Sunday, November 30, 2014

Glen man takes over Shinty's top job

The election of Glenurquhart’s Jim Barr to the Presidency of the Camanachd Association is as good a reason as can be given for any Glen blog let alone the “D” coming on line again after a two month stutter. That stutter has in no small measure been due to the manner of the Glen’s defeat in the Camanachd Cup final and the loss of the Shinty/Hurling series to the Irish after what can only be described as a disappointing second leg In Newry.

Still Jim Barr’s appointment on Friday 27th is rightly marked as an important occasion in the history of Glenurquhart Shinty Club. Not only is Jim the first Glen president of the Association but he is probably the most famous Glenner to come out of Balmacaan Road since Burton Morrison, Mike Cameron and Eddie Tembo. Certainly, he is not quite as famous as his son John however who when the Wing Centre last checked up on had his own Wiki page but undoubtedly Jim will probably be accorded one now.
On a more serious note Jim brings to the Camanachd post much experience, common sense and a deep knowledge of the game. He first made his name as a member of the very successful Aberdeen University side of the early 1970s. When he the left University side he resumed his links with the Glen and played with the red and blacks at all levels. He also managed the Glen firsts and served as Chairman. He has also served his time on the Board of the Camanachd Association in various roles and his years of management experience at a senior level in the oil industry will stand him in good stead as he guides the Association through the various stages of its next strategic plan.
The picture of Jim on the night could have been better if Neil Paterson had been present but the snap of Jim in the helmet from a year or two back is perhaps more appropriate both because he may need that helmet for protection in the years to come and because it also sends out a message to young players that wearing a helmet can be cool. On the other hand looking at the pic, perhaps not.  Whatever happens in the short term however, the long term future for shinty as it is for hurling must be helmeted. The Insurers in the long run will see to that.

The most pressing business of the AGM was the increase in the Premier League to 10 teams – and the maintenance of the National League as the tier below though it was not increased in numbers to the disappointment of some. Nor was it scrapped altogether to the equally felt disappointment of others. The only thing this writer would say, apart from the obvious that the whole scene needs to be monitored carefully, is the fact that the Board should perhaps look sympathetically at the cup entry regulations for the 1 team clubs. In the North that means for the moment Lochcarron, Boleskine, Glengarry et al. The MacTavish is beyond them and if experience last year is anything to go by teams will pull out depending on who they are drawn against. They do have the plate but that too will be the preserve of bigger teams. They perhaps need a chance in at least one of the other national trophies.
The increase in games at Premier level as Fraser Inglis sensibly pointed out in the post meeting session also calls into question the viability of having a two leg international series. The maintenance of a single fixture however is a must for the profile of the sport.

What else has been happening in the world of Glen Shinty?
The Annual get together at the Clansman Hotel was held on Friday 14th November. A good night enjoyed by all with fine dining and dancing , very appropriately to Caman.
The evening also saw the yearly awards to the players and the awards were as follows:
Young player of the year-Fraser Heath

Second Team Players' Player of the Year-Paul Mackintosh

First Team Players' Player of the year-Arran Macdonald.

The Wing Centre forgot to bring along a decent camera and had to rely on an inferior model to pick up a snap of Fraser Heath. The others come from somewhere else.
Earlier in the month the under 14 side were presented with their North Division 2 – Phase 2 League Trophy by Camanachd Association Development Officer Russell Jones.

Before that the inaugural GUSC Youth awards were held in the theatre at Glenurquhart High School and a series of excellent pics of the presentation were presented on the club website courtesy of Andrew and Sheena Lloyd. The names of the winners were also recorded and will of course appear for posterity in the next edition of the Glenurquhart Bulletin. A number of these pics appear here.
The youngsters did particularly well this season and a later Blog will detail their year.

Also worthy of mention was the fact that Fraser Heath represented Scotland under21s while John Barr was chosen for the senior match. Stuart Reid headed the management team for the Scotland womens side while Ewan Menzies was a member of the victorious Scottish University side which defeated the Irish in the mixed code game.
At the start of the month the Wing Centre got a bit of a surprise. He was down late to the Ballachulish v Skye playoff match and on the way there he was met by a man who said. “I see the Glen have had to step in at the last minute to make a game of it. Ballachulish probably could not get past the landslides they keep having at Onich.”

