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Obituary: Noel Carroll

THE DUBLIN Marathon took place yesterday without the man who was so instrumental in its foundation. Noel Carroll, former European 880 yards record holder, died while training at Belfield, the University College Dublin stadium.

Carroll's heyday was in the Sixties. He was Irish champion 14 times at the quarter and half mile (or their metric equivalents), won three European indoor titles, and many more races on the then burgeoning United States indoor circuit, where he was one of the legions of Irish middle distance runners who were tempted across the Atlantic by a university scholarship.

Yet he had little formal eduaction, having left school at 15 to join the Army, whence he was recruited by the legendary coach "Jumbo" Elliott at Villanova University in Philadelphia. Although he never quite reached the heights of Elliott's previous Irish protege, the 1956 Olympic 1500 metres champion, Ron Delany, Carroll was a favourite everywhere he ran, including the old White City stadium in London, where he won the first of three AAA titles, finishing second three more times.

Carroll was so much a tactical runner that one contemporary journalist described his mid-race machinations as "like a scene-shifter at the Abbey Theatre". But he was an imposing figure. I recall training with him at lunchtimes on the old grass track at Trinity College in the late Sixties. A group of French students stopped one day to admire him swooping around the bends like an avenging angel, the most forthright among the young women declaring, to the embarassment of her colleagues, " 'e is very beautiful". So he was, a tall, handsome, barrel- chested character with a winsome kiss-curl.

His wife was equally beautiful, and talented. Deirdre O'Callaghan was one of Ireland's leading harpists. But that didn't stop Carroll dragging her off with an Irish team to compete in Scotland - on their honeymoon. "He finished dead last in the half mile, and got a terrible slagging from the team manager," remembers Tom O'Riordan, a contemporary, who had preceded him to the US on an athletics scholarship, and is now a sportswriter for the Irish Independent.

Carroll and his Irish coach, the Galwayman Frank Duffy, made an odd couple. A scrag-end of a man, Duffy was part of the gang, including the promoter Billy Morton, who made Santry Stadium in north Dublin one of the world's best known athletic arenas. The "auld fellas", in their black suits and bowler hats, supping in the snug at the Shelbourne, could have dripped off the pages of Joyce's Dublin novels. The coach is immortalised in the Frank Duffy Memorial Race in Phoenix Park on New Year's Day. It is not presumptuous to assume that sooner rather than later, there will be an equally notable event bearing Noel Carroll's name.

Carroll died in mid-stride, as it were, training at UCD, which had become a home from home for him. Carroll was born in Co Louth in 1941. He became an important figure in Dublin life, both during and after his career - he won European and World Masters' athletics titles into his forties. He was Public Relations Officer for Dublin Corporation and, later, Chief Executive of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, in which capacity he helped launch the Dublin Marathon.

He was chairman and a tireless worker for Goal, a Third World charity, formed by Irish sportmen and women. In that capacity, he organised a Christmas Day Goal Mile, in which celebrities and public would pay to run a mile at the Belfield track. "He was always first to arrive and last to leave," said O'Riordan. Carroll was also instrumental in ensuring that young athletic talent did not have to cross the Atlantic, as it had done in the past, to survive in the sport. Two athletes he coached at UCD, David Matthews and James Nolan, competed for Ireland in the European Championships in Budapest this summer.

Nick Davis, President of Brd Lthchleas na h'Eireann, the Irish athletics federation, characterised Carroll's contribution to the sport as "in many ways incalculable. As an athlete, he never shunned the unpopular meeting, was always prepared to run wherever there was a crowd to watch him. At times when athletics needed a voice, he was never found wanting, a fine ambassador who projected an enviable image for the sport on and off the track."

Noel Carroll, athlete and public relations officer: born Annagassan, Co Louth 12 December 1941; married 1964 Deirdre O'Callaghan (two sons, two daughters); died Dublin 23 October 1998.