Monday, September 24, 2007

Centenary Camanchd Cup Final-Lets Hear it for James of the Glen!

Fort William 3 Inveraray 1

Shinty’s ultimate piece of silverware, the Camanachd Cup, returned to Fort William after a controlled display of power shinty which saw Inveraray’s dream of taking the trophy back to Lochfyneside for the second time in the new millennium comprehensively dismissed.
Saturday’s occasion was the 100th time that the Camanachd Cup has been contested and over that period today’s finalists have managed a mere handful of wins apiece-Inveraray in 1925, 1926 ,1930 and 2004 and Fort William in 1991 and 2005. This year the form book was no help to reading the runes because as yet the sides have not played each other in premier League action. By this stage in the season they ought to have met each other twice on League duty .
Mind you in recent years, in guise of beaten finalists, they have had the privilege of playing a supporting role on what has been traditionally Kingussie’s big day.
The absence of shinty’s special ones meant there was an opportunity yesterday for one of those two sides to step out of the wings and take centre stage .In the end it was Fort William who rose to the occasion but Inveraray -and in particular front man Russell Mackinlay- will reflect on a series of missed chances in the second period which could have seen the cup return to Argyll.
However, the tactical awareness of both managers was clear from outset with Fort William boss Drew McNeil opting for the pace of Liam Macintyre in defence to counter the speed of the Inveraray forwards. At the other end Inveraray manager Dave MacPherson placed the pacy Andrew Watt at full back to oppose the physical power of Fort’s James Clark .
With both stalls set out resolutely the first half failed to ignite though it was clear that the Inveraray defence including the normally reliable Douglas Dando were finding the Fort William forwardline more than a handful though early attempts at goal from Clark and teenager Drew
Ferguson flew wide.
The first clear opportunities however fell to Inveraray. In 20 minutes a free hit was poorly dealt with by Fort ‘keeper Scott McNeil but Garry MacPherson contrived to miss the chance. MacPherson was then hauled down in the next attack but Mackinlay’s drive from the resulting free hit was well saved by McNeil.
The game finally burst into life just before half time when Fort William were awarded a free hit for a push on Clark by full back Watt. With the Inveraray defence in some disarray Fort William wing forward Gordy Mackinnon slipped the ball sideways to Clark and the big man hammered it in from the narrowest of angles.
From the restart Inveraray were immediately awarded a penalty which Garry MacPherson failed to convert when his drive struck goalkeeper McNeil high on the chest and bounced wide. That McNeil was standing two yards forward from his line when the shot was struck went unobserved by both goal judge and referee-and so the first half ended on a high note for Fort William.
If the first half finished with Fort William fortunate to be ahead, the second period seriously looked like going Inveraray’s way. The Bught is a surface which invites slick stickwork : the problem with this is that is Inveraray’s forwards - to whom a holding style of play is more natural - tend to weave patterns of endless possession that are ultimately unproductive. That criticism has been regularly levelled at their front four : it was never truer than on this afternoon especially when in 59 minutes wing centre Grant Griffin played Mackinlay into space but he drove the ball wide. Another glaring miss from Mackinlay quickly followed and then McNeil made a tremendous block from a McPherson drive but just when it appeared that the Argyll side would never turn possession into goals , up
popped Garry MacPherson to equalise. Macpherson at 29 has been Inveraray’s playmaker for the past decade. His forte is to run at players at speed with the ball and deliver the telling pass into the hit men: he is not a prolific goal scorer but his strike on Saturday coming after his penalty miss should have lifted his side to a better performance.
The goal however only served to galvanise the Fort William front men and the Inveraray cheers had hardly died down when after a neat interchange with Smith , James Clark who won the Albert Smith medal for Man of the Match for his performance fired his side in front once again.
From that point there was no way back for Inveraray and Victor Smith sealed Fort William success late in the game with a fine strike after Inveraray keeper McPherson unwisely palmed out a shot in his direction.
Best for Inveraray on an afternoon of many missed chances was full centre David Robertson who put in a powerful shift and in doing so eclipsed Niall Macphee completely.
In the end the honours went to Fort William and in particular to James Clark. Clark for all that he possesses serious size is relatively mobile and his touch with the club as his two well taken goals will testify, has never been in doubt. On the field he worked selflessly up front and by the end of the match it was his marker Andrew Watt who had fallen over with cramp.
If one other point should be made it is that the tactical change made by Drew McNeil in the changing room played a central part in bringing home the right result to Fort William. Just as he did in the MacTavish Cup, the Fort William manager brought on Scotland international Victor Smith to add the classy touches after the Inveraray defence had exhausted themselves against the running of Drew Ferguson. He added to Inveraray problems by pushing John Macdonald up from the centreline and replacing him in midfield with Chris Bamber. That Smith had the gall to seal the game with his own opportunistic finish only served to underline the wisdom of McNeil’s tactical switch.
Where do Fort William go from here? Where is there to go- shinty has no international dimension - no medals to be won in competition out with the sport apart from the compromise rules match against the Irish. Fort William will add to the trophies and the future looks good with their youth sides doing well at their respective levels.
If they are unlucky and other sides don’t rise to the challenge, perhaps they will be fated to write their own clichés every year and pop up on the national stage annually like some Celtic version of the Harlem Globetrotters never outnumbered ,never outgunned as did Kingussie before them .
No disrespect to Drew and his men but the Wing Centre hopes that this is not the vision of shinty’s future that comes to pass. The pond is already small enough and certainly not teeming with shinty lifeforms healthy enough to evolve into greatness.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory and all a few Bon Mots about the "Scottish"plus a postcard from a "fan" in Strathglass