From the gate of the field that’s what it looked like: one team was wearing the familiar red and black –but the Wing Centre did not recognise the players until he got close enough to make out that it was John Macdonald, Lorne Brown, Donald Wilson, Clark the full back and the rest of the Balla boys who were in the Glen strip.

Unfortunately it did not bring them luck but at the very least it was good for the general exposure of the Glen sponsors because Neil Paterson who took the pics (and is here gratefully acknowledged) managed to get some into the P & J. As a game it was a good enough contest which drew a large crowd from both communities who were passionate in their support, so to speak.

In the end it did not matter because thanks to the AGM’s decision to restructure the Leagues both sides progressed to the next level of shinty.
What’s next on the agenda for Glen shinty?  Only these next two minor details

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Friday, October 31, 2014

Testing Times

Sport sometimes lifts you up; other times it drags you down. This particular author, after having sat through the crushing disappointment of a Camanachd Cup performance, did not particularly want to blog about the end of season Glen games despite the fact that the boys played well enough when they were asked to pull on the red and black - and there were one or two other things too that merited a mention - and perhaps still might get one given there is now little else to write about but shinty politics.

Then after a spell in the doldrums a game comes along which lifts the spirit and that surely was the first leg of the mixed code international. The night before the match the Marine Harvest awards ceremony was held in the Kingsmills Hotel and while the Wing Centre was certainly intending to report on the success of Glen’s Fraser Heath who received the under 21 trophy, the two guys who picked up the major awards Stuart Macdonald of Lovat and Steven Macdonald of Newtonmore are worth a blog all on their own.

Why? Simply because along with all the other guys they put in superb performances at the Bught the next afternoon and for a week at least let you believe that shinty was every bit as good as hurling. This writer still believes it is, but after last weekend in Newry he lacks the evidence to prove it.

The week before at the Bught was very different. A bright dry afternoon right after the National Mod with the Bught dry, short and in fine condition for an open game despite the stiffening breeze - and the Shinty fans turned out in goodly numbers despite the fact that universal wisdom in the bit of the stand where yours truly sat was that the boys would be “up against it”. But then shinty folk always say that simply because the Irish guys are professional in all but name, training 3 to 4 times a week and playing in a sport which is backed firmly at national level. Shinty by contrast is patronised in most places and even in Inverness, the Highland Capital, is at best, regarded as a rural eccentricity. This much we all know.

Still on that first Saturday the guys won: this is how the Herald guy more or less saw it.
Marine Harvest Shinty/Hurling International Series
1st Test, Bught Park Inverness
Scotland (3-14) 23 Ireland (2-8) 14
Ronald Ross’s side restored some pride to Scottish shinty when they pulled off a memorable victory against Ireland’s hurlers and put themselves ahead in the series for the first time since 2010. The last few clashes in the mixed code game have seen the Scots struggle with the pace of the Irish forwards but this time it was the home side which dominated.
After taking an early two point lead thanks to a Kevin Bartlett strike and with the assistance of a strong breeze, the Scots looked likely to overwhelm their visitors but first Gary Innes and then Kyles front man Roddy Macdonald missed simple chances while at the other end, Scotland keeper Stuart Macdonald made a tremendous reflex save to keep out a point blank strike from Tipperary’s Patrick Maher.
Both sides appeared to cancel each other early in the match but it was Scotland’s Bartlett  who put his side a further two points ahead in 14 minutes from a free hit won by the persistent play of Newtonmore’s Fraser Mackintosh.  Mackintosh then turned provider when he dispossessed an Irish defender and Kyles’ Roddy Macdonald scored from close range to add a further three points to his side’s tally.
A further two pointer from Bartlett gave the Scots a 9-0 lead before the visitors finally got on the score sheet in 25 minutes first through a single point from Patrick Horgan and then with a  goal from Cork’s Connor Lehane who fired an unstoppable shot past Macdonald from an acute angle.
Horgan clawed another Irish point back before the Scots re-asserted their dominance when a neat interchange between John Macdonald and Mackay let Newtonmore’s Paul MacArthur clear but his effort flew just over and only counted for a single. Bartlett however was once again on hand with another two pointer and although Horgan notched another point for the visitors Scotland went in at the break with a 13-6 lead.
If the Scots supporters were in any way concerned about their side playing into the wind in the second half, their minds were quickly set at rest. Though Paul Dermody picked up an early single, Roddy Macdonald who has been in the international wilderness for a year or two repaid the manager’s faith in him when he nipped in front of his marker to glance home a Bartlett through ball for his second goal of the afternoon.

