Monday, October 31, 2005

Let’s Hear it for the Thin Red Line

Skye 1 Glenurquhart 3

Once upon a time , in Portree, on the King George V pitch of blessed memory, as a first year in a Plockton Sen. Sec. School team under the command of Archie Macdonald , I scored a goal from miles out with a black Macpherson ball which I couldn’t normally lift off the grass with a JCB bucket for a club head. After that , I have always felt an affection for the Island which words cannot seriously express although after one visit I was less than pleased to see my likeness wrongly attributed to that of a Kincraig player. This grave error was contained in the first edition of a text entitled “Skye the Island” by James Hunter and Cailean Maclean (page 20) and was published by Mainstream in 1986. The other Glen player in Cailean’s snap has spent a lifetime in the British military, most recently defusing bombs in Basra , a job for which playing shinty in Skye perfectly prepared him .
James Hunter has gone on to reinvent himself in several different shapes and has had almost as many jobs at the same time as The MacSporran of MacSporran on Gigha. However he has tried to make the Highlands the sort of place which young shinty players don’t have to leave, though if you have a calling to defuse bombs I suppose in the end you have to go to Basra.
I have never since forgiven the good Sir James for his mistake and put its occurrence down to the fact that he has never himself played shinty. Indeed I should propose that a condition of entry to public life in the Highlands should be a requirement that one has played shinty at some stage in life. That way we will avoid being pontificated to and patronised by the school swots of yesteryear. That way we should have Johnny Mackenzie as Council Leader, John Fraser as Director of Education , Donnie Mackenzie in charge of Social policy, Alastair Macintyre to keep the buses running on time , Iain Macintyre to look after Finance and George Fraser to run our token Premier League football team. Don’t knock it. The more you think about it, the more attractive the notion becomes.
Anyway I digress - but that is perhaps the best thing to do when dealing with a game like this one though in fairness it had its own virtues.
It was, I confess ,my first visit to the Pairc nan Laoch and what a superb facility it is! I find it scarcely credible after years of changing on buses, at the side of the road and in musty ,roughly built byres that a club should have such a luxury as this excellent ground. A small shelter or bigger porch would make a difference though …but that is merely to carp.
The surface is good too ,though to be fair, this game was only just playable because the Island had a serious soaking earlier in the week. When I walked across the surface I could feel the grass swim under my feet ; on just such surfaces do men -and boys- slip damaging the cruciate ligaments in their knees,
and then linger on NHS waiting lists until they lose interest in serious shinty.
A wet day then with a familiar group of hardy devotees at the pitch- DR, John Angus, Davie MacVicar, John the Caley and Johnny Ach as referee- he drove up in a lorry-,which was as authentically West Highland an entrance as one could wish for. Johnny passionately urged me to consider the value of summer shinty , a needless exercise because I am converted already, but Johnny is nothing if not an evangelist and so I listened to his sermon in the manner one listens to all sermons -in polite silence , all the time musing about the irony of the most un-summerlike conditions that the game was about to occur under.
The first half started on time and under water- no pitch for running shinty this and after an opening spell when the Glen forwards pushed the ball uphill into the mist the rest of the 45 minutes was spent keeping at bay Donnie Campbell , young Masters Martin and Moir and Gillespic Macdonald who swarmed forward. They had chances but did not have the time or the space to take them and Paul Mackintosh had a resolute game in the defence. Not for the first time did the master stroke of playing Andrew Corrigan in defence pay off-his pace is something other defences would dream of and one lost count of the times he was able to nip the ball away from the half-forward and clear it up field.
The second half was a tale of three goals- if truth be told four goals because the Skye men did get one back and should have had more- but they were slow to shoot and Stewart Mackintosh does deserve the international credentials he is credited with.
The Pairc has a clear slope and in the second half this did help the Glen somewhat as did the instruction from the Glen bench that given the depth of the pools which were beginning to form., it was counter-productive to carry the ball in the way that Eddie Tembo and Ruaraidh Cameron had attempted to . Almost at once the wisdom of this paid off-a long ball forward from the excellent John Barr was pulled down by Cameron and smacked on the volley a full 30 yards into the Skye net. A memorable goal and one which was added to 10 minutes later by Calum Miller when he send a long ball from midfield down on top of the Skye goals. Connor made the mistake of letting it bounce and it skipped off the wet turf through his legs and over the line.
Skye went on the offensive from that point and made more than enough opportunities to pull back the game from the brink but they were slow to shoot , while McCormack , Girvan and Mackintosh, a true thin red line, dug in at the back and kept them out. It was an inspiring set of performances - and none were more inspired than Captain John Barr though Eddie Tembo ran him close. They simply fought hard to keep on top of the game , though things did begin to look fragile in the 80th minute when the ever skilful Sorley Macdonald blasted in a shot which deflected off Corrigan’s stick into the net.
By that time 16 year old Alastair Mackintosh had come on to replace the injured Arran Macdonald on the Glen wing and in the last eight minutes Neale Reid, brother of centre man Stewart Reid , came on in the wide left position after Miller had limped off. It was the winning combination-young Mackintosh ,who had quickly realised that getting to the ball before your opponent is the secret of shinty success, nicked the ball across the front of the Skye goal and Reid nipping in front of Ian Nicholson rapped it into the net for the winning goal.
It was the perfect way to finish the game. As for the rest of the afternoon ,the prospect of a hamburger and a two hour drive back to the Glen did not seem so scary now.

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