Monday, August 15, 2005

Shinty / Hurling - What is the point?

“It may be a hybrid sport with compromise rules : perhaps purists don’t like it ,but shinty needs this international dimension. From the reactions of the GAA officials, so does hurling.” That was the verdict of former President of the Camanachd Association, Donnie Grant after last weekend’s Celtic Club Champions Challenge matches. For the record, Premier League champions Kingussie suffered a rare defeat losing out 14-19 to Tipperary side Kildangan, hurling’s top intermediate side while Lochaber, National League Division 1 Champions, clinched a Scottish win by defeating Kilkenny side, Galmoy 17-14. With this Club Championship series due to be pencilled in to the shinty fixtures calendar for the next two years it is worth asking what does the shinty world get out of this compromise sport ?
The fact is that with compromise rules neither shinty nor hurling can display their individual strengths. Hurling is played in the air: shinty is at its best, played on the ground. Shinty players attempt to work the ball forward and score goals: not surprisingly they tend to look askance at a sport where guys can catch the ball, kick it and even score points from long range by popping it over the bar. Like American football, hurling is played in intense bursts with play going dead regularly. Shinty ,whatever the stereotype, is less physical while, with its narrower stick and smaller goals, it requires greater precision .Yet despite the difficulties created by the compromise rules, links between the two celtic codes go back at least as far as April 1897 when the Celtic Hurling Club came over to play Glasgow Cowal. On that occasion the Irish side were comprehensively beaten, though in recent years ,at international level at least , Scotland have found it hard to win against Irish opposition. Indeed the last occasion on which the Scots have posted a victory was back in 1999 when Grant was managing the national side.
There is no doubt that shinty/hurling contests are competitive affairs- any game which features scoring in double figures for both sides is not to be ignored. It was unfortunate for Kingussie that they found themselves facing Irish opponents a week before they were due to meet Newtonmore in a Camanachd Cup replay which they need to win if they are not going to miss out on shinty’s top prize for the second year in a row. They rested several key players and perhaps did not engage in the physical contest with the intensity such a fixture demanded - and against Irish sides which are generally faster that was enough to tip the balance. Lochaber however ,with nothing to lose and having struggled in shinty’s top division this season ,approached their match in a different frame of mind and reaped the reward on the field.
The real benefits of the international dimension are to be found beyond the spectacle on the field- and both Associations are aware of it. For the Irish sides the matches are a reward from the GAA to teams which have won national trophies : for shinty it is a window on a different world. Hurling is a massive sport and has a professional aura about it that can inspire young shinty players with its skills and values. The Camanachd Association has put a structure in place which permits the best youngsters from any club to progress through development squads and on to the international scene. The Celtic Club Championship now offers the same route to clubs. Without this international dimension, shinty would find its battle for the hearts and minds of youngsters much more difficult.

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