Thursday, March 30, 2006

You better believe it- the Skye’s the limit

Glenurquhart 0 Skye 1

How this hurts-and yet we have scored more goals than we have lost. I have taken several days to digest this game and even now I am not sure I still believe the result. Not that I am against Skye and their victory. I only wonder whether perhaps the fact that the Government in its wisdom having removed the tolls on the bridge, actually realised that the Sgiathianaich could afford to bring the whole team to the mainland- and with that defeat us. One more reason for not voting Lib-Dem I suppose.
Let me say that Kenny Macleod’s 57 minute strike from the halfway line was a well hit shot-it rose in the air and found its way in a haphazard fashion into the net. So far out when struck ,I can imagine it was not actually meant. Certainly, young Kenny was delighted with his good fortune and no doubt believes that he did it on purpose: he did not. But rightly it stood.
Let us for the sake of sanity concentrate on the last 20 minutes of this distressing encounter but before doing so acknowledge several points. The absence of Paul Mackintosh was crucial- suffering from flu he could not make an appearance but how little we treasure his strong play and encouraging presence when we do have him I would now say that his presence is a necessity in midfield.
Secondly, how nice a team we are. Several times there were opportunities for our guys to be less reticent with the stick : they didn’t bother. The Skye lads were not so shy. I think it is because in this league we actually have to play a more robust type of shinty and we are not prepared to do it seemingly. That apart for the first half and a good bit of the second Sorley’s wee brothers and Tom Butler had the centre line tied up. They were quick sharp and say what you like about the Skye men they can hit a ball. It is just a pity that so many of the “cool “ guys on that Island are so obsessed with football and their little local leagues instead of the indigenous sport. I would have said population wise they ought to have enough guys to win the Camanachd Cup every year it is competed for.
So to the last 20 minutes….. Neal Reid had left the field. At 14 he was unable to swing the match ,though his ability shone through. Gone too was Ruaraidh Cameron- an excellent talent but without the support to make him effective. Alastair Mackintosh was at Kincraig and therefore had no influence on this game. Arran Macdonald began to impact on the game : his long deep shies and powerful hitting started to make a difference at least in the number of chances we had. Lewis Maclennan hit one too early and it went over the bar. Dave Smart made himself room on the left - what a neat stick player- but the ball went wide. Then in the last minute a superb shy , back off the keeper to John Barr- and he’s put it past the post and I’m throwing the collection bag into the bowling green. How could this happen? I then remember that I have missed plenty myself and also reflect that I was part of a Glen team which was beating Newtonmore 4-1 in a Camanachd Cup match and then went on to lose it : the Newtonmore guys go on to immortality and us-? Well lets hope the present guys realise that there is no future in losing to teams you should have beaten.
I am now thinking we need John Barr as buckshee and Corrigan up front for bits of games at least. I am also thinking that we should harden up and simplify our shinty. Play shinty like Wimbledon‘s crazy gang used to play football. I’m sure guys from Skye will get the simile. Hit every ball on the keeper, charge him and sink the second ball. The sorts of keepers I have seen recently would not handle that-though to be fair last season Fisher, MacKechnie and Kenny MacD would have laughed at such crude play. But this is not last year : we are playing old fashioned shinty on heavy pitches. You cannot carry a ball here. Blairbeg is not the Dell.
Confidence, self-belief, a motivational talk from Jack Black-that is all that is missing here. This is a side which has reached two Balliemore semis back to back and chucked them both away. There has to be more in the tank
Ally Morrison, his father and his son were delighted with the result : I wish them well. Young Naouie struggling to get reception on his mobile after the match-use the Orange network if you seriously want to make a call from Blairbeg- finally got through to DR.
“He can’t believe it,” said Naouie.
Neither could I.

Monday, March 20, 2006

It’s not the winning that counts - at least that’s what it looks like from the stand

