Noel O’Sullivan was recently given a special presentation in recognition of his distinguished service to the GAA.
NOEL O’Sullivan is a familiar face to many Waterford GAA fans.
Noel’s illustrious involvement with the GAA has taken on various guises down through the years, including as a player, referee and steward.
In recognition of his many years of distinguished service, Noel was presented with the Jack Furlong Award at the annual Waterford GAA Awards in Lawlor’s Hotel earlier this month.
In accepting the award, Noel was following in the footsteps of his late father Sonny who received the same award over 25 years ago.
Noel, who grew up in Portlaw but has been residing at Matthew’s Cross, Kilmeaden for many years, received a beautiful Waterford Crystal vase and the Jack Furlong perpetual trophy.
Born in Kilbehenny, Mitchelstown, he was aged three when his family moved to Portlaw after his father secured work at the Coolfin sawmills.
The O’Sullivans lived in one of the houses located across the road from the mills before moving to William Street and later George’s Street.
Noel’s roots with the GAA stretch back to the mid-1950s when he first became involved as a youth in the Eastern Juvenile Hurling League.
He recalls cycling to all of the matches and has many fond memories of the Street League games which were held in Portlaw.
He was part of the Portlaw team which won the U16 County Football Championship in 1958.
This team went on to contest the U18 County Minor Final in 1960 but were beaten by Ballinameela by a point in a final which was played in snow.
However, success came when the majority of that team went on to win the Junior Hurling Championship in 1962.
A little piece of history was created on that day, as Noel and his father were both on the same team as were father and son Billy and Gerald Kelly.
The presence of two fathers and sons on the same winning championship team attracted many headlines because of its rarity.
Noel described his father as a great athlete, who particularly enjoyed cross country and road running.
“He always kept fit. He would be off in the night-time running on the Bog Road in Portlaw,” he recalled.
Noel cites the fact that his father never drank alcohol or smoked as being a huge asset to his sporting prowess.
In the mid-60s, Portlaw amalgamated with Ballyduff at Senior level (the amalgamated club had already captured the County Minor title in 1960).
Noel played his first Senior County Final as a substitute in 1967.
Walsh Park was closed at the time, so the final against Ballygunner was played in Tramore instead.
“We were beaten with the last puck of the ball,” Noel explained.
Portlaw/Ballyduff took the honours in 1970 following a final which wasn’t actually played.
Erin’s Own and De la Salle were due to play in a semi-final but this never materialised, so Portlaw were winners by default.
The following year, in what was a local derby, Portlaw beat St Molleran’s in a hotly contested replay.
Throughout the rest of the decade, the Portlaw team contested five Senior County Finals and won three.
In 1977, Noel was part of the last Portlaw team (to date) to win the County Senior Hurling Championship.
Noel ceased his playing career around 1980 but by this time he was already heavily involved in refereeing.
He had started referring at local U16 games, before moving up the ranks to provincial and national level.
Noel has refereed at games all over the country and across all grades, including a number of All-Ireland camogie finals.
In 1978, he was part of the All-Ireland refereeing team which toured in California.
During his visit, Noel was drafted into the Shannon Rangers team to play in the All-American Final where he ended up captaining the side to victory.
Almost 60 years after first taking up the whistle, he is still partaking in refereeing duties today.
“But don’t ask me to run around after young fellas of 18 or 19 now!!” he says.
Noel says he is enjoying his time as a referee now more than ever because he of his involvement with schools.
“Once the youngsters are enjoying themselves, let them at it. You shouldn’t be too severe on them,” he said.
He believes referees have a tougher role nowadays and says the games themselves have changed dramatically, especially at senior level.