Two more points from Bartlett helped Scotland further ahead before Patrick Maher ran through to score a fine solo goal with the pace beginning to take its toll on the Scottish defence. Bartlett once again helped out with a further double. The Irish fought back with points from Lehane and Paul Divilly but Bartlett however who had the last word when he plucked a high cross out of the air and fired the ball home for Scotland’s third goal to confirm his status as man of the match.
Stuart Macdonald then had to make two fine late saves as the Irish, mindful of next weekend’s return leg in Newry, fought to reduce the margin of defeat.

The Wing Centre went on to the field at the end of the match to enjoy the celebration and to have a word with Ronald. While everyone was rejoicing at the win he articulated what most knew already. The Irish would be smarting and out for revenge. With their fitness and the fact that they had a week to analyse a televised recording of the match they would be much better prepared. The other telling factor was bound to be the refereeing. In the first match Ref Innes Wood kept on top of the physical Irish challenges and when they pushed in the back or smashed through from behind with their sticks then he perfectly correctly pulled them up. That was most unlikely to happen at Newry’s Pairc an Esler the following Saturday when the GAA would provide the officials.
For a week the feeling was positive and despite the frustrations of having to follow the match on Facebook and Twitter the build up to the big game was quite uplifting. First Scotland’s women’s side, coached by Glen’s Stuart Reid won over a County Down select 14-9. Then the  under 21 match was an even  more successful affair with the Scots running out comfortable winners 21-7 thanks to excellent individual performances from Lovat’s Greg Matheson and Zac Coley of Kyles Athletic who was man of the match. Glen’s Fraser Heath made his own invaluable contribution to the victory
Then came the big game – under floodlights and more or less impossible to follow in real time because TV4 did not stream it live in Scotland and while it could be accessed via arcane technical means for this writer that was a non-starter. Thanks therefore to phone contact with Calum Duff, Jim Barr, Richard Gall and Eoghan Stewart plus Facebook and Twitter the following account was pieced together. A few words from Gary Innes at the end of the match also helped paint the picture. Is it accurate? After the disappointment of the result that matters little.
Here it is.

Shinty/ Hurling International Series
Second Test, Pairc Esler, Newry Co.Down 
Ireland  (2-18) 24  Scotland (0-8)  8
(Ireland win the series 4-3)
Ronald Ross fielded an unchanged side as Scotland attempted to secure their first victory in the mixed code series since the event became a double header in 2010.
With a comfortable lead from the first leg – a 3-1 advantage based on two points for a win and a bonus point for scoring twice ,the side should have been in the driving seat but playing under floodlights into a tricky wind they found their opponents much more up for the return encounter.
The speed and the quick interplay of the Irish side hassled the visitors into conceding early fouls but Ireland were initially unable to cut the ball over the bar for a score and it was Scotland’s hero of last week Kevin Bartlett who put his side ahead with a two pointer when Irish keeper Eoin Reilly handled outside the box.

