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McBrine can exit cricket's senior scene with cup glory

By Ian Callender

If this weekend really is Junior McBrine's last Danske Bank Senior Cup final, it would be only fitting if he leaves with a winner's medal.

The Donemana legend played his first cup final in 1981 and victory in the two-day showpiece at Strabane, starting on Friday, will give him his 11th success from 14 appearances.

In fact, everybody outside Brigade, their opponents for the third successive final, will surely be rooting for another McBrine-led triumph to pull down the curtain on a remarkable career.

When asked if it will be his last appearance in the final, the reply comes back: "I would say so." Even at 50-years-old, Junior just can't bring himself to make it a "definitely yes" and even when I repeat the question later in the interview, the best he can do is "probably."

But, for now, Junior accepts this will be his last season in senior cricket.

His twin, James, has already stepped down – "he's a sore knee but he's still playing away for the Seconds" – and Junior will join him next year. Put all your money on Donemana II winning everything in 2015!

Retirement for the McBrines, however, is not even considered. The third brother, Roy, is still playing for the Fourths at the age of 62 and the dynasty is in safe hands – and still coming in threes.

The first era had Alex, whom his youngest son was named after, hence he has always been known as Junior, plus Jimmy and Bobby McBrine playing in the same team and when Junior calls it a day, his sons, Andrew – already an Ireland international at the age of 21 – William and Ritchie will keep the family name going.

Even Junior's wife, Norma, plays a full part in the club. She has been club secretary for the last eight years and as she puts it: "In the summer our life is just cricket."

It has certainly been a lifetime in the game for Junior, who held a cricket bat before he could walk and it was only a question of when, not if, he would make his 1st XI debut.

"That was in the middle of the 1980 season, against Fox Lodge," he recalls instantly. "Someone couldn't play that day and I was called up from the Seconds and I've been playing ever since."

He hadn't long to wait for his first Senior Cup final, as Donemana reached the decider at Beechgrove in his first full season.

"It was against Eglinton, and we won easily. I was batting seven or eight in those days but I took four wickets in the second innings," says Junior.

When asked about his memories of his remaining finals, surprisingly it is not the man of the match performance in 1985 against Brigade, when he top scored with 56 and took 11 wickets, or the 1992 win over Bready when he again made 56 to go with his nine victims in the game, or even the 2001 decider against Limavady, the one time he lifted the cup as captain, but his instant recall was the 1987 final.

"That was a bad one, I got two ducks against Strabane and didn't pick up many wickets, but there have been plenty of good ones as well," he adds.

As for Donemana's biggest achievement, the nine league wins in a row (1985-93) "will never be beaten" he says, but their solitary Irish Senior Cup triumph in 2000 is not far behind.

"That's the one everyone wants to win. We beat Limavady at Beechgrove and I think I took five slip catches. I didn't get any wickets but 30 runs or so.

"There was a lot of celebrating that night, but right up there also is when we won all four cups in the North West a couple of years ago, the clean sweep."

For someone of McBrine's talent it seems incredible to find out he won only 35 Ireland caps, over a 10-year period. At the time, it was always felt that it was always club before county for Junior, but he has finally given a simple reason for his unavailability.

"I could have played a lot more but there wasn't much money about in those days.

"Loss of earnings was too much to give up with a wife and, then, two kids to look after but I enjoyed my time with Ireland. I toured Zimbabwe in 1986, played at Lord's a couple of times and got a hundred against Scotland at Coleraine in July '87."

His last game was against Leicestershire, in Ireland's first match in the old Benson & Hedges Cup in 1994, and proved to be his only international in the same team as Decker Curry, whom Junior still rates as the best batsmen ever produced in this country.

"Look at the batting averages, you can't take the figures away from him. What has he got, 93 centuries! Definitely the best batsmen I ever saw, apart from Alf Masood (whom he played alongside in his first 29 Ireland matches). But Curry was good too," McBrine stresses.

When the history of North West cricket and Donemana in particular is updated, however, Junior McBrine will be rated rather better than "good".

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