He was due to fly into Waterford Airport from Luton at 11am but due to the rain and strong winds his flight was delayed by three hours. When he landed eventually in Waterford he was whisked away to The Park Hotel in Dungarvan to pick up an award. He and his brother Stephen brothers were selected as joint-monthly winners after both played against Montenegro in Ireland’s last qualifying World Cup game in October.
Later on that evening he was inducted into the Mount Sion ‘Hall of Fame’ along with the Waterford All Star hurler Ken McGrath. To date Noel has been capped three times for the senior Irish team. He came on as a substitute against Poland in a friendly in November 2008. He did of course play in that infamous game against Italy in Bari on April 2nd, 2009 replacing the injured Kevin Doyle. Ireland equalised three minutes from full time in that game. The goal was credited to Robbie Keane but later on Noel claimed that he was the last man to get a touch to the ball. After much debate the Ireland skipper was given the goal.
All of that is now very much of water under the bridge for Noel. Needless to say he was bitterly upset by the events that unfolded in Paris last week. “When I was playing in Scotland last year [with Dundee United] we played Barcelona in a pre-season match and I was delighted when I got Thierry Henry’s shirt after the game. It was one of my prized possessions but at this time and moment I don’t think much of it now to be honest. I think he cheated and it was hard to take.
“I am out for a while following the operation on my knee and I was not at the game but I was in touch with all of the players by phone and they were bitterly upset. It was a dreadful way to lose out on a chance of getting to the World Cup, but there is little we can do about it at this stage.”
Noel is however happy with the progress that he is making following a serious operation last month. “Perhaps I should have had it done a few months ago but I wanted to play for Ireland, especially against Italy and to play with Stephen in the last qualifying game was an amazing experience. I also wanted to make an impression with Reading this season after joining them in 2008 and with a new manager in place.
“I did not feel right for some time but now it would appear that it has gone according to plan and the medical people are happy with my progress. I am walking fine and cycling a bike and getting regular treatment every day of the week. I have not put a period of time on a full recovery and neither have the medical experts. It could be six months or more. No one is sure at this stage but I am delighted that it is behind me now and I can move on and come back a much fitter player.”
The affable Hunt was thrilled to be honoured by his old alma mater on Friday night last. “I was really thrilled when I got the news that I was to be honoured by Mount Sion. ‘Domo’ [Dominick] Connolly was super to me when I attended the school and I will always be grateful to him for helping me when I was a student there and now getting me this honour at the school. It’s a wonderful honour, it really is. To be honoured in your own county is super and I would like to thank the Park Hotel also for honouring Stephen and myself.”
Reading have struggled somewhat to date this season but Noel was upbeat about their chances before he departed Waterford early on Saturday morning. He was flying back for last weekend’s home game against Blackpool (Reading won 2-1).
“I have no doubt that the manager [Brendan Rogers] will get us up the table. The team are playing some great football and we have been very unlucky in a lot of the games that we have lost or drawn. We outclassed Ipswich Town for example a few weeks ago but had to settle for a draw. The Championship is a league where a couple of wins could move clubs like ours to the fringe of the play-offs. Every team in the division is more than capable of beating the other. Ask me shortly after Christmas and I will be able to give you a much better picture,” he concluded.
Last Saturday’s victory over high-flying Blackpool proved his point. It was their first home win since January and ‘The Royals’ will now begin to rocket up the league table, one would think. Everything did not go according to plan however for Noel Hunt last weekend. He has a share in a greyhound with Stephen and John O’Shea in England. ‘Bush Paddy’ ran in Coventry on Friday last but had to content with second place. It’s a dog’s life at times, this football!