Sunday, October 02, 2005

Watching shinty at Castle Leod

Caberfeidh 6 Glenurquhart 4

Many years ago I broke my thumb on this pitch over on the far side. It is the same heavy turf beneath the beech trees where the leaves fall and the grass is too lush to pat a pass. To make any sense of the game in that corner you have to swing hard. Ronald Macarthur swung hard and so did I-he got my club on his ankle ;I got his club on my thumb :we both ended up in Raigmore where Duncan Maclennan raconteur , Cabers committee member author and gentleman kept us company while doctors kept us waiting to let us know that injuries gained at shinty do not merit swift attention. It is a cheap point but drunks and thugs swept past us in the queue-but then that’s triage for you.
I mention this simply to underline the fact that nothing much has changed in the manner of spa-town shinty though no doubt they could do with a reincarnation of their fabulous team of the 30’s.
The pitch is the same- playing on the Laird’s field -like they do at Inveraray and Strachur-with the Big House just beyond the trees and the toff himself never venturing down to watch the peasants at play. Unfair? Probably but no matter. The crowd are the best thing about Cabers: they are humorous, a good laugh and anyone would enjoy an afternoon in their company. Even a supporter of a team which is getting beaten by them. As Eddie Tembo played the ball bleakly forward in a rain shower a Polish woman shrieked words of condemnation or encouragement. I could not tell which. She was casually but neatly dressed, her hair the colour of a watered down Merlot wine as is the style in Eastern Europe.
“That’s unusual” I said to the crowd.
“Must be working in the hotel, ”said a Cabers man,” but I can’t make out her Gaelic. Must be from the far west”
And so it went on. When I put up my umbrella to keep a shower off myself and Stewartie Maclennan, the crowd protested.
“Now we can’t see the goals”
So I made to lower it.
“No keep it up. It’s better that Billy doesn’t see the goals going in. The excitement would be too much for him.”
When one youngster got the ball they shouted him on with wolf-like baying noises and cries of “Go on, Mad Dog!”
When the boy was subbed-Donnie Maclean took him off just to give another youngster a run out-his departure from the pitch was greeted with a chorus of coyote howls which upset the lad so much we could hear him hurl his club about the dressing room. The crowd laughed.
“Mind the shed” said one of them “Its got to last the whole season”
I have always liked the shed: it’s retro with a verandah , two changing rooms and a table with a tea-pot and cups for the half-time break. It would have been state of the art in 1925 but then no doubt the Laird would not be willing for anything more flash to be built on his park. I can see the day coming when…. But no matter.
Cabers are a strong team. They hit the ball: they play a long game and by the time I had realised what was happening Martin Maclean had scored two goals and Neale Reid had replied for Drum. Good goals all three but defences were not on top.
Glen were moving the ball quite neatly but overplaying it in the long grass but despite that when Lewis Maclennan did connect he put the teams level. The centreline battle was dour and truth to tell the player who impressed me most in a tough little war with Alastair Mackintosh was Ewan Murray. Highly visible in a white helmet and visor he was a strong lad who threw himself into tackles which he invariably won though not easily.
Cabers took the lead with a long drive from the halfway line which made a monkey of goalkeeper Emery but Stewart Morrison evened matters up with a neat drive just on the halftime whistle.
I crossed the field at half-time : it was like walking on a green sponge. It certainly did not suit a fetch and carry game which Dave Smart and the Glen front men favour. Cabers had played some passing stuff too but when in range they tended to blast the ball at goal. The shape of things to come?
At first no. Stewart Morrison scored a fierce one ; Cabers equalised and then for perhaps the next 15 minutes the Glen were on top with Neale Reid , Lewis Maclennan and David Smart having chances but missing them. Allied to that Caber’s keeper Kenny Ritchie had a fabulous save from Reid ,a spectacular dive low to his left post and he played the ball off with the heel of his club. Eddie Tembo then hit the bar with a powerful shot from distance.
Then that was it. Cabers took hold of the game and dominated the rest of the action. Ali Maclennan put the in the lead with his second goal of the afternoon before Ewan Murray finished off proceedings the lead with a well taken shot from the right.
A comprehensive win in an end to end game and no problems on the field where ref Donald Macleod had an effective game. But then nobody was saying otherwise .
It was a good result for Cabers to finish off their season. They have an excellent second string who are competitive and tough. The sad thing is that they have never managed to make the step up to a higher level. Where do the guys go? Off south? Off to Higher Education? Dingwall Academy which should be a strong shinty school shows little interest in the game but then they are not forced to tolerate local customs and of course there is the obsession in the area with Ross County Football Club. What more can one say than that they don’t know what they are missing?
There is an ancient painting of a shinty match- a clichéd vision of Highlanders swathed in tartan and swinging sticks. In the background stands Castle Leod. Shinty is still being played where it always was. Long may it continue. Long may the Laird leave them to hack about his field.

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