Monday, March 19, 2007

Glass Hearts Broken

Strathglass 2 Newtonmore 4

Everything was shut down in the Glen -the pitch unplayable and the 2nd team off to Kincraig without a by your leave to the Wing Centre. However, he had been charged to check up on a Premier League game and with all but two matches off, the most intriguing fixture lay over Kerrow Brae where Strathglass were due to play Newtonmore.
Why intriguing? Simply because with the season in a stop -start mode and Kingussie obviously going to pick up two points against a very young Oban Camanachd side, Newtonmore were under pressure to win or have their season snuffed out before it started . Crazy but true. Having lost to Kingussie in the Badenoch derby the week before, a defeat at Cannich would leave them 4 points adrift . How Fort William feel helplessly watching Kingussie racking up the wins is anyone’s guess. Drew McNeil will have a firm opinion but perhaps it’s best glossed over.
Newtonmore then, came up the road under a little pressure: With John Mackenzie suspended , Ricky Ross struggling to make it because of work and both Cheynes off their juggernaut they could not have been looking forward to the trip.
Strathglass on the other hand had picked up a home win against Lochcarron and despite being some lads down themselves are a determined squad when up against it. The pitch was heavy but playable though the Wing Centre thought it would be pretty heavy on the feet to keep going at any pace for both halves. Indeed he walked across it at half time and his shoes have not been allowed back into his house ever since. Because it was good Strathglass mud, it has now dried off into a hard black crust and will have to be removed from the soles with a heavy hammer and a cold chisel. The park itself has a nice setting but at the rate houses are going up around it they’ll soon be playing urban shinty in Strathglass.
The game was hard but fair and considering the conditions there was a great deal of good shinty. Both teams looked even right from the start though Newtonmore looked to have a little more bite up front.
That was quickly proved when Newtonmore took the lead in 4 minutes. Martin Hall was on hand to slot home a ball which came back off keeper Strath keeper Stewart Geddes. It was hard on Geddes since he had made a good stop from Sean MacQuarrie who had played the strike in from distance but the second ball is always dangerous especially in the Premier where strikers tend to know their business.
Darren Reid equalised for Strathglass on the half hour mark after working the ball through the Newtonmore defence. Strath had a number of other chances but Mike Ritchie was up to everything though Robert Geddes showed his class by getting a shot off on target when he seemed completely blocked in. If there was to be any way through the Newtonmore defence it was going to have to be via the wing backs who looked frailer and lighter than ‘More backs of yore. There was never any chance of a way past Danny Macrae at buckshee or Norman Campbell at full back : these guys are quick and strong and even in the heavy clinging conditions the match took place in they have the power to blast the ball well out of defence and put their opponents back line under pressure.
The Strath youngsters at times looked a little naïve when they actually stopped some long hits from their own side running through on the Newtonmore goal. Two or three times Donald Fraser , who policed Fraser Mackintosh well all afternoon, blasted the ball up only to have his own front men pull it down when they would have been better letting it run though and following up on it. Rule 1 in the Wing Centre’s manual-never stop a shot hit forward by your own midfield or defence.
Strath had some bad luck when they conceded an own goal via defender Ian Macleod which allowed Newtonmore to take the lead. The Newtonmore player who hit the ball forward ultimately turned out to be MacQuarrie though at the time everyone in a blue shirt the Wing Centre spoke to did not seem to have a clue. Scott Chisholm denied it and though Orsten Gardiner would have been happy to claim it he was too honest to do so. Why did the Wing Centre not see it for himself? Too busy trying to work out the shape of the game and by that stage he thought it was becoming clear that Strathglass were just going to be beaten. Why? The centreline that is why. The Newtonmore centreline was just too fit for the Strath centres at the time. Chisholm , Mackintosh and Macarthur were no better as players than the Strath threesome but ,as the game went on it was clear that neither Ian Macleod nor Les Fraser were capable of holding the line as well as they were able to earlier in the game. Fraser was taking too long to recover after runs forward and Macleod was at times outpaced. Give them the ball and they were hitting it well ,but in 90 minutes of intense competition they were just beginning to lose it and the ball was going into the Strath defence more often than was comfortable.
Then a sudden strike from wide by full forward Gary Reid in 66 minutes brought the sides level. It was an excellent goal and testament to Reid’s skill in that he tucked it past Ritchie into the corner of the net from an acute angle on a heavy pitch- goal of the day to that point.
This lifted Strathglass and they then began have the bulk of the pressure, though Stewart Geddes had to look lively to parry a long range effort from Fraser Mackintosh. Strath even had a chance to go ahead but centre Les Fraser could only hit the side netting .
At this point with ten minutes left, your reporter left the field confident that a draw would be the result and that Strathglass would take the point they deserved from the match. One worrying note was that as he departed he passed Norman Macarthur and his sidekick Iain Mackintosh : they were deep in conversation.
“We‘ll need to make a change,“. Boss No 1 was saying. Boss No 2 was agreeing. Love them or loathe them, there’s no doubt these guys know the game.
Jimmy Johansen had actually said it earlier when the Wing Centre had passed the time of day with him. He wasn’t convinced with the ‘More forwards.
“Wouldn’t be surprised to see them put Glen Mackintosh up front for a bit. He’s got them some goals in the past,” he said. It appears Jimmy knows his shinty too.
And so in the absence of your reporter and with both sides tiring in the heavy conditions, Macarthur pushed Glen Mackintosh forward from the centreline and the player repaid his manager by snatching two late goals to give Newtonmore their first points of the season.
The Wing Centre has no idea what they were like other than that they were disappointing for Strathglass who surely did not deserve to lose so late in the day. Even more galling for the Glasaich, they were both scored by a boy called Glen.

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