Thursday, June 14, 2007

Smith Strike Wins Cup for Fort

Tulloch Homes Mactavish Cup Final

Fort William 1 Kingussie 0

It took a glorious strike in the 77th minute from Fort William substitute Victor Smith to end Kingussie’s hopes of taking the Mactavish Cup back to Badenoch for the fifth time in a row. The veteran, on to replace the injured John Macdonald, showed that he had lost little of the guile which had made him such a feared forward in his prime, when he sprinted smartly off his marker Rory Fraser to pick up a through pass from Fort centre Niall Macphee. With the Kingussie defence stretched, Smith had ample time to turn on the ball and fire it past goalkeeper Andrew Borthwick from all of 25 yards.
It was a goal fit to win any cup final coming as it did at the end of a move which started with Fort William’s Bryan Simpson picking up the ball in midfield. He pushed it on to James Clark who in turn sent it inside to Macphee. The big centre- who received the man of the match award for a tireless performance- placed the ball up the middle to Smith who gratefully accepted the chance.
Smith’s goal apart, the 95th Mactavish Cup final was an intensely absorbing match not least because of the tactical duel between the two managers. These sides have met in finals on numerous occasions most recently in last years Camanachd cup final in Dunoon. However, in the close season, both sides have changed their managers with Kingussie turning back the clock to call upon 68 year old Ian Ross who managed the side to many successes in the 90s. Fort William supremo Drew McNeill is in his first season in the hot seat having been one of the Fort’s key defenders in their Camanachd Cup defeat in Dunoon.
Having engineered a 5-1 victory over Kingussie in a recent league match McNeill was aware that the experienced Kingussie coach was bound to ring the changes in a centreline that failed to perform last time out. Ross did the needful by bringing Barry Dallas and Oban acquisition Fraser Inglis in to hold the wing centre positions and pushing Michael Clark up to wing forward.
The real test for McNeill however was how he was to lay out his defence to handle shinty’s top goalscoring forward of this or any other age, the legendary Ronald Ross. In the event McNeill got his tactics correct: Ross whenever he received the ball was tracked by a posse of Fort William defenders to the extent that he was forced to track back deep to get any possession at all. Late in the game when the expected Kingussie surge came Ross was closely watched by Duncan Rodger and the day ended in a fruitless fashion for North shinty’s player of the year.
Despite Ian Ross’s attempt to buttress the Kingussie centreline Fort William enjoyed the territorial advantage throughout the game although they made little progress in front of goal in the first half due to a superb display of defending by full back Rory Fraser who kept the threat of the ample James Clark very much in check.
Iain Borthwick, recently restored to the Kingussie side after injury, found his hands too full with John Macdonald but with Ally Macleod quick to close down Fort William’s Gordon Mackinnon most of the Fort attempts at goal were too far out to trouble keeper Borthwick, though he did have to look lively to deal with attempts from Clark and wing centre Gary Innes.
At the other end a careless hit out by Fort keeper Scott McNeill almost allowed Kingussie a chance of glory but the keeper recovered to foil Ross’s shot and push Kevin Thain’s follow up strike past for a corner.
The first half came to an end with Fort William in the ascendancy though Clark contrived to miss the easiest chance of the match when he pushed the ball past the post with Borthwick stranded.
For the second period, Kingussie Manager pushed wing centre Russell Dallas back into defence and withdrew defender Iain Borthwick , replacing him with Ricky Grant who slotted into midfield and while Dallas did a power of work in the defence the Kingussie centreline failed to break the grip Fort William had imposed on the game.
First Innes drove over the bar then Clark flashed a shot into the side netting and finally Simpson missed when it looked simpler to score. For Kingussie the sands of time were beginning to run out and so it was to prove when McNeill sent Smith on with 20 minutes to go. His first strike whistled over Borthwick’s bar; his second took the Mactavish cup to Fort William for only the third time in its history.
A late flourish by Kingussie’s Kevin Thain was palmed wide by Scott McNeill who, one sloppy hit-out aside, demonstrated total command of his goal area.
With the Fort crowd getting into party mood it was left to Referee Donnie Fraser to call time on Kingussie’s run of Mactavish success. Whether the victory is a more significant marker of the transfer of shinty power from Badenoch to Lochaber remains to be seen.
For Drew McNeill, Smith’s strike brings with it his first trophy in his first season as manager. The real test will be to see if he can add to it: one would not bet against it.

Mactavish trivia:
1) With the BBC commentators, the spectators and the ref. all looking to the centre of the field after the Fort William goal, the Wing Centre had a look down to the Kingussie defence to see how Rory Fraser would greet wee Victor when he resumed his starting position to await the centre. Rory, always the sportsman, shook Vic’s hand. Big man; big gesture.

2) Fort Manager Drew McNeill looked as if he had just come off the set of Pulp Fiction II. Some suit, Drew? Natty or what? Victory with style. Obviously you can take the boy out of Roy Bridge but the Wing Centre still thinks the clobber is too swish for sleeping in the whins after the celebration dinner.

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