HughMcIlwrath2013Hugh was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland (1931). He left school at 14 and worked in the shipyard (2 years). Hugh then served a 5 year apprenticeship to qualify as a baker. His grandfather, Warmington, was a champion baker in Belfast. Hugh lived in Bisley Street and started playing football at 15 for the Bisley Street team as a goalie. Later he played for the Agnes Street Methodist Church team which won Division 2 (1949/50) in the Methodist Church League.

In 1954 Hugh moved to London and loved living in the city. He supported the Arsenal Football Club as he lived near their stadium at Highbury, North London. Hugh watched the team play midweek as he was playing football himself in the weekend. Hugh meet the English singer, Matt Monro, who was a friend of his boss. In 1958 he emigrated to Australia and lived in Redcliffe, near Brisbane. While there, Tommy Steele, the English singer/actor was a guest player for the Annerly Football Club team Hugh played for.

In 1963 Hugh moved to Auckland. Later he moved to Masterton (1977) to set up a bakery. Hugh sold the bakery to Alastair Naysmith (1980) with who he was later to play Wellington interclub table tennis with. Hugh then moved to Timaru, where he has relatives, to set up another bakery. While there he coached the Timaru Girls High School Football first eleven, which won the local competition for 3 consecutive years. He moved to Dunedin (1986) to set up another bakery, and finally to Masterton (1994) where he still lives today.

Hugh started playing table tennis at the Red Star Club in Masterton (1994). Among the players there were Peter Greenlees, who had coached Margaret Hoar (NZ Women Singles Champion 7 times between 1948 and 1957). Peter helped Hugh to significantly improve his table tennis. Hugh said he modelled his game on Peter’s.

Hugh started travelling to Wellington to play at the Titan Club (1998) on Sunday mornings, with Alastair Naysmith, as both were improving and needed to play stronger players. Soon they were playing Wellington interclub (2000-2008) which meant a 3 hour return trip from Masterton.

Hugh’s perseverance paid off and soon he was winning Titan Club Veteran Titles, including the Over 60 and 70 Singles. He started playing tournaments and won the Manawatu Over 70 Men’s Singles (2004). Success came to Hugh in the older age groups in the NZ Veterans Championships. He has won the Over 75 Men’s Singles (2006 & 2008), the Over 75 Men’s Doubles (2006 & 2007) and the Over 80 Men’s Doubles (2013). To paraphrase the current Ping Pong film, you are never too old to win gold medals.

Hugh is a bionic man, with 2 hip and 3 knee replacements. He still plays at the Red Star Club and the Titan Club. Hugh continues to play in the NZ Masters Games (Wanganui) and NZ Veterans Championships. He intends to play at the 2014 World Veterans Tournament in Auckland.

Hugh at Glenburn TTC in Belfast!
Hugh at Glenburn TTC in Belfast
Photo from the Glenburn TTC – stop on by next time you’re in Northern Ireland!

-Malcolm Wong

Hugh with Merv Allardyce (NZ Vets 2013)
Hugh with Merv Allardyce (NZ Vets 2013)
Hugh & Titan players (2002)
Hugh & Titan players (2002)