Clare’s David Mcinerney quickly levelled with a free off the ground and then just after a nice combination between Bartlett and Roddy Macdonald resulted in a tremendous save from Reilly , West Meath’s Eoin Price broke away to put the Irish ahead by a single point.
The pace of the Irish continued to worry Scotland and if the Hurlers had not been so wasteful in front of goal then Scotland would have been in deeper trouble. Bartlett though picked up another two points from a free hit to give Scotland a brief lead after front man Fraser Mackintosh had been fouled.
Ireland then began to turn the screw. First Paul Divilly powered past stick-less Scotland defender Steven Macdonald to nick a single point then Eoin Price and Patrick Maher worked fine singles before some fine ground hurling from Price culminated in a fine goal. Scotland had a late chance from distance but Steven Macdonald’s free hit flew wide and the visitors went in at half time still ahead on aggregate scores but on the day trailing 9-6.
Ireland started the second half in the same high tempo manner with Connor McCann immediately striking a single. Despite Bartlett once again popping over another two pointer Lehane immediately restored the differential.
Ireland then had the ball in the net for a second time in 58 minutes but the game was pulled back for an offence which was immediately converted by Lehane for two points to bring the tally to 13-6.
Price and Leland picked up two more singles and matters might have been worse if Scotland keeper Stuart Macdonald had not pulled off a fantastic stop from Maher. Bartlett picked up two more points to keep Scotland ahead but further singles from Larkin McLaughlin and local boy John McCusker once again evened things out.
It was only a matter of time however before the Irish onslaught succeeded and a second goal 3 minutes from time from man of the match Eoin Price brought Ireland the extra point which decisively ensured a home victory in the series for the 5th year in a row.
Further singles from McCusker and Lehane were then racked up to further widen the aggregate scores but it was the two goals from Price which definitively decided the fate of the trophy.

A disappointment for Scotland then - and certainly not the first for the country this year. Still, the side was in with a chance right up till the half way mark but the faster, fitter men in green were just too good overall, though to be fair it was not until the last quarter that they finally pulled ahead.
As for the Glen? John Barr played his part on both Saturdays. Glenners can’t ask for more. The Bught at least provided the crowd.
The pictures- cheery ones most of them from that happy day at the Bught and most from the Camanachd Association via Neil Paterson. One or two from the Wing Centre himself- and one of Kevin Bartlett in Newry from Kim Ferguson.Why ? Kevin at least hit the target. There certainly was not much of a crowd in Newry but at least the Bught stand was pretty full up- and you never thought you would ever see two pics of Jimmy Gow in the "D"?

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Camanachd Special- Check out the Crowd!!

It should have been the biggest day for Glen shinty since the Loch Ness Inn changed its menu. A monster day as MacAllister himself might have said. It wasn’t. That’s all that can be said about it. There is little point at this stage writing a report about the game such as it was: by now the news has moved on and since most people in the Glen were there they saw it happen and will have formed their own opinion of what occurred on the day. The three folk that stayed to drink in the Ben Leva will have been privileged to hear the on-the-spot analysis of Fraser Inglis who called it right. How does the Wing Centre know this? He recorded the match and watched the play back and at every point where Fraser was asked what he thought, he commanded his brief and called it right.
Apart from that, congratulations have to be offered to Himself M.B.E. who turned the game as he did the semi. He provided the first goal for Savio Genini, scored the second - going past two defenders - and nabbed the fourth. Congratulations are certainly due to the Glen defence for stopping him getting a hat-trick! That would have been too hard to bear.

Well done to Savio Genini too for two superb finishes and for showing the strength of character to keep his head up when some early touches did not go for him. Well done to the rest of the Kingussie lads too and to Russell Jones and Wee Davie and that fine friend of the Glen, Houston Old on the sidelines who coaches their forwards. He seems to do a fair job.

 As for the Glen they have to learn to score when they have the opportunities and they should try hard not to get injured. On the other hand we have to thank these lads ;all of them , on both sides , put their livelihoods on the line. They don't get paid but one missed block can mean a big loss of income.
To step back a little, it might be best to reflect on the fact that the Glen got to two major cup finals in the one season which can only be a good thing. The greatest step is to come but that will be up to the players who make it into the side in the future and the real task is to work hard at keeping the sport to the fore in the community to a high enough standard so that these chances can come round again.
In the meantime the Wing Centre and Glenurquhart Shinty Club would like to thank all who came to support us at the Bught Park on Saturday. Exiled Glenners came from near and far, from home and abroad to swell the ranks of the faithful and the colour, noise and excitement generated by the Glen support made the day the success it was and gave the sport one of its biggest Camanachd Cup crowds since the Glen were there last. Thank you one and all.
Enjoy the pictures of players and spectators from Sheena Lloyd and the Wing Centre’s trusty old mobile. Also included is one of the Strath Ladies team with our minibus: they actually won their cup. Grrrr!!

