Ballinamallard native Alistair McCrea has recently become a double world champion in bowls, a meteoric rise for the player who returned after quitting the game entirely for 13 years.

The moment of victory came on Sunday, March 20 in Belgium when England’s Short Mat Bowling (ESMBA) 2019 World Fours champions sealed the double when they also won the Short Mat Bowls Biennial World Championships.

Growing up in Ballinamallard, Alistair started playing bowls with Ballinamallard Methodist at the age of 11 and then went on to play with the club in Magheracross.

After moving to England at 18, he stopped playing bowls entirely. After a 13 year break, he returned to bowls in 2015, and along with his latest success, Alistair has experienced a number of other triumphs, including becoming an English Short Mat Bowling Association Open Triples Winner in 2018.

As his day job, Alistair is a partner at Ewbank’s Auctioneers near Woking and runs the highly successful Entertainment and Sporting Memorabilia department there, where sales totals runs to over £1.5 million a year. He usually spends his time celebrating other sporting greats and in July 2020 oversaw the £250,000-plus sale of the personal collection of former Manchester United captain Norman Whiteside.

His bowls team mates include Ben Pay, 31, a senior data analyst for OVO Energy who is the team ‘Skip’, Steve Buckett, 30, a Senior Engineer for Eaton Aerospace – both from near Portsmouth – and Mitchell Young, 26, a Performance Manager for the NHS, who lives near Brentwood in Essex.

“Coronavirus put paid to the championships two years ago, so although it is now 2022, this was the 2020 World Championships,” explained Alastair.

“We still had fewer countries than normal because of Covid, but all of the main contenders were there.”

Two England teams made it to the World Championship finals and to get there they first had to qualify via the ESMBA Open Fours competition. That had an entry of 64 teams, with Alastair and his team mates lifting the laurels.

Four finalists for the World Championship emerged after two days of play in which the team lost to Wales but beat the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway and Sweden.

Both England teams made it through alongside Wales and Ireland, but in the final it was Alastair’s team who dominated, first triumphing over their fellow English team, before beating Ireland 10-3.

“It was an absolute pleasure to skip a group of friends to a world championship title,” said Ben.

“I thank each one of them for their efforts and it still feels very surreal at this moment.”

Now the team are hoping that their outstanding achievement will help raise the profile of the sport further.

“In England we have about 25,000 registered players, but many more who are unregistered,” says Alastair.

“Across the world there are around 20 registered associations, so it is a widely popular sport, but one that has simply not caught the media’s eye until now.

“Bowls is now attracting a lot of young people.”

He also thinks that as it’s a sport that requires skill and control rather than supreme fitness or strength, it should appeal to a far wider cross section of the population than many other sports.

“It’s also a sport a lot of young people now play. I started when I was 11 and started winning from the age of 15. I stopped when I moved to England from Northern Ireland at the age of 18 and didn’t lift a bowl again until I was 30.”

Within four years of restarting he was an Open Triples Winner, within five a world champion, and he helped his team mates lift the double World Championship just two years later, the day before his 37th birthday.

“As far as we are aware, we are the first people from Surrey or Hampshire to win a world title in this sport,” said Alastair.