McCrum rolls back years for decider
When Millpark meet Ards tonight in the NCU's Twenty20 Shield final, there will be no-one more experienced of big match occasions than Charlie McCrum.
It may be McCrum's first decider for 15 years but it will be the 11th of a career which, if last weekend's action is anything to go by, is still going strong.
McCrum scored his first century of the season on Saturday in Millpark's six wickets Ulster Bank League Section Two win over Larne and he is now eyeing a remarkable 12th winners medal in a senior career which started in 1983. And his roll of honour is one that he is rightly proud of.
"I am the only player to have won five Irish Cup medals with four different teams," says McCrum who, admittedly, has as many clubs as Rory McIlroy.
But add four Challenge Cup successes and two league titles, and McCrum's club career can be traced through many of the big games of the 80s and 90s.
He was only 19 when he won his first Irish Cup medal with Waringstown in 1983 and followed up with victories with Lurgan (1988), North Down (1993 and 1995) and Strabane (1998).
His innings of 87 won him man of the match in the '93 final against Brigade and he bowled his international team-mate Allan Rutherford with the last ball of the match two years later, to give the Comber side a one run win in his most memorable match.
McCrum's first four Challenge Cup finals came in the space of seven years, two each for Waringstown and Lurgan, although his highest score in the final, 61 was on the losing side – for Lurgan against Waringstown – the only final he has ever lost.
He played for North Down in the tied 1994 final against Lisburn and no prizes for guessing who bowled the last over.
"For me it has always been about the team. I was never interested in captaining a team but I always had a big input behind the scenes. I worked with the captain and if he wanted someone to bowl the last over, I always put my hand up. There was never any hiding place and I always gave everything for the team," says McCrum.
He is also proud of one individual record, which he still holds – just.
"In 1992, I scored 348 runs for Ulster Town, the most runs in an inter-provincial season. But with the teams now playing so many matches in all three formats, that will surely be broken this year.
"I didn't aim to break the record but that season I knew I had to score big runs to get back into the Irish team. Basically, I was giving it one last go and it went better than I could have imagined."
It certainly did. He played in 21 of Ireland's next 26 matches, starting with a 70 against Scotland – when he was chosen as opening bowler in place of Alan Nelson – and ending in Kenya at the 1994 ICC Trophy, Ireland's first attempt at qualifying for the World Cup finals.
But it was an international career that was over almost before it had started.
"I started having back problems when I came back from Kenya and made the mistake of trying to play with sciatica. I ended up needing an operation. But by then Mike Hendrick had taken over as coach and he didn't see me as part of the Ireland set-up.
"When I moved to Strabane in 1997, I was an outsider, there was nobody pushing for me up there and I never played another international."
McCrum openly admits he is envious of today's current Ireland squad.
"I was born 20 years too soon. The opportunity for young cricketers now is unbelievable. The extra effort you would be putting in if it was your full-time career.
"In my era, there was commitment from the players, but you ended up out of pocket. You were driving from work to the airport and coming straight back to work.
"You could only do that for so long and a lot of players had to drop out because of work commitments. Now with the full-time contracts it is great for them, but it's just a completely different lifestyle."
So, instead of a 28-year-old Charles McCrum being paid to go to the gym and starting the countdown to Ireland's glamour one-day international against England in September, the 48-year-old McCrum will leave his caravan park in Co Down and head to Shaw's Bridge tomorrow night for a third-tier cup final.
"It's another final and it would be great to win another medal. We have a good wee T20 side. I suppose we are favourites, but we don't really know too much about Ards."
And with a century and a cup winners medal in the space of a week, McCrum will have no excuse not to keep going for one more year.