Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Back to the Future

So there it is. Shinty apes Marty MacFly. How so ? Well the scrapping of National League Division 1 was confirmed this week by Camanachd Association President John Mackenzie. The move, for all that it was widely expected marks a further upheaval in the rapidly changing world of shinty which has not only recently embraced a summer playing season, but completely redesigned its management structure over the last six months. The Premier League, however, which contains elite clubs like Kingussie , Oban and Fort William, will not be affected.
On the face of it, this step back to the future would appear to be a strange one for a sport that was keen to embrace a National League structure as recently as 1999. Back then the argument that shinty should promote itself as a truly national sport persuaded a 2/3rds majority of delegates to the Camanachd Association’s AGM to back the move. The other argument which was used was that a new second tier National Division would help prepare sides for the step up to the big one. There would be no “rubber ball ” effect for newly promoted teams. They would stick up rather than zoom back below to the wee divisions. Indeed the success of Lochcarron and Inveraray in the Premier Divisions suggested that this was actually working. Other ideas however were growing in strength.
“ Any impetus for change now has come solely from the clubs” says the Association’s general manager Graham D’Arcy. “Area meetings brought to our attention that there were problems with National League Division 1- not the least of which was the fact that for the last two summer seasons we have not managed to fulfil all scheduled fixtures. Again this year we have had to dump fixtures clubs were unwilling to play. Partly this has been caused by cup matches eating into available time but a reluctance to play end of season games which didn’t matter in trophy terms was another factor.”
Like the Premier League , Division 1 was originally split evenly along traditional north and south lines but promotion and relegation has since upset the balance of the league which now contains five south sides and three from the north. Apart from increased travel expectations placed on north clubs , the exodus of south sides from their regional competition led to fears that south shinty as a whole would struggle to thrive at reserve level.
Factors like this plus summer congestion on the A82 - the main west coast arterial route- have fed the clubs disenchantment with shinty’s status quo. The result of a recent consultation exercise by the sports Competitions Committee - 67% of responding clubs favoured the move to area leagues- persuaded the Association that the time was ripe to make the change.
Commenting on the decision, Camanachd Association President John Mackenzie said “The Directors of the Association have to take a strategic view of where the game is growing long term. Much has been asked of clubs in recent years and this plan enables consolidation and growth at the grass root while controlling the costs and commitment asked of volunteers. It also includes a revamp of the Sutherland, Balliemore and Camanachd Cup competitions which will make it easier to complete all fixtures within the allotted 35 week season.”
One side disappointed that they will miss out on promotion National League shinty are north area league winners Beauly. “We set ourselves two goals at the start of the season” said Club secretary Dave Calder. “To win our league and get promotion to the National Division 1. Now everything has been taken away from us only a week after our promotion has been confirmed. If this move turns out to be for the greater good of shinty I will be happy- but I wait to be convinced.”
Irony of ironies- Beauly are about to open their revamped Braeview facilities on Saturday 3rd December : Kingussie meanwhile want to regiment the grass. Not sure if that is my priority-indeed not sure if it should be shinty’s priority. I would have said National Division 1 was worth retaining. Poor Marty MacShinty -looks like Biff won after all.

Monday, November 07, 2005

An Afternoon of Glass Promotion.

