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