Sunday, June 19, 2005

The Grey Strath loses to the New Town on the Cold Moor

Camanachd Cup 2005 Round 1
Strathglass 2 Newtonmore 3

Newtonmore may have won the Camanachd Cup 26 times in their history but Strathglass ,who have been hitting shinty balls every bit as long-in time and in distance- rather generously let them progress to the next round.
On the other hand you could put the result down to Strathglass keeper Alan Macleod permitting two shots to go past him that he really should have stopped- and rather sadly for Strath, indecisive defending allowed another goal to leak in : Newtonmore equally conceded two soft goals- a defensive mix-up allowed Robert Geddes to put the ball home from close range while Glen Mackintosh at full-back acted stupidly and gifted Strath a penalty which they accepted right on the final whistle.
So what did I think of the game? It was enjoyable not least because I met a good number of nice people there and I talked to them-one of the beauties of shinty is that I knew all the crowd by name and I don’t watch the game the way I would watch a football match. I am too busy conversing with the other guests at the shinty party -for that’s how it appears to me-a rural party where the guests mingle , reminisce, jest laugh and enjoy the activities on the field.
The first guys I met were Murph and Dave Calder- at that time Orsten Gardener had just put Newtonmore ahead with a nice shot after some weak defending and we though Strathglass could have done better-doubtless the weak defenders thought so too. I went to buy a cup of tea and back at the line I met Toots Fraser and his mate Allan - both former team-mates of mine . My memory of this section of the game was that tactically the Strathglass centreline were under a fair deal of pressure- they were coping and at times Ian Macleod and Darren Reid were getting the ball up but nothing much was happening . Robert Geddes seemed too slow for Norman Campbell and Hamish Myers was not quite physically hard enough to get much out of a competitive Newtonmore back. Hamish would be about 17 : the back was a more heavily built lad of about 21. Hamish tried hard but on the two occasions when he received the break of the ball he underhit it. The danger failed to materialise-that was to be the story of his afternoon.
Suddenly Mike Ritchie in the Newtonmore goal scrapes a ball away -it had been knocked in by Gary Reid- the defenders flap and Robert Geddes forces it over the line. It is now a draw and it just might be interesting.
At halftime I move to the other side where I meet up with Stewart Mackenzie of the Oban Times. He tells me the halftime scores- Ronald Ross is scoring every few minutes in Ballachulish; Inveraray are one down at Kyles.
Here the crowd is still known to me I see Ian Ross and Bert Loades. Norrie Matheson , retired gamekeeper and former Kinlochshiel player, greets me- we are not impressed by Newtonmore : it is always gratifying to see royalty having feet of clay. But on reflection these guys in the blue jerseys come from a village no bigger than any of the other shinty communities so why should their particular set of young men be in any way different from the ones who come out of Portree or Beauly.
The second half resumes and in 51 minutes Orsten Gardener punts a ball forward which Alan Macleod permits to go past him : its always the same when a big team meets a little team-eventually the semi-pressure of the occasion and the slightly higher tempo of play causes the carapace to crumble. Strathglass push themselves forward with energy in attempt to permit Steve Harvey to add an appendix to the second edition of book “From Centenary to National Leagues” (price £6 for sale at the Pavilion window along with tea, coffee burgers biscuits etc) Steve is beside me using semaphore to communicate with player manager Robert Geddes who bizarrely comes back to communicate with him at a point when Donald Maclean has fired a long ball forward. The attack fizzles out because Strath are one man short in the area where it matters- just outside the D. Glen Mackintosh bats the ball away. Geddes takes off Gary Reid , development officer and useful forward. Perhaps he has run himself into the ground-perhaps he is suffering from a damaged hand. Newtonmore ‘s buckshee Cameron Binnie has been booked for chopping his fingers. Duncan Kelly ,who has always been more or less in charge ,might have sent him off.
On comes Les Fraser- why wasn’t he on from the start? Probably because this season he is not up to the pace and athleticism demanded by National League shinty. He adds little to the centreline except strength and bulk :it is not what is needed but is all that Strathglass have to offer.
It’s the last quarter and Danny Macrae fires a shot forward from deep- it flies at a steady pace 8 feet above the ground. It does not dip or deviate. Alan Macleod doesn’t stop it. The game must be over. It is 3-1 and there are 15mins to go.
“Pile it on boys!” shouts a Newtonmore voice. It must be in hope more than expectation. This Newtonmore side are not capable of piling anything on-let alone goals. They are fortunate they have met a team which is probably a little short of self-belief-perhaps even in awe of royalty, clay feet or not.
Needless to say they don’t pile it on- in the last minute they give away a penalty. Raymond Fraser keeps the ball low and medium hard. Mike Ritchie doesn’t stop it and the game is back to 3-2. The guys head to the centre ; Kelly blows the whistle and Strath are out of the Camanachd Cup. They have just lost their most important shinty match of the season-they won’t be playing the next three.
I cross the field with Norrie Matheson-he’s off back to work in his garden. I will have to cut the grass. The news comes through :holders Inveraray are out, so are Lochcarron , Glenurquhart have lost to Mid Argyll in Glasgow. Fort William are through so are Oban- and Ronald Ross has pulled Kingussie through in his wake.
“We’ll have to put our faith in Beauly,” I tell Norrie in all seriousness.
He laughs. I’m pretty sure he’s laughing at me-not with me.
“Glenurquhart will be pleased with this result today,” he says. I say nothing. I know that while Glenurquhart will be happy with a Strath defeat, down in Drum there will be a little disappointment-but it’s only a game. They’ll get over it.

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