March 13, 1992
Waterford's great driving force
With fire in his belly and sliothar in his hand, Noel Crowley takes on superhuman qualities. A superb hurling artist, Waterford's most consistent performer is viewed by many on the sidelines as an athlete on a par with the great Seamus Power, when allowed to express himself.
Freedom of expression hasn't always been afforded the Roanmore rocket however. As a player of stature in the gaelic games world, the twenty nine year old "veteran" is and has been a marked man for nearly a decade now. As such, as can be expected in such a physical sport, Noel Crowley has tasted the rough and tumble, been the receiver and donator of tough, hard tackles and still faces the spectre of an early shower with the same cavalier approach which typified his style of play.
A born leader and in inspirational clubman, in Hollywood parlance, Noel Crowley cuts a dashing figure on the green sward at Walsh Park, Nowlan Park or Semple Stadium. In fact, his game deserves to be facilitated in the best arenas for, in truth, the man from Avondale could well be lifted in cartoon style animation from the best coaching books around.
One of a family of ten, newly-married Noel has arguably been Waterford's most valuable asset for the most of the '80s and on current for, looks destined to play an even more important role in keeping the Decies on course for a return to big time hurling finals. Admired by his team mates for his unselfish, intelligent play and respected by opponents for his craft and cunning on-field manoeuvres, Waterford and Roanmore can be thankful for having the Griffith's Place native on board.
Regular observers of the Waterford hurling scene over the years however, readily admit that they could have made the price of a site at Stradbally on predicting Noel's rise to the top. The writing, they say, was on the wall as far back as 1980 when the Roanmore tearaway proved himself a class apart in minor circles in the Munster county. Twelve years ago, Waterford's current midfielder maestro looked more or less the same as he does now. His physique was marked by a cultured athletic frame, his hair was thick and curly and his eyes like those found in the caverns of the militaries number one marksman. Captaining Roanmore to the 1980 county minor hurling title, Noel Crowley has fulfiled all expectations since but as the knock-out championship fare approaches, the Blue and White bedecked fans will be hoping (and expecting) that the Waterford Foundry employee can pull out even more rabbits out of the bag to the chagrin of Tipperary, Cork et al.
Whether a new dawn is on the horizon for Waterford hurling will only be determined in the blue-heat of the Munster championship. That will be the acid test for Crowley and co. The county's morale-boosting wins in the National League has created a new buoyancy across the bowels of the county but as Noel Crowley knows only too well, the Waterford ship has been sunk before when seemingly cruising along nicely.
The minor double medalist in 1977 doesn't need reminding now that the euphoria of the Decies shock win over ebullient Cork in the '89 championship instantly turned a sickly grey when, in an ill-tempered Munster Final, Tipperary justified the nation's expectations by romping home winners. Memories like the Cork replay victory are a comforting reminder though for the Crowleys, Delahuntys, Byrnes and Forans of this world that, on their day, the White and Blue brigade can upset the current equilibrium of Munster hurling.
For Noel and his comrades in the progressive Roanmore club, winning is something which is indigenous to that part of Waterford city. There has always been silverware on the Crowley sideboard. The clinching of junior hurling and football titles in 1980 paved the way for the club's elevation among the creme de la creme of Waterford hurling outfits and it's there they've stayed. Roanmore has long since buried any remnants of the inferiority complex it used to carry in the days when Mount Sion ruled over all they surveyed.
Great hurlers who have adorned great hurling occasions have all been great clubmen. Players like Jimmy Barry Murphy of Cork's Saint Finbarrs, Liam Fennelly of Kilkenny's Ballyhale Shamrocks and Kiltormer and Galway's former star Conor Hayes never failed to lead by example at the very nursery which groomed their skills in their formative years. Noel Crowley of Roanmore and Waterford is a product of the same mould. A true-blue Roanmore stalwart.
His commitment and loyalty to his native club has been reciprocated by the members of Roanmore on several occasions. In 1979, '85 and again in 1988, the affable dual player was honoured by Roanmore as their Hurler of the Year. A favourite at the closely-knit club, Crowley is also a popular stylist beyond the Roanmore Park heartland. A personally very successful and rewarding 1988 year was crowned by his receipt of the Waterford Hurler of the Year award. It was a particular honour, all the more satisfying for the county regular, as it relayed the feelings and estimation of the county's grassroots. Not that the accolades finished there. Instead, Noel's burgeoning reputation and stature in the game came under the attention of the 'oft criticised All Star selectors who certainly got it right, however, that same year when Roanmore's blue-eyed boy was handed a prestigious All Star award.
A worthy tribute to a special type of player and recognition also of the coaching expertise of Roanmore's backroom team down the years; men like Danny Murphy, Mick Flannery, Sonny Murphy, Eddie Nolan and others who had worked tirelessly in the club to successfully harness the talents of youngsters like Noel Crowley in the Roanmore Park, Cork Road and Kingsmeadow areas of Waterford city.
One of the game's most prolific point scorers (and that from his customary midfield position), Noel's all-round game has been likened to that of Cork's John Fitzgibbon, a player in the same mould and a particularly lethal finisher, whatever else, Noel Crowley has earned his own respectability among his peers; he has served his apprenticeship in the area street leagues back home and on the hallowed pitches across the country. rough edges to his game gleaned off the street games or mini All-Irelands on the greens beside his home patch have long since been ironed out, thanks to long hours spent training under the astute guidance of coaches such as Tony Mansfield and of late, Joe McGrath.
A gutsy, whole-hearted player rather than a "he-man" exhibitionist, Noel's penchant for running off the ball, receiving a pass and launching one of those famous long range pot shots at goal has made him a firm favourite with seasoned and young Waterford supporters alike. It's a relationship which can only improve in line with a new underlying growing level of confidence in Decie-land which threatens to upset the status quo in the country's hurling heartland.
Certainly, it's hardly an exaggeration to suggest that Waterford's short-term future performances hinge to a large degree on Crowley's form. His ability to engineer the key possession for Messrs O'Sullivan, Ahearn, Delahunty and Meaney to turn into match-winning scores is widely acknowledged in Waterford and without this supply line, the Waterford attack would be dealt a severe blow. Yes, when Crowley is shaping up well, Waterford are in business!
There's no doubt but that the innate ambition, which has driven him forward through the under 14 and under 16 winning days right up to All Star standard, still remains within the sinues and tissues of Waterford's fledging All-Ireland medalist. It's this burning desire to win the ultimate accolade which has been the hallmark of Noel Crowley's game ever since he first wielded a caman and it's a goal, which, if justice be served, will one day be achieved.
Taken from Hogan Stand magazine
13th March 1992
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