Ian Rankin holds the record for the highest individual score in a NW Senior Cup, when back in 1982 he hit an unbeaten 167 to spearhead an innings victory for St Johnston against Strabane.

That innings remains a record to this day in the NW's blue riband event, which has a rich 132 year history stretching back to 1888.

38 years on, Rankin has a clear recollection of his innings which saw the Donegal side win the the trophy for the fourth time, adding to victories in 1959, 1975, and 1978.

"We went into the final as slight underdogs against Strabane," he began.

"They had Bobby Rao in their ranks, who was undoubtedly a quality player, as you don't get to play Test cricket for India unless you are an exceptional talent.

"We as a club would have been very anti-professional and I suppose this gave the contest an extra edge. Our stance has changed though in recent times and a few years ago we even hired Bobby as a player-coach. He would have been well into his 50s then though, so it was really his coaching ability we were getting. I have to say he did a fantastic job in that area.

"We batted first in the game which was at Beechgrove, where the wicket and the overhead conditions were excellent. We lost Ian Anthony and William McKean early on so I was early to the crease at number four, joining my brother David. We had a bit of a stand before he went for 27.

"I had started my innings steadily enough, but the runs started to flow as I settled down. I shared partnerships with Alan McClure and Ivan Lapsley, and we got to tea having reached 171 for 4 after 40 overs.

"After the resumption I only got nervous when I reached 99. They brought the field in and I couldn't the ball through for about 3 or 4 deliveries. However, I got one outside my off stump which I cut hard, but it was in the air. My heart was in my mouth and I thought 'God, no' as it went towards the point fielder. However it pitched a few yards in front of him and the fumble allowed me to get the hundred.

"It was a great feeling to reach the landmark in a final. Certainly very emotional, not just for me but for family and team mates. We were a real unit of togetherness in our ranks, and were friends as well as colleagues."

Rankin though knew that a total of 200 while a good one, was by no means a daunting one given the influence and reputation of Rao.

"We were very conscious of the Rao factor. That concentrated my mind and I didn't give my wicket away once I'd reached the hundred. Myself and Aidan Devine put on over 100 and we finished on 306 for 6. With our attack, that gave us great confidence going out to field, but we knew Rao was the key for us.

A steady start by the experienced opening pair of Paddy Gillespie and Cyril Mellon was ended by wickets for Paul Wallace and Ivan Lapsley, and with former Irish international Aubrey Finlay falling cheaply, the pressure was all on Rao's shoulders.

"Bobby had reached 20 when he misjudged a pull shot off Paul Wallace, and it went to William McKean who made no mistake. They struggled after that and despite a few lusty blows by Dennis Porter, they made 160 and had to follow-on.

Second time around, things got no easier for Strabane as John Davey and Paul Wallace were again among the wickets, but it was Ivan Lapsley who was the bowing hero, taking a five-wicket haul, including the prized scalp of Rao.

"Ivan was bowling well and getting the ball to move around. Bobby shouldered arms to a ball outside off but it jagged back and took the off-stump. It was a good ball but maybe he should have covered it with his pads. Whatever, he was gone and Strabane knew the game was up."

Sure enough Strabane made just 81, and the margin of victory was an innings and 65 runs. The Man-of-the-Match award a formality for adjudicator John McMillan (pictured below with Ian Rankin).

 

Rankin was luckier than most, having an excellent record in cup finals where four of his five winners medals were achieved by huge margins - innings victories for Brigade in 1972 and 1973, as well as  St Johnston's 1978 and 82 wins.

He had started his career with St Johnston, before moving to Belfast where he played at Queens University as well as switching to Brigade. The Beechgrove side were a dominant force in NW cricket at that time, but the lure of his home club saw him move back to St Johnston.

While four of the wins were one-sided affairs, the 1975 final against Ardmore doesn't fall into that category, producing one of the most tense affairs in the tournaments history.

For St Johnston though, there would be glory, representing a remarkable turnaround from a club that stood on the brink of collapse just six years previously.

"There was a meeting to wind up the club as we had lost a lot of players, but Paddy O'Donnell and the Reverend McSparron to their eternal credit managed to keep things going. Gradually younger players came in and with others returning we were soon back on track."

The 1975 final saw St Johnston as underdogs to Ardmore but there was little between the teams, with Ardmore in the lower reaches of the top flight, and St Johnston at the top of Section B.

St Johnston batted first and with everyone chipping in managed to get 184. Half centuries from Eamon McLaughlin and Jim Cunningham gave Ardmore a 27-run lead and when St Johnston struggled in their second innings at 65 for 5, it seemed Ardmore would break the gypsy curse and capture the trophy for the first time in their history.

However, the final was not without controversy, and it was to turn on one of these moments, which has divided opinion ever since.

"The big moment in the game was when Alan McClure was reprieved by the umpires after Ardmore thought he had been caught at slip. They were adamant he was out but Alan felt the ball had been a bump one, and that he had jabbed it into the ground. He would say that I suppose but the umpires agreed with him and he was given not out. We see even today with all the technology available just how difficult a task it is to adjudicate on events like this.

"This wasn't the only disputed catch in the game. I had fumbled a catch from Eamon McLaughlin, but managed to recover and take it just above the ground. I made the mistake  of kicking the ball away, instead of throwing it up and Eamon and the crowd took that as a sign I had dropped it. Myself and Eamon had been on a coaching trip to Lord's when we were teenagers so we knew each other well. He still wasn't happy though."

McClure went on top score with 75 as St Johnston rallied, setting Ardmore 163 to win the cup. A tense contest boiled down to Ardmore needing seven runs with the last pair of Raza Jawad and 15 year-old George Gillen at the crease. Jawad, a Pakistani who worked for the local Du Pont chemical plant had just reached his century and the huge crowd were enthralled as the three-day battle reached its climax.

"There were no fielding restrictions in those days so were able to have everyone back on the boundary. Ivan Lapsley did well to stop a powerful cut from Jawad which would I think have guaranteed them at least a tie.

"My brother David eventually bowled young George Gillen and the celebrations started. It was such a great game of cricket and it's always good to come out on the right side of tight matches.

"There were bonfires lit on our return to the village and we went around in the back of one of Flemings lorries on a victory parade.

"We celebrated in all the local pubs. The Hole in the Wall, Joe Peoples', and Brysons of Carrigans. We had a great time and of course the beer always tastes better when you win."

St Johnston would later become the first team from the NW to win the Irish Senior Cup, upsetting Brigade in 1987.

Despite a few lean years the club have shown signs of a resurgence in recent years, and with recent ground and pavilion improvements are well placed for future success, with their youth teams capturing trophies on a regular basis. Ian's son Michael  (both pictured below)is a regular member of their senior squad too.

Who knows, one of these young Saints may go on to emulate or even surpass Rankin's record!