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Paul McCrum Interview

Jonny Morton  

Paul McCrum and Dennis LilleeThe stakes don't get much higher for local clubs than this weekend with progression in both the Gallagher Challenge Cup and Irish Senior Cup to play for over two thrilling days.

Seven Premier League clubs have progressed to the Challenge Cup quarter-finals alongside sole Section One representative Derriaghy while Instonians, CIYMS, Waringstown, Lisburn and North Down will all be in Irish Cup action on Sunday. Not many have more experience – or success – on the biggest club stages than former Irish international Paul McCrum, who walked away with 10 winners medal from 11 finals across both competitions during his time with the likes of Waringstown, Lurgan and North Down. For a cricketer that grew up in the NCU, the Challenge Cup was always a competition of huge significance to McCrum and despite his exploits on the international stage, which included bowling against teams such as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, the build-up to those local finals were always a bit different.

"If I look back on my career, the most nerve-racking occasions for me were having breakfast on Friday morning at home and kicking off the game at Downpatrick," he recalled. "It was epic. The atmosphere was electric and there were a lot of nerves kicking about. Even for teams like Waringstown who were the cup kings, there was an expectation there – it was everything. I can vividly recall some of the journeys driving from Waringstown through Dromore out the Ballynahinch Road and making our way to Downpatrick. Throughout my career, those Senior Cup build-ups were probably the most special of any game I played."

McCrum was named man of the match in the 1993 final after picking up combined figures of 4-30 from 19 overs across two innings – which included dismissing brother Charles twice (who returned the favour by bowling Paul for 33 in the first innings!) – as Waringstown beat North Down by seven wickets. It marked a successful defence of their title for the Villagers - who defeated North of Ireland by 158 runs the previous year, and McCrum had an extra source of motivation to perform with one of his heroes present – a man that was also pretty decent with the ball in hand.

"The Friday afternoon was always special because a huge amount of players from other clubs turned up and you had such a great atmosphere," he added. "The marquee tent was up and in the final I won man of the match, I got to meet Dennis Lillee during the lunch break who was one of my heroes. I was highly motivated to perform in front of Dennis!"

Led by Garfield Harrison, that Waringstown squad was stacked full of quality and also won the 1992 Irish Senior Cup while the club dominated the NCU Senior League throughout the 1980's and early-90's. McCrum departed for North Down in 1994 as one of the first locally-based players to be paid for their services – where he was involved in a thrilling tied final against Lisburn – but looks back on that period with his boyhood club at The Lawn with great fondness.

"We had Garfield, two Nelly's (Alan and Noel), myself, (Alvin) Spence, Ivan (Anderson) – I think we had six internationals in that team and probably four inter-provincial players," he recalled. "That team was hugely talented, particularly the bowling aspect of the team. Nelly and I would generally set most things up and then you had guys like Garfield, Spence and Noel coming on – that was a special team.  The most special thing about that team is that it was hardworking and humble. On numerous occasions, myself, Garfield and the two Nelson's would come back from playing for Ireland over the weekend and we were first down at the nets on Monday night working hard. It was a very grounded team that was led superbly by Garfield."

The 59-year-old is now living in a Texan town called Prosper in the United States with his family, but with a few button clicks he can be transported back to The Lawn or The Green to keep up to date with everything that is going on at his former stomping grounds. Before answering our call, McCrum has had to turn down BBC Radio Ulster after listening to the local evening news from over 4,500 miles away – or to put it in another way – home.

"I love the fact that social media allows me to be transported to The Lawn," he said. "I'm very much still engaged with the province and my wife tells me I still live in the past in Northern Ireland and I'm OK with that because it's really who I am. I played for many teams but the beautiful thing about it is that any team I played for got 100% every game and I've equally blessed memories of them all, as hopefully they do of Paul McCrum."

Weekends and occasions like this would have brought the best out of McCrum – the brighter the lights and bigger the crowd, the more he thrived.

"I'd be trying to win man of the match in every game but of course the most important thing would be the team wins," he added. "Within that as an all-rounder, you want to perform and those two competitions get a lot of publicity and that's where you want to be as a player. You want to be starring and following in the footsteps of those great players and clubs."

Gallagher Challenge Cup
CSNI v Carrickfergus, CIYMS v Instonians, Cregagh v Derriaghy, Lisburn v Waringstown