Hit it into the long grass-if only
Glenurquhart 0 Kyles Athletic 2
National League Division 1 was ever meant to be like this - a competitive match, a good crowd and the ball moving swiftly from player to player- except it’s the wrong set of players who are moving it about with rapidity and skill. Today was meant for us- not these guys with Argyllshire accents and blue jerseys.
I don’t know what we expected. There is certainly no way Billy Reid should have borrowed John Tom’s old mower from Fraser Campbell and shaved the pitch into this state of perfection. Of course its nice to see shinty played on billiard table conditions but then if the style of the opposition team is to hold the ball , make the angle nicely, hit the pass and outrun your guys every time then all the more reason to retain long leaves of grass to slow proceedings up. That this take on the match was the correct one was confirmed to me by Jim Barr and Kenny Maclennan when I mentioned it to them at half-time. They are old heads-they’ve seen teams like Kyles before-they exchanged glances and indicated that they had independently reached the same conclusion.
Of course hindsight is a wonderful thing : no-one would have guessed before hand that our much younger team would be simply outrun and outplayed by Kyles who for all that they have a few old hands also have their own squad of youngsters.
This blistering insight came to me as I walked across the park at half-time wondering how we were only 1-0 down to a side which had dominated us to the extent that only one shot had gone anywhere near Kenny Macdonald’s goal. Kenny might be the most secure keeper in Scotland even though he will not pull on the international jersey but during that first half he might as well have been visiting relatives in Oban for all the work he had to do.
At the heart of our lack of effectiveness was the fact that Dan Macrae was able to dominate from the buckshee forward position-though to be more accurate Kyles played him as a traditional south half-forward. He was simply too strong for his marker and the only player who could have held him, John Barr was finding himself stretched at centre. Macrae seemed to have time to gather the ball into himself , find the angle for a pass and when he had cause to strike it his eye was so sure that despite being put under pressure he managed to take the ball cleanly every time. The goal when it came in 17 minutes was as efficient as one could expect- Macrae moved it out to Roddy MacColl -he took it down the right hand side to the by-line ,held off the challenge , made a deeper angle for himself and drove it past Stewart Mackintosh into the net. Not a lot Mackintosh could do- indeed he had saved some point blank attempts earlier on ,including one tricky ball that dropped directly down on his stick that he somehow managed to juggle over the bar.
The second half opened better for the Glen and in 47 minutes a penalty was awarded against Kyles because Kenny Macdonald was adjudged to have kicked the ball as he ran out to clear it. John Barr rapped it hard-it flew low and hard but went just past the wrong side of the post - and that one felt was that. The best of chances not taken. We were to get no more.
In the second half the wind, which had been annoying in the first period, helped the Glen win more territorial possession but as often as the ball went up to the Kyles defence it was directly hit back out again.
The Kyles defenders seemed to do the simple things- and simply did them well- the little push, the half swing ,the scoop and of course the grass or rather the lack of it helped them clear their lines. Added to that there was the cunning of the old head of Dan Macrae: indeed the Glen got nowhere near holding him until John Barr was switched to mark him and the intensity of the physical pressure Barr placed on him managed to wear him down somewhat.
By that stage however ,the game was dead : Kyles had sewn it up with a bizarre winner. A ball hit speculatively across goal was intercepted cleanly by Stewart Mackintosh but his clearing drive struck Kyles forward David Martin on the legs and bounced back into the empty net. It has to go down as an error but , given the string of excellent saves Mackintosh pulled off in the course of the match , it was an exceptionally cruel ending to his match.
The rest of the game was played out at the same frantic pace and though Glenurquhart continued to fire the ball forward much of what they did was uncontrolled- and the little that was more precise was handled easily by the Kyles defence. There were occasions when a more physically aggressive approach by the Glen would have served them better than the reticence on display. The forwards were frustrated but truthfully they did not quite have the mental toughness to cope with the intensity of the athletic challenge posed by Kyles. Some were found out-not so much in skill but in athleticism and aggression. There was no reason for the spectators to be surprised : the same thing happened against Inveraray in the Camanachd last season. Sport is certainly about skill but it’s also about character : some guys, indeed some communities ,are better at producing it than others. It is as simple and as complicated as that. But I still say we should not have cut the grass.