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Yes We Can!

Glen are in the Camanachd Final but while everyone on the street is excited and on edge  - and the village is putting on a bit of colour - most of us close to the club are pretending it’s just another game.


It’s almost as if there is a little part of us all that wonders if after 26 years the Glen have the right to be there. Of course they have: this sort of thing just does not happen by accident. Results don’t lie. The team has performed well throughout the season and has not actually lost since the MacTavish final.

At present they stand third in the Premier League, just ahead of Kingussie.
It is also clear there is some depth to the club from the manner in which the second string played against Skye the other week. A last minute mixture of vets and under 17s with three or four more mature players holding key positions (and the keeper back in Drum helping out the firsts in a pre Camanachd rehearsal) combined to give the Islanders a reasonable game. Had it been earlier in the summer and the side had Raymond Robertson, Jack and Ben Hosie available then the whole thing might have been closer still. These points clinched the championship for Skye.
The best team in the division is of course Newtonmore and they have come through the traumas of a huge injury list to make it 5 Premier League championships in a row, helped, it has to be said, by second placed Lovat who missed an opportunity to create history by losing points in games in which they should have done better. These two sides and of course Kyles Athletic then went on to lose vital games in the Camanachd - and so the big day devolves on two teams whom it is fair to say would not have been everybody’s first choice to put down on the betting slip.
So where are we now in the run up to the Camanachd final? Well we are at the silly photograph stage. Lee Bain - a former Glenurquhart High School pupil it should be noted - has already been snapped in his working togs and very smart he looks too though he has disappointingly swapped the traditional Strathglass “deerstalker” hat for the natty tweed cap more in favour amongst the Badenoch toffs. Still it seems to suit the young man. Lee has had some injury problems this season but now he seems to be back on his feet again - and Kingussie will need him to be - because he is a big player for them and having grown up in Strathglass he knows how the individual Glenners play better than anyone else hefted to Badenoch.
Rumours have also abounded that a photo shoot was going on in the Glen too, so the Wing Centre has been waiting patiently for a pic of a monster or a castle to turn up somewhere. The only thing the Treasurer insisted on was that he was certainly not going to pay “Hysterical Scotland” prices for entry to the Castle for any players to be pictured against an historical background. It appears these snaps have been taken and will appear sometime over the weekend in publications more favoured than this one. The photographer was kind enough to send one or two over.

 Note how Hutchie does not touch the trophy. That will be an old Badenoch superstition going back to the days of the Black Officer of Ballachroan who met his match at Gaick. Now the Officer was a fair player in his day but from a Glen point of view maybe it’s a pity the game is not being played at Gaick. Maybe even the Old Grey Man of Ben Macdhui will make an appearance in the Kings strip , if he isn't already playing in the guise of Ronald ?
Note that for the Glen’s “Heathie” there is no equivalent superstition. That is most probably because the red and blacks have not actually appeared in enough finals to build up a genuine superstition.

Meanwhile the Glen is getting set up for the big day. A wee stroll around the centre of Drum shows the shops are getting geared up for the match with window displays of black and red - and the Post Office is selling tickets faster than it is selling the latest edition of the Glen Bulletin.

 Even the Drumossie Hotel has got in on the act.

Every second person you meet will present you with a copy of his chosen team -well not everybody but a goodly number. The Wing Centre has been handed little sheets of paper on four occasions complete with tactics, names with roles assigned. Both Lewis Maclennan and Fraser Heath are suggested to be playing in every known position except goalkeeper.