Glenurquhart 2 Kinlochshiel 2

If you are in any way interested in the future of shinty you should watch the reserve teams? I pose that question because I have just come up the road from having watched the Glen seconds play some excellent shinty, observed one young lad notching up two real goal scorer’s goals and then watched the defence chuck away a comfortable two goal lead.
My answer to the question is no you shouldn’t, though undoubtedly I will. Why? Second team shinty puts too much strain on the watcher. I viewed part of this game in the company of Lochaber’s one time full back Tommy Macgregor. He knows his shinty as much as the next ex-player- indeed apart from the few wives and girl friends looking on- the crowd consisted entirely of ex-players. Tommy was on the way back to Lochaber from Inverness when he stopped off to watch a crowd of old guys and kids with sticks. running after a ball. Except the quality of the balls we seem to be playing with now if inferior to the black “Tighnabruaich” we liked to use. I counted 4 new balls being used in the course of the match.
We could both see it was a different game from the one we used to play-much running including some excellent shinty from lads in their early teens : some heavyweight support from chaps in their early 40s and a sprinkling of players in their 20s and 30s who that particular Saturday just were not either good enough or fit enough to secure a berth up with the big boys.
So what about the game? Good hitting from ‘Shiel- one always gets that from west Coast teams. A good solid full back but some lovely shinty up front from the Glen but too many missed chances. If I take any positives out of the afternoon it is this: the front line of forwards Gary Mackintosh, Andrew Crichton and Neil Mackintosh linked up extremely well. They worked the ball out wide and cut it back across . Wing centre Duncan Fraser tried a drive from the angle which just went over the bar, then Crichton had another accurate angled drive which Kinlochshiel keeper Cameron smothered at the near post. Next up was a run wide by Gary Mackintosh saw him cut the ball back to Neil Mackintosh who just mistimed his strike and popped it over the bar.
As well as those attempts there were numerous other strikes which were either miss hit or wasted. Meanwhile behind the action at right wing forward was the jewel in the crown- Neal Reid a schoolboy with the talent of an adult. Numerous times he ran back deep to catch the ball, control it, hit it long to the forwards or try it on goal. In every one of these cases he made the keeper save it but Cameron was either too neat with the club himself or too well protected by fullback Colin Fraser for the incoming forwards to make a difference. Yet we scored two goals from balls which came off the keeper and the player who scored them both was Reid.
The first one came in 23 minutes when a high ball was popped over at a corner by Lucas Chapman and Gary Mackintosh having missed with his first high swing managed to bat the ball at the goal at the second attempt. It bounced up on to the keepers body and back out to Neal Reid who finished off the move very precisely from close range ,bravely risking the wild swing of both wing back and the goalie. Fortunately- and its always fortune we are told which favours the brave -the speed of his finish carried him though safely.
We had to wait until the second half for his next goal. This time Malcolm Munro hit a sharp ball on to the goalkeeper and Reid following up swiftly, finished it off . Again bravery and speed were the keys to his success.
He played excellently for the rest of the match making Cameron save every attempt he had with the exception of one drive which shaved the top of the bar. As a result to took some heavy treatment from the backs but that is the staple fair of young players who play above their station : he should take it as a compliment .
There are opportunities in plenty to finish off the game and then we go to sleep at the back. In 73 minutes Iain Campbell steals a goal then Alastair Macrae gets a second in 78 : we snatch defeat from the jaws of victory- a cliché but still an accurate description of the afternoons activities.
I watch the nets being taken down. I check the pavilion over then I go home . I cannot bear a post-match inquest. I hear that the 1st Team have won by 3 goals to 0. It does not help much.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

For the First Time since 1922- Well almost.

Glenurquhart 0 Beauly 1

Good result for Beauly. For Glenurquhart this was a game which created deep disappointment . But should it? Maybe, it should properly be used as a game which will wake everyone up , give a new focus to the direction of the club’s preparation and particularly focus the club on the fact that through lack of hardness, lack of focus and above all lack of confidence our forwards are struggling to make an impression on the opposition.
The facts are few and not in dispute : Glenurquhart had several early chances but failed to test the keeper. By 25 minutes, Beauly who are not by any means a poor side, began to assert themselves and having the bad luck to hit the post , were fortunate to be awarded a penalty when the ball came back off the post and struck Stewart Mackintosh on the leg.
Penalty? The ball played him? Or he played the ball? Let me say if it was the other way round and the ball had bounced off the Beauly keeper we would have wanted a penalty.
Barrie Macdonald converted the chance nicely and then within the next ten minutes had two chances to add to his score but contrived to miss them. One was harder to miss than the other and while no shinty chance is truly a sitter, Barrie is a real forward and he probably should have had one.
The second half saw Beauly play well especially with the addition on Jamie Maclennan in the midfield , and for the first twenty minutes of that period ,when the Glen would normally have expected to push forward, they found themselves hemmed in. Late substitutions made no difference and although the red and blacks attempted to push forward in the last quarter they were not able to test the Beauly defence. Best for Beauly were Maclean at full back, Simpson who was commanding in his ability to take responsibility in the midfield and the effective Roger Cormack who completely dominated the wing position. I also liked Mackay Murray while Marshall has that mixture of brilliance and daftness that makes it worth putting £2 in the collection bag whenever he is playing.
The Glenurquhart forwards had a lean time- Lewis Maclennan failed to get going as did Dave Smart :the problem was however that they were playing against two defenders with a wealth of experience who were fit enough and hard enough to knock them about. It was competitive old fashioned shinty- none of the push and run, go and give that you get with Kyles or Bute : there was an edge of menace to Beauly’s play that used to be common in the North but which National League shinty took us away from. For one, I’m glad it’s back.
Ruaraidh Cameron had some very nice touches but them got rapped by Sandy Tulloch. No complaints Sandy was booked . Sandy is aggressive and quite a hard player. He gets roused but I do not see him as dirty -merely rash. Ruaraidh has all the touches- a little more speed ,much more devil and he will handle this standard. Sometimes it is easy to forget just how young this Drum team is. Without Stewart Morrison-he too struggled to get going- the others are kids, almost. Gregor McCormack and Paul Mackintosh are in their mid to late 20s ,while the rest are teenagers or in their early 20s. Not that Beauly did not carry some youngsters them selves- Mackay Murray looks about 12 though he plays very effectively- but they had a better age balance. They also talked to each other and encouraged each other through the game. We will need to do that. But first we will have to learn to score.
What will we learn from this. Certainly we talked plenty in the pub after the match though sadly because we did not have to provide meals for the Beauly lads most of them shot off right away which goes against the spirit of the League. But then perhaps we were sp shell shocked we did not invite them down. This most certainly has to be rectified or we might as well give up and play hockey. No socialisation equals no shinty.
Still it was nice to see the Beauly spectators back in Drum. They bring a little bit of patter back to the touchline though they should share their Buckfast with the rest of us. They shout and argue in a passionate way : it beats watching National League on your own. A pity it was too cold for Black Will to come out of the car.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

