whose defensive batting, rather than his bowling, was one of the few encouraging features of a bleak Test series in England for the Kiwis. At Ormeau he had figures of 14.3-8-11-5. Noel concentrated on keeping him out, though eventually falling to him, and taking on leggie Alabaster and the veteran quick John Hayes. "Ireland were saved from collapse," wrote Wisden, "by Cantwell who, after showing a very sound defence hit boldly."
Frank Fee was also praised for his hitting. Noel's last match was against Lancashire in College Park in 1959. With scores of 25 and 11, he again showed some ability to cope with professional bowlers. Whether he would have been able to do so permanently remains an unanswered question. After the New Zealand match, he was offered terms by Essex, but declined on the grounds that he did not want to spend the whole year in England.
This writer lacks the expertise to comment in detail about his football career. Obituaries in the national press of two countries and in specialist football publications were fulsome in their praise. Let it suffice to say here that, after starting with Cork Athletic, he played with great distinction for West Ham, where he has been described as "the mentor of the young Bobby Moore" and Manchester United, whom he captained to FA Cup success in 1963. He was thus to become the second last first class cricketer to play in the Cup Final. The last West Ham goalkeeper and Worcestershire medium pacer Jim Srtanden did so the following season. Cantwell also played 36 times for the Republic of Ireland, 23 as captain. He was normally at full back, but some of his Irish matches were at centre forward, helping him to score 14 goals. He then entered football management. It has been claimed that only his "colourful language" disputes with Matt Busby over tactics denied him the succession at the other Old Trafford. Instead he managed Coventry and Peterborough, had a spell in USA "soccer" and with Ireland, before returning to Peterborough, where he eventually retired and kept a pub, before becoming an England scout. He was still working in this capacity when his last illness overtook him. Many football luminaries attended his funeral showing the respect in which he was held.
In March 2015 Cork City Council honoured one of the city's most famous sportsmen by naming a pedestrian road near the Mardyke "Noel Cantwell Way".
His obituary is in Wisden 2006.
Edward Liddle, April 2007, updated April 2015