By TONY WHITE
FOR nearly three decades, Westlawn Grafton Hotel's elder statesman Rob McCredie has plied his trade on cricket fields around the Clarence Valley and beyond, gaining notoriety as dexterous batsman, tenacious competitor and fiercely loyal team player.
At 46, McCredie is the Valley's longest serving first grader. He's played with and against the best cricketers in the area since arriving from Wauchope as a 17-year-old in 1976.
He's played in an amazing 11 grand final winning teams for Westlawn, was a regular with the CRCA First XI, represented the North Coast and Northern NSW, been a CRCA representative selector and vice-president of Westlawn for 20 years.
"They finally found out the vice-president didn't do anything so they chucked me out last year," McCredie joked. "Someone else wanted the title."
Quick witted and a bloke who loves a beer, a bet and a good laugh with his mates, the moustacioed veteran was raised in Sydney.
"Dad died when I was eight and we moved to Wauchope when mum remarried my stepfather Roy Mudford," McCredie recalled. "Roy played cricket and I used to go along with him on Saturdays. The team was generally short and I got a start there."
McCredie played third and second grade in Wauchope and after leaving school worked for a local bank before being transfered to Grafton.
"I signed up with Westlawn and they still haven't got rid of me," he said.
Initially a wicketkeeper-batsman, McCredie scored the first of his grand final wins as a first grader in his initial year in Grafton.
"I played second grade and the odd first grade game but got the call up to firsts when we beat Easts," McCredie said.
"The following year I started in seconds again, got called up for the first grade final which we lost, went back to seconds and we beat South in the grand final."
McCredie found it a difficult task to separate the GF wins.
"They are all special," he suggested with prompting.
"Probably the first of our three in a row many years back when I got 50-odd and we beat South with Rob Stevens, Neil and John Frame and Brett Evans in the team.
"And when 'Charlie' (Daniel Amos) scored 195no (2002-03). Scully (Westlawn captain Tony Blanch) came around on Sunday morning and wanted votes for the number one and two player for the year.
"I said no way, not until after the game. I just had a gut feeling something special was going to happen and it did. That was pretty weird."
McCredie's best players took some recall.
"Gee there's been too many to remember," he said. "The best I played against was Rob Stevens, then there's Neil and John Frame, Barry Everingham, the Greenaway's and Copemans.
"The best bowler I faced was probably Len Frame.
"Ray Collie stands out like a beacon as the best player I've played with then there's Scully, Andrew Firth and two great captains in Bruce Leonard and Les Paine.
"This current Westlawn team is the strongest I've played with and we've had some good sides over the years."
According to McCredie the standard of cricket nowdays is 'incomparable' to earlier in his career.
"Years ago there was so much more depth," he suggested. "They should have combined the comps with Maclean and Lower 20 years back, it might have helped.
"Because the standard has dropped there's more kids coming through first earlier. There's some great kids around. The Souths kids are going to be world beaters if they stick at it and we've got the likes of the Purser's and Rohan Hackett.
"The trouble is keeping them. Most of them finish school and move away for work."
McCredie has never kept personal statistics ? "I've scored six or seven hundreds but no idea of how many runs overall," he said modestly. His last 'ton' came in the 2000-01 semi final against South.
"I think I was the oldest player to score a ton but Ed Munday crashed that record," he laughed.
McCredie admits Westlawn "aren't going as well as we should" but quickly added "in saying that we can win the grand final.
"I think we're a pretty good thing. There's been complacency. We've rested on our laurels, sitting back and waiting for something to happen and sometimes it hasn't."
A nagging groin injury has McCredie in doubt for what could well be his swan song this weekend. Close mate Benny Mills has used some old greyhound treatments to help the injury and get McCredie onto the playing field.
"I'm hopeful of being there but gone are the days they rely on me," he said modestly. "It's not cut and dried I'm finished. The mind is willing but the body isn't as able.
"I'd like to play next year and make it 30 years but one thing I won't do is stand in the way of any young kids.
"They are the future."