As he prepares for his testimonial season with Wigan, Micky McIlorum reflects on his snaking career...
Had he watched it, Micky McIlorum may have had a smile on his face after Saturday’s Challenge Cup Final.
The defining moment of Hull FC’s 12-10 victory was a late, crucial try-saving tackle by Danny Houghton on Warrington’s Ben Currie.
Good to see hookers getting noticed for their defence.
“I’ve always enjoyed that side of the game,” said McIlorum.
“I still think there’s a lot more I can work on in attack, but I try and pride myself on my defence. It’s just something I’ve always done – even as a kid, I’d always be the one trying to put a shot on.
“In Super League, I don’t think the commentators notice that side of the game.
“If someone comes off the bench and makes yards they’re the best thing since sliced bread, but they don’t mention the six missed-tackles.”
Even passive fans appreciate McIlorum’s value to Wigan, and the intangible and immeasurable qualities he brings to their overall performance; line-speed, energy and an intimidation factor which can rattle even the fiercest of opponent.
When he broke his ankle in the World Club Series game against Brisbane, there was a collective sigh of concern – first for the player’s welfare, and secondly for the impact his absence will have on the team.
“It’s been frustrating,” said the 28-year-old. “The hardest part has been since I’ve started running again in the last few weeks, it’s the last 10 per cent which will be the toughest, I think.
“It’s a case of so close, but so far.
“I was hoping to get back in the next couple of weeks, but I think time is running out. The surgeon says it’s going to plan, and that I can’t rush it because it was a traumatic injury, but it’s not going as quick as I want it to!
“I’d set targets in my head that probably aren’t realistic, so I’ve probably made it tough for myself, but that’s my mindset – I just want to be back as soon as I can and help the boys out.”
He has used his enforced lay-off wisely, considering options for his post-playing career and planning events for his testimonial season in 2017 to mark his decade-long service to the club.
“If ever there was a good time to break my leg, this was it – there’s a lot to sort out,” said McIlorum, who is comfortable in the public eye but isn’t the type to crave attention.
“I’m quite a private person. People who see me on the pitch, they probably think I’m nasty! But the people who know me well, know what I’m really like.
“It’s exciting, and I’m looking forward to the testimonial events we’ve got sorted. There should be some good socials on there, so hopefully everyone has a good time. It doesn’t seem two minutes since my debut and, coming up to 10 years, it’s quite scary how quickly it has gone.”
McIlorum was playing for Leeds amateur club Queens, against St Pat’s, when his tenacity and aggression caught Shaun Wane’s eye. He soon moved over the Pennines, leaving behind a life which seemed destined for “trouble”.
“It’s not nice to think what I might be doing if it wasn’t for rugby,” he admits. “A lot of my mates, they are in trouble or they’ve been in trouble, and I’d probably be in that same category.
“I’m fortunate I’ve been picked up by Wigan and my life has turned into a good one.
“I’ve not been in that much trouble, touch wood! It’s been pretty good, and a lot of that is down to the staff and the good people around me, they’ve steered me in the right direction.
“Waney has played a massive role, if it wasn’t for him I might not be playing. He’s stuck his neck out for me, on and off the field, I owe him a lot.”
Sean O’Loughlin recalls being impressed by the way McIlorum wasn’t over-awed by the bigger-names when he was promoted to the first-team set-up as a teenager.
“That’s because I didn’t know who any of them where,” laughed McIlorum. “I’ve never been someone to model by game on anyone, because I was never a big rugby league fan. As a kid I was more into football.
“Even when Dean Bell asked me to come down, I had no idea who he was.”
He became the 1000th player to represent Wigan when he made his debut under Brian Noble in 2007, and made 46 appearances before Michael Maguire’s arrival in 2010.
“When Madge came, he put more discipline and belief in the team, and really changed the culture here,” said McIlorum. “I had a good season, I started in the Grand Final, and there have been a few other highlights since.
“The double in 2013, the last derby at Knowsley Road, the first at Langtree Park, captaining the side... it’s impossible to pick one out above the others.
“But there have been quite a lot of lows as well, especially with injuries.”
Among those was the 2014 Grand Final, which he missed after fracturing his eye socket in the previous game.
If there was ever a moment which typified McIlorum’s toughness and commitment to Wigan, it was his plea to Wane to play in the game. He even offered to sign a waiver form, absolving the club of any blame if he suffered an injury.
“But that just sums up Micky, and how much he loves this club,” said Wane.
“That’s why, when you’re talking about players getting testimonials, it’s hard to think of many more deserving than Micky.”
Among McIlorum’s testimonial events are a planned game, dinners in Leeds, Wigan, Whitehaven and Manchester, a comedy night, a race day and golf day. Sponsorship opportunities and details are at his website mmc9.co.uk.