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.

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