Sunday, October 21, 2007

International Affairs

Scotland 22 Ireland 11

An Aird , Fort William

There’s been a bigger than expected gap between the completion of the International match and the comments in this article by the Wing Centre. Truth is though that while it is great to see the Scotland side win, to the Wing Centre’s mind the result has been undermined somewhat by rumblings from the sidelines along the lines of “Well, the Irish do not take it seriously anyway”
What is the evidence for that? Well it appears that the majority of the Irish players for the last year or so -there were some exceptions this year- have been selected from those less high profile hurling sides which do not challenge for the top honours in the game. All-stars they were not. Perhaps that was because of the fact that the GAA season is still in full swing and it could be that, if the game took place in November , then more of the top men would appear. On the other hand there is more than a little suspicion in the Wing Centre’s mind that some of the top guys in hurling are not so keen on the compromise code. With so much of their game based around catching and kicking, the rules ,as they are presently constituted, do not make it easy for the men in green though they have an advantage via points over the bar.
No disrespect to Ally Ferguson’s Scottish side either but it was hardly an All-Alba Shinty All Stars team either- however you cannot pick guys no matter who they are if they do not make themselves available for what ever reason. More importantly the Scotland management squad got the tactics exactly right : a 3-3 -3 line up + diamond formation in the front did the trick and it was noticeable that for much of the first half Scotland’s back row had an extra player.
The Wing Centre- brass of neck as always- asked Irish squad leader-Paudie Butler what the game meant to him and his countryman. Paudie was positive as perhaps one would expect of a man whose remit with the GAA involves him -and will involve him- in promoting the international dimension. “The boys think it is a great honour. They love coming over. After all it’s the only thing we’ve got in an international sense.”
And so it might well be.
Doubtless you can dig up any number of hurling players who know nothing about shinty but you also get plenty shinty folk who doubt the value of the compromise code. The Wing centre respects these views but in the end feels that these ideas are simply wrong.
However perhaps the reality is that for the hurlers there are other stages -such as big games before large crowds- that provide a bigger attraction than a compromise code match.
For Scotland, where shinty suffers institutional neglect and is regularly patronised in an offensive way-witness Jim Traynor’s summary dismissal of the hapless shinty fan who called him to ask that Fergie’s boys receive some congratulation for their performance against Ireland -the international has greater importance. Without it , our sport is diminished: The job of encouraging young players to develop, the recognition of good players outside of the top flight-especially at under 21 and under 17 level is damaged without the international dimension.
So the Wing Centre says an unqualified well done to Ally Ferguson, Fraser Mackenzie, Drew McNeill , Charles Young and all the players who contributed their energies -and a great deal of tactical awareness in winning this match.
However, from a spectators point of view ,perhaps if the game was decided on goals and goals alone, things would be more interesting : hitting the ball over the bar from miles out from a dead ball situation is deadly dull and does not develop ground skills or link play between team-mates. The absence of that dimension makes hurling an inferior sport to shinty though when the Wing Centre, in wind up mode , made the same point recently to Diarmud O‘Flynn , Hurling Correspondent of the Irish Examiner ,whilst he was attending the Camanachd Cup final , the good fellow did not agree. Diarmud is certainly a good fellow according to Paudie Butler and he must be because , having been sent over by The Examiner to watch the All-Blacks thrash Scotland in the rugby in Edinburgh , he rapidly forged his way north to watch the Camanachd Final. Which is more than many in the city of Inverness bothered to do.

As for the Senior International match ,the Wing Centre took some notes and pretending to be a sports reporter produced the following :

For the third time in a row Scotland came out ahead in the annual clash of the Gaelic codes and this year, despite the fact that the men in green had beefed up their side with the inclusion of a high profile hurling stars in the shape of Kilkenny’s Martin Comerford and Galway goalkeeper James Skehill, the Scots particularly in the first period had too much power and accuracy in front of goal to allow manager Lester Ryan’s hurlers a realistic chance of success.
After early points from Irish dead ball specialist Jonathan O’Neill had been added to by Comerford, Gary Innes got the Scots off the mark with a two point strike. Then came the real damage to Irish hopes in the shape of a three-goal burst that effectively sealed the game. The first strike came in 10 minutes from Bute’s Hector Whitelaw when he followed up on a James Clark drive which was well blocked by Skehill to force the ball over the line for Scotland’s opener. Two minutes later Scotland’s most high profile player Ronald Ross powered a free hit into the net after new cap John Macdonald had been brought down. Ross added a third shortly after when he picked up a neat flick from Macdonald and with his next strike the Kingussie front man picked up another two points from a dead ball situation.
At this stage Scotland looked like completely overrunning this Irish hurlers and the tactics of Scotland manager Ally Ferguson to keep the ball low and run it along the ground at the Irish defence line were paying off in spades though it has to be said that the profligacy of the Irish dead ball men in front of goal played its part in keeping the Scots so far ahead. Neat combination between Clark and Ross should have added yet another Scottish goal but Ross was too elaborate in his approach and had to settle for a point with a scoop over the bar.
At the other end the aerial ability of Comerford was a treat to watch and he it was who gave his countrymen hope when, having been brought down by Scotland captain Danny Macrae, he fired the resulting free hit past keeper Scott McNeil for his side’s opening goal.
Within a minute however the last strike of the first half Gary Innes had added another two points for the home side.
The second half was a more even contest but Scotland proved they had well learned the lessons of the lean years of this fixture. If you want to defend against hurlers you must defend often and you must defend even while you attack. This was particularly clear at the back where man of the match Norman Campbell was outstanding, putting his body on the line time and again to block power drives from Comerford and David Crimmins. The greens did pick up scores though but such was the tenacity of the Scottish backline that they were restricted in the early part of the second period to single point strikes from distance through O’Neil, Comerford and Aiden Healey.
At the other end chances continued to fall to the Scots forwards but despite some glaring misses –Macdonald was the main culprit- a point was added through Ross and two more by Gary Innes. The fourth Scottish goal came after a Ross burst saw his drive bravely saved by Skehill but the attempted clearance cannoned in off the advancing James Clark and the home side were secure in victory.
Ireland clawed back late points through Kevin Hinphey and the never say die Comerford but for the pride of the GAA, it was too little too late.

From a Glenurquhart point of view it was good to see John Barr making his international debut on the big stage though the Wing centre would have played him in the back 3 rather than in the next row. The hope was to have illustrated the article with a pic of JB in the international jersey but unless his Mam sends the Wing Centre a snap ,that will not happen. The only snap to hand is one of JB in the warm up, balancing on one leg and looking for all the world that he is a member of a Tai Chi class -not the image of the Glen’s iconic player that should be broadcast to the world.
Congratulations too to Stuart Mackintosh for making it for a record 6th time into the under 21 squad. Interesting to note that the Irish under 21s were an excellent side and if the rumour going about the Alexandra Hotel after the match is true then these Irish Under 21s beat the full squad in a training session. At any rate despite some individual good performances the Irish were able to hit more balls over the bar than their Scottish counterparts.
Congratulations also to Glen Ist team trainer Laura McConachie for making it into the girls international squad and well done too to the girls for winning the match for a second successive year. They appear to have made serious progress in a relatively short time though in the north especially there is a real need for more players to be developed-even in the Glen..
So all in all a good weekend for Scotland and a good weekend for shinty -pity about the under 21s though- and above all as one would expect a Glen blog to say, a good weekend for the Glen.

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