Monday, September 18, 2006

Fly me to Dunoon-

for the Scottish Hydro Electric Camanachd Cup Final

Fort William 2 Kingussie 4

So shinty’s premier trophy ,as it is now being styled, has reverted to its default position in the Kingussie trophy room. Good image-except as I write it is more likely to be in the Silverfjord abandoned behind the bar after a lock-in of epic proportions. If the world was fair Ronald would have it all to himself sitting on his bedside cabinet beside his teddy bear and his Beano annuals . The world of course is not fair and Ronald , who is, probably still pretends that shinty is a team sport. If the evidence of his display on Saturday afternoon is anything to go by it will only become a team sport again when he retires : until then he is destined to be the only player worth watching anywhere on any shinty field.
What about that shinty field then? Fine in some ways-grass cut , the park fiery and dry. Also tight- and definitely not long. Adequate then but with seats and a big grassy bank from which to observe the action. The action? Plenty fouls-the tight park made that inevitable. No wing play to speak of. No mazy runs-an over supply of corners and shies and, of course, six goals.
No complaints then from the 3000 folk who turned up. Wing-Centre was one of them-driving from his but-and-ben down the winding West Highland roads via Inveraray and Strachur - too timid to try the wide Glasgow highways and go “Doon the Watter” by Western Ferries. He had no complaints either-not with the pitch, not with Dunoon and certainly not with the result. He did notice however that there are some things which are different in Dunoon, different that is from the real world that makes up the Northern Highlands. For one thing Dunoon has kept a variety of shops that even Beauly cannot match-there is one sweetie shop which still sells “Puff Candy” forty years after it has disappeared anywhere else : perhaps that is why it is on the Mod circuit. The other thing the Wing-Centre noticed was that quite a large number of Dunoon wifies of a certain age-just too old perhaps for the Hack to converse with in a knowing way if you catch my drift- had perfectly cut but definitely “big” hair. Prairie hair indeed- coiffures which he had witnessed in Calgary before the stampede except there the young cowgirls were wearing them as well as their grannies. A social comment perhaps but a point that merits making- apart from that, Dunoon was all seagulls, low morning mist and a pipe band with the tallest big drummer Wing-Centre had ever seen. Oh!-and at night a band of hoodied youths comes out to scamper around the little amphitheatre beside the Argyll Hotel just like the troop of frisky monkeys he once saw in a wild life documentary narrated by David Attenborough. Perfect venue for the Mod then, because at least the guys from Stornoway will feel at home in a town under siege from a mob of drunken youngsters on a Saturday night.
Perfect for Shinty? Enough already-but if you have Ronald Ross on the team you have the dream. You have to fit the horse for the course though and that is just what Manager Gow must have done.
The pre-match talk must have been like this.
“Yes boss”
“You’re up full forward the day. All Day. Old fashioned stuff but needs must”
“But Boss! Surely Boss”
“ Stop crying Ronald. Are you manager of Kingussie?”
“No Boss”
“Do you want us to win the Camanachd?”
“Yes, Boss”
“Then you’ll play where you’re told”
So he did. With his back to goals. Like Calum used to do for Lochcarron or Granty for Kinlochshiel. Time warp shinty but the only way to play in Dunoon against the Fort. Even the shade of Johnny Cattanach would have approved.
And so it came to pass that you can change the venue of the Camanachd Cup Final ; you can even bring in a new sponsor but on the evidence of a clinical display of finishing from Ronald , if you put Kingussie in a Camanachd Cup final, it’s not going to be easy to change the result. Never mind the fact that this was Kingussie’s first appearance in the big match since 2003, the 99th Camanachd Cup final- the first ever to be held in Dunoon- belonged to the side from Badenoch by virtue of the fact in Ronald Ross they have the best finisher that the indigenous sport has ever seen. Unsurprisingly the panel of wise men who allocate the coveted Albert Smith medal for man of the match agreed: Ross was their unanimous choice for player of the day.
The day in Dunoon started off well enough for Fort William however. In the opening minutes they posted their intentions with a long ball forward from Drew MacNeil which found James Clark up front but his drive went wide. At the other end Ross quickly got into his stride with a reverse pass wide to Ricky Grant whose touch inside was driven over the bar by Ali Borthwick. It was the last wide ball the big man was to bother with for the rest of the afternoon : probably Jim Gow told him not to be silly.
It was quickly clear however that pre-match talk about the length of the pitch having an effect on the sequence of play was no idle speculation: in the opening exchanges hit outs from defenders regularly reached deep into the opposing half. Not that the spectators at the Dunoon stadium were in the mood to complain given that the focus of attack swung so rapidly from end to end. Hardly had Andrew Borthwick in the Kingussie goal pulled off an outstanding save from a fierce drive from Garry Innes when at the other end Ross slipped his marker and injured Fort William keeper Scott MacNeil about the head with the ferocity of his shot at goal.
MacNeil was quickly back in the action but had no answer to the power of the next Ross shot when in 18 minutes SuperRon slipped his marker Adam Robertson and drove the ball home from distance.
It was difficult to find a true pattern of play in the game at this stage but while Fort William had the energy and commitment, Kingussie appeared to play the more classical shinty when a marvellous overhead flick by Ross almost put Paul Gow in on goal. At the other end, the Fort William forwards did test the Kingussie keeper with strikes by John Macleod and Victor Smith but Andrew Borthwick-on any other day a contender for man of the match himself- was equal to the demands made of him.
Ross continued to cause problems to the extent that the Fort defence reshuffled to attempt to hold him in check with the more nimble Liam Macintyre taking over the thankless task from Robertson.
Not that it made a great deal of difference when in 38 minutes a seemingly innocuous corner from Kevin Thain was allowed by Liam Macintyre to run across the area for a simple tap in by Ross.
If that signalled to the spectators that the cup was on its way home to Kingussie , Fort William’s James Clark had other ideas. For all that he has serious size, Clark is mobile and can show a delicate touch. His goal was crafty- a long shy from Gary Innes sowed confusion in the Kingussie defence. Clark sold a dummy on the left before cracking the ball home on the right in 42 minutes.
At the start of the second half the team that looked most likely was Fort William. The problem was however that they lacked the ability to score: time and again they wasted chances and as time moved on there was always the danger Kingussie would finish them off. So it proved but not without some controversy to spice matters up ; a shy by Ricky Grant bobbled through the Fort defence to Ross who scooped it over the line for his hat-trick. It was the type of close range effort which Ross has made his trademark. Though the Fort defence convinced themselves Ross had run himself offside before finishing, referee Ted Macdonald of Bute disagreed and the goal stood.
Ross finished his tally for the day in 68 minutes after MacNeil had blocked a drive from Ali Borthwick. The ball span high in the air and Ross one handed dinked it in to make the game secure. It was a superb piece of skill certainly-but it was also a supreme act of courage : he went in between three Fort William defenders each of whom could have tried to take the ball in the air-any of whom could have smashed him. That negative thought simply never occurred to him and the speed of his reactions was the perfect preservative.
A late goal by Fort William substitute Bryan Simpson was some consolation for Fort William but by that time there was only going to be one winner. It would appear that tales of Kingussie’s demise in the world of shinty have been greatly exaggerated.
Untrue! They haven’t really: its just that in the language Ronald speaks, Ross cannot ever rhyme with Loss.
I wonder if Scottish Hydro intend to use him in their advertising. He is a natural. By the way, I can’t wait for his story to be made into a film. Pity it is about as unlikely as the Wing-Centre ever actually flying to Dunoon.

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