There is certainly no shortage of suggestions for a Plan B. It all makes for a nice build up. On top of all that Russell Jones of the Camanachd Association is going round the Primary Schools tomorrow to let them see the Cup.
Which brings us to the preview: “It’s too close to call” is the usual cop-out. Cop-out or not it is genuinely hard to call. For one thing it brings together Kingussie and Glenurquhart in a re-run of the classic 1988 final. On that occasion Kingussie eventually came out on top 4-2 but only after the Glen had given them a real scare taking a 2-1 lead into the half time dressing room. Kingussie were the favourites on that day and they’ll be favourites again this time simply because they have tradition on their side but that said this present Glen team now are at a different level from the squad of ‘88. This is their 4th major final in the last few seasons though in saying that, none of them has played in a Camanachd Cup semi-final before this year’s win over Skye. There is this time very little between the teams and that judgement of the relative strengths of the two sides is supported by the stats surrounding their Premier League meetings this season: both sides took points off each other with narrow home wins - and at present sit third and fourth in the Premier table with every possibility that they will finish the season on the same points though goal difference at present favours the Glen.
Back in 1988 the different goal scoring abilities of the two sides was very marked. Out of the top 6 scorers in the then North League, 4 were from Kingussie (Davie Anderson, Kevin Thain, Angus MacIssac and Steven Borthwick). Coming in at No 5 was Ron Fraser with 29, a full 19 strikes shy of Anderson.
That said tradition will certainly play a part as it does in every Camanachd Cup final but will it win the day? And for whom?  Both teams have a long history: Glenurquhart existed even before the Camanachd Association did having come into being in 1884 while Kingussie date from 1893. In cup winning terms however Kingussie clearly come out on top. While the Glen are making only their second ever appearance in a Camanachd final, Kingussie have won shinty’s premier trophy 22 times in total and 12 of these have been since 1988.Indeed in a nice nod to tradition Kingussie will wear special commemorative strips which will honour their 1914 Camanachd Cup winning team, six of whom later lost their lives in the Great War. From Glenurquhart too came many who made the supreme sacrifice - there are 52 names from the 14-18 war on the Memorial outside the Bank - but given that the last Glen team to get to an important final was back in 1902 the names of those who had a shinty connection among the dead have sadly gone unrecorded.

In today’s squads both sides have excellent forwards: while the Glen’s James Macpherson is the top scorer in the competition so far, Kingussie youngster Savio Genini who scored with a fabulous strike in the semi-final was the pick of the Badenoch frontmen for most of the season. That was until a certain Ronald Ross M.B.E. was restored to the side for the semi. Ross completely changed the dynamic of the team scoring once and netting two penalties in the shootout against Fort William. Davie Anderson reincarnated as Kingussie co-manager acknowledges the contribution of Ross but is keen to shift the focus away from the sport’s most high profile player.“Of course, Ronald has been a great performer for us but people have to remember he has only played one game in the Camanachd Cup this season. We defeated Lovat and Kyles without Ronald so it is not the Ronald roadshow in the same way as it has been before. We have players in there, like Louis Munro, Fraser Munro and Lee Bain, who have never won a Camanachd Cup winners’ medal. It will be as much about these lads because they are desperate to be like the Kingussie players before them.”
Davie is putting up the usual managerial smokescreen and why not? That said the eyes of all the punters in the stand will still be on Ronald - but he is right about one thing. It won’t all be about Ronald. The Glen have a fine squad - and if the guys in the middle can come out of the tunnel focused and get a grip of the centre-line then they have a serious chance of a result. Much will depend too on the Glen forwards not allowing Lee Bain and James Hutchinson in particular to make long clearances from defence. The Glen defence may have problems with Ronald and Savio but the King’s backline will definitely have a hassle with Fraser Heath and David Smart - Kingussie’s Bob Macgregor will have to be on top form to do the leg-work.
It is more than probable that this match will hang on smart tactics and a bit of good fortune although the referee can also make it or break it. The Glen have worked hard this season: they have held their form for the second part of the season, though the long gap without a game since the semi will not have helped. One would also wish for them to have scored more goals but League wise they haven’t conceded many either. They will have to be careful early on but then the Glen start quick too. Above all however the Glen deserve this result - and simply must want it more. Come on Lads - make this one a win for Jimmac, Big Tom, Peter English , Geordie, Ali Ban, big Ron, the Brickie, Mr. Reid, Sandy in New Zealand, Angus in Edmonton and all the supporters , players right back to the 22 guys who put this whole Glen shinty thing together in 1884. Can we do it? Yes we can!!

The pictures:the one of Lee is from Neil Patterson; Jeff Holmes gave me the one of the guys with the cup. The rest came from the Archives and from Sheena Lloyd.

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