The defeat by Kinlochshiel has been the most distressing one of all this season. The Balliemore was bad enough even though the Wing Centre pretended to be cool about it but the League match was something else. 3-1 up at half time - the Glen dominating proceedings for nearly three quarters of the afternoon and then the whole season thrown away in ten minutes and , for all that it was nice to see Johnston Gill , his brother Melvyn , Roddy Gillies and Dunc Macleod with smiles on their faces Kinlochshiel knew they had got out of jail. The Wing Centre only wished we did not have to hand them the key. Simply put , it was a sickener.
Which made the Wing Centre grateful for the kind illustration sent from a friend of the D in Strathglass. The Wing Centre particularly liked the red and black background and admires the thoughtful malice which inspired it. Though how they can spend valuable time attempting to "diss" their well meaning neighbours when they should be concentrating all their energies on avoiding relegation from the Premier League the Wing Centre fails to understand.
However, it is nice to see the youngsters being creative .
Of course the jibe would have been water off a duck except that now the Wing Centre is now beginning to wonder how long his team can go on without winning anything. It is stuffed full of lads with representative honours, under 21 caps, and North select places. When the boys were under 17 they won the National Championship and they have been in MacTavish Under 17 finals -so what is going on here?
Of course it was all smiles the week before when the result was Glenurquhart 5 Inverness 2.
A hat-trick from Lewis Maclennan and nice finishes from Dave Maclennan and Billy Urquhart. Not only that the news was good from Ardnamurchan as well where the result on the new ‘Murchan park was Glenurquhart 6 Ardnamurchan 1. There our scorers were hat-trick hero Ben Hosie, Dave Smart (come back Chips!!) and Ross MacAulay with a brace as they say-but not on his teeth. And Ryan Brady got his first game in goal.
So what happened against ‘Shiel ?
Well for one thing the Glen were down 4 players- Paul Mackintosh (broken arm v Inverness) Dave Girvan (unavailable due to holiday commitments) Andrew Macdonald (muscle tear) Calum Fraser (injured ankle in Skye game). As well as that Arran Macdonald and Andy Corrigan took to the field with strains and tears which , when the going got severe in the last 15 minutes , limited their effectiveness.
Shiel were down two players themselves-Gordy Macdonald and Neil Fraser- but these boys play up front so the ease with which the Glen forwards pulled the ‘Shiel defence to pieces in the first half does not bode well for a Shiel promotion to the Premier League.
Lewis Maclennan opened in 6 minutes when he dived between the backs and rattled a shot home from the right. He then showed good control of the stick to get his second. Scott Kennedy pulled one back before Lewis Maclennan restored the lead just before half time.
Over the second half goals the Wing Centre will draw a veil except to correct the Free Press on one little flaw regarding their description of the winning goal. What happened was that the ball was played across the face of the Glen goal from left to right (towards the Games Hut). There it was powerfully struck up the wing. Macrae either by intention or good luck got his body in the way of it and the ball bounced off his ribs at a lucky angle straight to Kennedy and , fair play to him, he finished well. By that time however the Glen’s injury list simply meant that they had run out of options.
All of which above caused the Wing Centre to hang up his key board for a whole week and a little bit. How can you be laid back about a result like that?
Still it’s Camanachd Cup time and on Saturday, to coin a phrase often coined, all roads lead to Inverness’s Bught Park where Inveraray and Fort William are due to meet in the 100th Camanachd Cup Final. Shinty’s grandest occasion is being held in Inverness because 2007 is the year of Highland Culture . However, talk of culture to shinty people and you may well be in receipt of a short, sharp response.
Damage caused by the World Pipe Band Championships in July has meant the Bught Park has been closed and will remain closed to shinty players until after the final has been played. Meanwhile in Inveraray , damage caused to the shinty pitch by the recent Connect rock festival means that the Argyll side have been unable to prepare for the big day on their home field and face the prospect of playing their remaining league games away on borrowed pitches.
Given that Inveraray have seen their pre-final preparations upset by circumstances beyond their control, it is tempting to underestimate their chance of victory in Inverness. That temptation is increased by the knowledge that Fort William have been the form team in the sport this season having spectacularly put Kingussie to the sword 5-0 in the Camanachd Cup semi final three weeks ago in Beauly.
It is however worth remembering that Inveraray were in the same underdog situation three years ago in Oban but a neatly worked Ewan McMurdo goal followed by some stout defending broke Fort William’s resolution and brought the cup home to Lochfyneside after a gap of 74 years.
A similar result is not entirely out of the question this time round but to complicate matters, there is no recent form book to aid speculation. Why so? The simple fact is that atrocious summer weather has meant there has as yet been no league meeting between those two sides to give a guide as to the probable outcome of the final.
In a way it is as if the clock has been turned back to the days when Camanachd finalists were drawn from different districts and went forward to the big day in more or less total ignorance of the style and strengths of their opponents. These shinty days of yore had their own charm but the smart money this season is on Fort William to consolidate their hold on the ancient sport and add the Camanachd Cup to the trophy cabinet. Fort William’s secret lies in the middle of the field and when you play shinty on a park as big as Inverness’s Bught Park, the centremen have to be of the highest quality. In Gary Innes, Chris Bamber and Niall Macphee, Fort William have three forceful players who are fast, fit and also big. When it comes to power play in midfield, where the modern game is won and lost, big is beginning to matter. Of course games are won by scoring goals and there the styles of the sides diverge. Inveraray are fast, positionally aware and while spectators love the way they weave intricate knots of endless possession, the forwards often give the impression they love the art of stick-craft rather than the goals it should beget. Having added Ballachulish native John Macdonald to their front line this season, Fort William quite simply have become a more focused side. That in itself should be enough to see them ease past Inveraray on the day and perhaps finally convince their followers that they are a team fit to take over the mantle of Kingussie.
As for the Glen-there is always next season. Maybe.
Thank goodness the Primary boys won the Aird shield and lets hope for something silver from the Under-14s who meet Bearsden and Milngavnie in the final of the Development League on Camanachd Cup Day.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Glen Underdogs Fail To Set Cat Amongst Pigeons

