‘Wee’ John McKay RIP

A tribute….and a wee bit more…….by Denis O’Hara

JOHN McKay, one of the most loyal servants of Cushendun Emmet’s GAC – both as player and supporter, died last week in his home village of Knocknacarry. He was 89.

Affectionately known as ‘Wee John’, he was an outstanding hurler, both as an efficiently slick and nimble winger and a technically supreme goalkeeper.

He was also a qualified motor electrician, a foreman with Grant Hector in Ballymena for over thirty years. The son of Danny and Sarah he lived with wife Pat and family at Milltown townland, beside the top end of the Emmet’s playing fields.

‘Wee John’s’ contribution to the history of the Emmet’s was immense.

A true gentleman, respected by everyone involved in north Antrim hurling affairs, he was instrumental in helping to re-ignite hurling interest in Cushendun back in 1962.

The Emmet’s have prospered ever since.

During the 1950’s the Club ran short of players.

John McKay and his wife Pat

Indeed, some went on the road. Around a freezing Easter time of 1954 five Cushendun hurlers performed illegally to help Cappagh of Omagh beat Clonoe O’Rahilly’s in a belated Tyrone club championship final at Pomeroy.

Lured there for the clandestine combat by Knocknacarry native, the ex-Emmet and Antrim minor hurler Charlie McKay of Dungannon and Mickey Cunningham, owner of Strathroy Dairies, Omagh, were’ Wee John’. Alex ‘Stoots’ McKay, Paddy O’Mullan, a then Garron Tower hurler Denis O’Hara and clever forward Raymond McHugh.

Players from the Antrim coast club were then picked on a Tyrone junior side to meet Donegal – but it was discovered then five Cappagh team members played under assumed names, so, the Club was subsequently stripped of the title and the trophy.

Back home things were on the decline at Emmet’s club level

After losing narrowly to Glenariffe in a North Antrim JHC final replay in 1955 and then to Glenarm at a crucial stage the interest slackened off at the notoriously cramped seaside pitch, the Old Riggs.

Players were invited to join Glen Rovers, Armoy – among them ‘Wee John’,

The nephew of Emmet’s 1931 SHC title winner Alex McKay, featured at wing forward for

Armoy, then playing home games on a cowpatch beside the home of fervent Rovers supporter Paddy McAuley.

Also joining Rovers in senior level combat were Liam O’Hara – as goalkeeper – Alex ‘Stoots’ McKay, Raymond McHugh, Denis O’Hara, Seamus McNeill and Johnny White.

Once the Cushendun players left Armoy, three joined Cushendall Ruairi Og in 1959 – the two O’Hara’s and Raymond McHugh.

Players were ‘scattered to the four winds’.

‘Wee’ John decided to help ignite interest in restoring the Emmet’s to a healthy competitive level.

Following a meeting in 1962, along with Malachy McSparran, Seamus McNeill, Raymond McHugh, and Daniel O’Hara the Emmet’s hurling club was reformed.

Joining the revival were players such as Hugh, Patrick and Turlough McKeegan, Danny McQuillan, Mick Quinn, Alex McGavock, Alex McKay, Denis, Hugh, Terry and Tim O’Hara, Paddy and Josie Magee, Hugh McCormick, Fr Kevin McHugh and a brilliant young centreback in Paddy Hamilton, a 19-year-old skipper of the team when the inspired Emmet’s won the 1963 Antrim JHC, by beating Belfast St John’s in the county decider at Loughguile.

‘Wee John’, distinctive in his cloth cap, was the rock solid goalkeeper, following the trend of class north Antrim club and county netminders such as Brian Cairns, Jim McToal, Barney Mullan, Mick McKeown, George Harvey and Mannix McAlister.

The rapidly rising Emmet’s, soon to also field strong camogie teams, reshaped the fabulously picturesque pitch location at Cushendun Beach, and with dedicated club members such as the ever faithful ‘Wee John’ added a training pitch with floodlighting and suitably appointed clubrooms.

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