By Denis O’Hara
ROBERT ‘Bobby ‘McMullan, who sadly passed away in the early hours of New Years Day, was one of the most outstanding hurlers in the history of the game in Antrim and Ulster. During his pomp as a fast-paced forward or midfielder he helped Antrim win the 1959 All-Ireland Junior championship, but is, perhaps, best remembered for his refreshing leadership in directing Loughgiel Shamrocks to the 1956 Antrim senior hurling championship.
He enjoyed his instant promotion to skipper of the 1956 Loughgiel side, yet was born and reared beside the lapping sea waters at The Bay Glenariffe.
There was some club issues the year before and Bobby and a few others threw in their lot with neighbours Cushendall.
In 1956 he was invited to join the Shamrocks and retained a special decades-long friendship with Shamrocks legend Brendan Carey.
Bobby was a proud hurler competing in an era when Antrim produced giants of the game in Robbie Elliott, Seamus ‘Stout’ McDonald, Brendan Donnelly, Liam McGarry, Brendan Carey, Des Cormican, Kevin Armstrong, Seamus Gallagher and Pat ‘Battler’ Mullaney.
A chat about olden hurling times and Bobby went immediately to his warmest memory – the day Antrim defeated mighty Kilkenny in a National Hurling League fixture at Corrigan Park.
“This game was special. It stands out,” he would say.
“The match was played on March 8, 1953, and against the odds we won by 7-4 to 5-5.
“I was partner to Pat Gallagher in the midfield.
Brendan Elliott of Ballycastle had a remarkable day, scoring 4-1.
“I also recall another big game against Cork in the NHL and at Corrigan Park. Christy Ring was in the Cork side.
Cork won with a late goal.”
Bobby started in adult hurling with his native Glenariffe in the late 1940’s, alongside such legends as Dan McKillop and Willie Graham, who had played on the Antrim 1943 team which reached the All Ireland final.
In the mid-fifties Bobby, whose younger brother Dermot was a prominent hurler with the Glenariffe Ossians and Antrim) began working for the Larne Council.
In 1954 he helped to coach the St MacNiissi’s College team to win the 1954 Ulster Colleges senior hurling title. “I was in Belfast when I received a phone call from Fr Paddy McKavanagh, inviting me to train the Garron Tower hurlers..
“I agreed and the boys won the title for the first time. That was another proud moment for me, and then in the field of play being involved in Antrim winning the Home Junior hurling title in 1959.”
A few years earlier (1953) he was a member of the QUB team who made history by winning the Fitzgibbon Cup. Bobby played in forwards in the final at Corrigan Park as the Belfast university beat holders UCD by 1-3 to 0-5 in a game which (according to the newspaper report the following day) was historic in its own right as it was the first hurling match to be televised in Ireland.
After retirement from work Bobby returned to the waves, enjoying his beloved pastime of sailing small boats.
He became an enthusiastic competitor in sailing boat events on Cushendall Bays – and was then appointed Commodore of the Cushendall Boat Club.
Bobby McMullan was a highly respected man who will be sadly missed by a wide range of friends and colleagues.
To his sons Alex and John, his sisters Colette (Delargy), Marese (Finnegan) and Sr. Enda, brother Dermot and family circle we offer our sincere condolences.