Balliemore Cup Final

Glenurquhart 0 Bert’s Boys 1

What do you get if you fail to win the most important match of the season? A mixed metaphor for a headline , that’s what. Indeed the Wing Centre wasn’t surprised that things would turn out this way because when he took the basket out of the loft to take the cat (pictured) to Newtonmore to set amongst the Kinlochshiel pigeons , the beast took one look at the box , assumed it was being taken to the vet and scuttled under the lagging in the combe of the house . Which was just as well because it had insisted on wearing a 'Shiel collar. And If you think this intro is a long way about saying nothing about a Glen loss then you may be right but you also have no idea how hard it is to turn pain into art.
Such is the hurt to the heart at the result of yesterday’s game that the Wing Centre cannot even type the name of the victorious club in the sub-heading at the top of the page, so lets make one thing clear. If you would like a clear report on this match from a West Coast perspective ,the suggestion is that you invest in a copy of the next West Highland Free Press : there you will no doubt read a detailed but biased account of how the Kintailers (with some help from the sharp Lochalsh brains of Bert and Keith) outwitted the two breeds of Glenners (Up and Down) and won the cup with an overwhelming display of power shinty. It was not like that at all though the natural fairness of the Glen contingent would admit that over the piece, the Ross-shire lads appeared to be more hungry for success and perhaps had the better of the play.
The first 20 minutes or so of the match were even but played at a frantic pace. What possession the Glen had in the midfield was scrappy -though Kinlochshiel had little better of the ball in that part of the field they did seem to be less hassled in the wing centre positions and their forwards had a little but not much more quality possession up front. Despite this , early on the Glen defence was fairly sound with John Barr extremely commanding at full back as was Stuart Reid on the wing. Andrew Macdonald handled Finlay Macrae well though he always posed some menace but Gregor McCormack found the Shiel wing forward a lively handful .
At the other end the Glen front men did not seem to be giving the ‘Shiel defenders very much to worry about and Paul Macrae in defence was especially sound. The Shiel wing backs were tenacious too and their speed to the ball was such that the Glen front three hardly got time to dwell on the ball and had to snatch at chances to little effect. Best of the Glen forwards in the opening half-hour was buckshee forward. Andrew Corrigan who was up against arguably the best of the ‘Shiel players, Finlay Macrae. Both players had 50-50 of the game until about 30 minutes when after a tangle just inside the Shiel half Corrigan received a nasty face cut from the club of his own wing centre Paul Mackintosh. Corrigan bravely retuned to the field after receiving 5 stitches along his cheekbone and the Glen continued to press but were denied a clear attempt at goal when the ‘Shiel defence brought down Lewis Maclennan with the goal at his mercy. A professional foul perhaps but any competent defence will do it and good luck to them. The resulting free hit was cleared.
The teams were poised 0-0 at half time but even the Wing Centre would have to admit ‘Shiel looked somehow quicker about the field especially in their defence and in parts of the middle though the Glen had enough in the centre to make something of it and while Arran Macdonald was firing some long balls through but the wing forwards just could not get hold of them.
The second half was more or less a mirror image of the first up to and beyond the winning goal which came in 51 minutes. Keith Macrae got on to the ball and was allowed to run though at the defence. Not that the Wing Centre is an advocate of foul play but needs must : Macrae should have been tripped up as he came toward the goal and since he is a strong fellow maybe the attempt was made and he did not go down. Whatever, he got the ball across and Neil Fraser- whose grandfather Iain Dubh not only would have been proud of him but would also personally have made sure Keith Macrae would never have got the ball across to him in the first place-put the ball in the net with a nice strike.