Glenurquhart 0 Strathglass 0
I must confess I spent some idle moments making up headlines which I hoped would caption this match in some red-top or even broadsheet.. “Glass Title Hopes Smashed” was one of the mildest that came to mind. “Glass Dished in Drum” was another which might have found favour had not the old fashioned slang of “dished” not slipped so much into disuse in recent years. In the end I could use none of them.
Billed as “The Macdonald Cup to end all Macdonald Cups” in my head anyway a draw was a suitable result for the Glen and as a consequence and as holders we get to keep Old Macdonald’s Silverware for another 12 months. Right?. Seemingly not . We have to go through all this again next week. Will my nerves stand it? That match will be truly meaningless.
What about the game-the championship decider?
A hard fought battle between two sides who know each other well? A scrappy game with not much forward play? I heard both opinions : the first is too cliché ridden ; the second too mean not least for the fact it gives no credit to the defences both of which were outstanding yesterday.
Cards on the table- Man of the Match? Gregor MacCormack who tied up Gary Reid and whoever switched with him very effectively- so much so that Gary was never going to score. Not quite .Andrew Corrigan at buckshee is my choice- he dominated the position so much so that I forget who was playing against him. It might have been Darren Reid occasionally Barry-John Phimister came across and Les Fraser : It made no difference : Corrigan ate them up.
Small consolation though- because up front as we have done all season we lacked the punch to score against a good defence when the chips were down. Such was the dominance of Strathglass’s Donald Fraser at full back that there were really only two clear chances : the first one came right at the start and Stuart Reid was not sharp enough to put it away. The second chance came when Eddie Tembo , who had an excellent game throughout, did all the hard work by turning Donald Fraser and was clear in front of goal. He slipped as he swung his club and the opportunity was lost. It was the clearest chance of the game and it didn’t go in-end of story? Not quite -Calum Millar was barged off the ball by his opponent as a corner came in- a foul should have happened but the ref missed it- but then the pressure pace, commitment and contact of the game was such that you could not blame him. In the last five minutes Stewart Morrison came very close with a rasping shop and a steeply dropping drive from Arran Macdonald almost deceived Alan Macleod in the Strath goals but the ball went over.
In the end it was not to be and Strathglass held on to pick up the Nat Div 1 Championship - and good luck to them. It was just reward for all their efforts over a long hard season. If the Glen had been consistent enough they would have won it themselves .
But where were Strathglass in this match? Very close indeed -but the truth is Glenurquhart are better than Bute or Skye. On this given day they edged it over Strathglass but that’s not what the record books will say.
What about Kyles? Glenurquhart are no way better than Kyles. Are Strathglass? Results might suggest they are but perhaps they were fortunate to get their games against Kyles out of the way at a time Kyles hadn’t woken up to the fact their was a competition to win.. Whatever else, it is clear that Strathglass will always need a 25 year old Robert Geddes up front to finish off the hard work their midfielders put in. For that matter so do Glenurquhart. It has been the same story all season- an inability to finish consistently and regularly. Goals win matches - but at least the back line is right.
For the Strath midfielders Lee Bain stood out . Les Fraser and Barry John Phimister played well but were helped by the heavy pitch- a quicker surface would have had them in trouble though they could certainly depend on the pace of George Phimister to save their blushes. Up front, I liked the look of James Ross and Darren Reid, though they did not look like a Premier strike force to me. Glenurquhart don’t have one either.
Johnny Ach blew the whistle and having changed into his rotary club clothes made a nice speech, in which he mentioned the summer shinty vote and truthfully told us the game was an advert for shinty as a sport. Alan Bell who likes to dress up for these occasions, dressed appropriately down for this one but still managed to hand over the cup and medals to the Glasaich and the population of the Strath celebrated merrily on the sacred turf of Blairbeg. How Murdo would have enjoyed it.
I don’t grudge them it one bit-indeed if we should envy them anything it’s their community spirit. The whole Strath seemed to be there : young ,old , incomer and native. They pull together and support their shinty club and the shinty club brings Strathglass into the spotlight. Bonar Bridge , Lairg, Ullapool ,Kyle Plockton, Grantown- all small Highland communities could do with a shinty team like Cannich has. The challenge for the Camanachd Association is to help to create them.
What did surprise me though was the fact that just after 7 pm , on an evening when his team had won the Nat Div 1 Championship and Promotion, Roy was able to write a comment in the Shinty guest book. In most normal teams the guys would be comatose till Tuesday Then again, perhaps that’s the secret of the Strath’s success.

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