A Game of Two Halves? Yeah Right!

Glenurquhart 1 Kingussie 7

Given that snow has closed down the shinty world on the opening day of the new season this game which I was hoping to forget remains at the forefront of my mind. What a score line for the Glenophile to reflect on. Unexpected? Definitely not. Should we have played them? Perhaps not. What did we get from the game. Confirmation that Ronald Ross and Kevin Thain are a brilliant strike force with far too much skill for our defence even though we did not necessarily lay the defence out properly. Confirmation too that Ally Dallas has plenty to give to a Kingussie forward line.- and a sense of wonder as to how good this lot will get when Ally Borthwick comes back. They were missing James Hutchison and Gary Munro as well as Borthwick and Rory Fraser . Not only that but Dave Borthwick came off quite early in the game with a damaged back which may well cause him problems for the rest of the season.
The opening ten minutes were fairly even -indeed the Glen made progress up field on several occasions with nice centrefield hits up to the front men-but the ball did not stick up there. David Smart , Lewis Maclennan and Ruaraidh Cameron did not have enough guile to trouble Borthwick and the Kingussie defenders, some of whom did not look especially old but when you have international backs like Ally Macleod blocking your path you will stay blocked.
The seven breakaways before half-time : Ronald Ross at the near post glancing in, the second a Thain drive ,then Ally Dallas weaving his way in from the side and scoring in the corner pocket while holding off Stuart Reid . It goes on- and I don’t bother paying attention- I see Thain get another then a massive strike from Ross and Dallas and Ross - and all the time Stewart Mackintosh is making saves as well. A different class of striking from what we habitually face - but our defenders make the wrong choices too often.
We have John Barr up front half forward- I left him unmentioned when commenting on the forwards because I did not see him participating. Why not? Simply because he did not get on to the ball- he was about two positions too far forward. Centreline should probably be the max. for John in a forward direction: anywhere else and his good aggressive qualities have to be subsumed too much - but then if you don’t experiment you don’t find out.
It is half time and I am wondering if Kingussie will be feeling a little embarrassed but to be fair to them they don’t appear to be in the business of patronising opponents by easing up on them. It may be that psychologically they put in less effort- and in particular RR does not push himself in the second half. In the first he was the most complete shinty athlete you will see. He went back for the ball, collected and ran with it, looked to play it across to a man and then ran selflessly for the space where the ball should go. Often enough it did not come but when it did he was there. He was quite simply never still. One shot which he got away and which Stewart Mackintosh saved illustrates his ability : the ball came over from the left at speed but bouncing. The D was swarming with defenders and RR infiltrated the zone at pace between two of them and as the ball pitched back of a defenders stick ,he made a split second adjustment of his own club .With no back swing he stabbed a sharp shot on target: Stewart being an international class keeper read the move just in time and scrambled it past the post with the heel of his club.
It is the second half- I am actively wondering if we should perhaps have played Strathglass in the Macdonald Cup this week rather than have agreed to this challenge. Of course this match was fixed up weeks ago and the sad death of George Phimister caused the Macdonald Cup to be put off. When will we play it? Have to be a midweek match if we can get the guys home but just now looking at the Kingussie line up I would settle for taking on Strath.
And all of a sudden the second half is OK- we win it 1-0.
The teams stay more or less the same : the centreline continues to hit the ball forward and chances are there but no converted. Kingussie play likewise : Ross & Co look as if they intend to score , playing the same complicated touch shinty as in the first half but they don’t add any goals to their tally. Perhaps their centreline is not quite so assiduous in providing the forwards with ball as they were in the first period.
With rolling subs ,the pattern of both sides is hard to pick out- then Neale Reid comes on for the last quarter of an hour for the Glen. He is 14 and with the backs standing off him just a bit because he looks so innocuous he shows real direct ball skill : he pulls down one through ball and lashes an excellent shot which smashes in to the bar. A few minutes later he gets a well taken goal. Well deserved and a little puzzling. If a 14 year old can do this why did the 16 year olds find it so difficult to do? A point to ponder but not one to dwell on.
Next week we should be playing teams at our own level : we will certainly have to do better. And avoiding a nasty trip up to Kinlochshiel because of the snow can’t be bad can it?

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