In the end it was to prove decisive.
The game continued in the same manner for the next 15 minutes with neither goalkeeper being troubled in any way and then the Glen got the formula almost correct. Calum Miller came on up front at full forward and started to unsettle Paul Macrae with the sort of challenges he could have done with half an hour earlier. Miller also got a hold of enough ball to test out keeper Kennedy for the first time in the match. Dave Maclennan brought some fresh legs to the centreline and with David Girvan coming on at the back , John Barr was able to move up to half back where his powerful hitting began to turn the tide. There were a number of chances but they were snatched at and the ‘Shiel defence had enough savvy to bring down Neale Reid as he was about to slip his marker into space. But as everyone knows free hits in shinty are of no value to the attacking team and so the Glen ran out of time , though not before a heart stopping moment for ‘Shiel when Paul Mackintosh fired a powerful drive just inches past on the stroke of full time.
The Cup went to Kintail for the first time and the silver mounted caman to Fraser MacVicar - and well done to them and him.
So since we did not win the Cup, what did we win?
Our minibuses were nicer than theirs……
We had a Kintail man and a New Zealander driving our buses : they had nobody from Glenurquhart to drive theirs.
Both Mr Reid and the Treasurer wore their old Strathdearn 1977 lucky suits and looked smarter than the Kinlochshiel management. The Vice Chairman was on the smart side too. Gary Mac wore a tie-so all these points count in our favour
Kinlochshiel also had a councillor present at the match while the Glen did not. and that surely counts as yet another point in our favour.
Truth is the Kinlochshiel boys are good crack -indeed such good crack that we would hate to see them promoted and never see them again. In fact we would rather see Lovat promoted instead and so when ’Shiel come to Drum in a fortnight’s time for the last League fixture we’ll probably play our top team just to take the points off them.
It would be an excellent wheeze to send Lovat up out of their depth. Besides they keep beating us.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


A late posting before the tribe set off to Newtonmore to strive for possession of the Balliemore. Here are two unredeemed tickets for the previous Balliemore in Oban. Are they worth anything? Time will tell. The Wing Centre, the Plumber and a pile of other folk did not receive any recompense that Saturday having parted with the spondulicks for 20 minutes of watching Kilmallie and Fort William taking part in a swimming gala. Have to admit though that the Chairman got his cash back which probably says something about why he has made it to the utter top of the Glen’s greasy pole.
The ticket below that is one that has been paid for and the music on the night enjoyed. Many thanks to the Boy , Russ and Gary Mac who had the brilliant idea that, on a night when Strathglass were coming to terms with Camanachd Cup disappointment, the Glen should hold a ceilidh dance to celebrate the game or should that be the Games!
Which takes us on to his afternoon. The Underdogs (that’s us - according to all reputable papers as well as the Courier) will have to play at the very top of their game to make anything of this Shiel side. They defeated Cabers and although the accepted wisdom is that they play bonnie shinty , perhaps they don’t have a cutting edge. Well Bill Macpherson said so last night as the Glen primary team won the Aird League with a sterling display against Dingwall Primary.
Not sure that I am convinced by Bill. Shiel will be up for it-they have not won this trophy despite years of trying. As for us we’ve been too good to enter it for years though this year with rule changes we’re in. That makes us Underdogs.
Hope it’s time for the next headline to be “Underdogs Bite Back”. Now that would be the ticket.

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