Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Doing the Hokey-Cokey:Thats What It's All About

Camanachd Cup round 2
Fort William 1 Glenurquhart 1

The Wing Centre could only write this headline because he is going to be away on Saturday and so will be able to avoid the consequences of this verbal action- still he has chosen to use it because it has a certain ring to it and it is good to get back to reports because truth to tell, after the mighty Glen lost 3-0 to the Allarburn bad boys last week he didn’t have the energy to put pen to paper. However he also missed going to this historic game because the Beauly manager forbade him to go, seeing it was Highland Cross weekend and since he- the Beauly manager- was going to take part in the Cross, stopping by to inspect Kirkton’s playability at the same time, somebody i.e. the Wing Centre, would have to man the phones in the bunker to see who won the rest of the games. And so it was on a day when history was almost made, when the Glen almost stepped forward to embrace their destiny, that the Wing Centre was sitting in his kitchen-the mobile won’t work anywhere else-having his calls dingied by various managers around the country because they were either too elated or too depressed to talk about their own matches while all the time the real action was down in Nevisville.
And what did he miss as well as a Lewis Maclennan goal and a taste of some vintage Coke decisions? Why he missed a Happy Meal and the sight of Mr Corrigan (Jun) with his nose pressed to the glass , him being on the inside looking out rather than on the outside looking in.
The game itself was worth a Happy Meal or even two of them because the Glen without Gregor McCormack , David Girvan and Dixon Maclennan had a reshuffle.
For their great adventure Bill and Dave brought in Boy Soldier First Class Andrew Macdonald to shore up the backline and shifted Captain Courageous John Barr to full back. Corporal C in the meantime went to halfback while Sergeant Major Reid covered the whole of one flank and the battle commenced.
What is remarkable is that the trench holds firm and then in 14 minutes Calum Fraser sweeps a ball forward into the path of Lewis Maclennan and Druimlon’s player of the year chips it over the advancing Scott McNeill. Well taken goal but Fort Manager Drew McNeill is still cool because he doesn’t think its all over. Then Bryan Simpson pulls one back and Drew is still cool. He adopts nonchalance because this village defence must surely crumble. It does not.
He loosens his collar at half time just to pretend he is still cool and his guys mount an attack or two. The red Glenners repulse the Cameron horde. Drew gets agitated-the Glen top duo are always agitated so it does not do to measure them against the man in the suit. - he takes off James Clark and makes a double substitute with Victor Smith and Johnny Cameron. Gary Innes is seen to move forward The Glen go up field several times and look the more likely to score.
In fact but for a Cokeism they would have scored. A ball is sent neatly across the D from Neale Reid and Billy Urquhart gets on to it , puts it in the net and finds that it is ruled off side. How can the Wing Centre see the edge of the D from a comfy kitchen in Drum? He can’t but then was Mr McD close enough to see? Sources say probably not but it is very hard in shinty to keep close to the play : few of our refs can and the cute defenders yell “Sides” as soon as the ball looks like coming into the danger area and that way refs are influenced. The Wing Centre makes no complaint : he merely notes that it has happened. Indeed in one of his own spells of goal judging in a non controversial match the Lochaber defence claimed “Sides” on each occasion the ball came close. When the teams changed at half-time , The Glen backs did the same so maybe all backs are liars.
Anyway by this time back in real time, Drew is like a dervish dancing on the sidelines jumping with totally unconcealed rage. Then former Balnain starlet Cork and former Celtic starlet John MacDonald become involved in a dispute and Coke pulls forth a red card and tells them both to leave the park .
This they do and the game continues.
John Macdonald gets changed and heads off in his car: Cork gets changed and comes to the door of the changing room. He can’t leave in his car because he has to wait for the rest of the Drum boys. What is he to do? He stands indecisively for a moment.
Too late. Coke sees him and stops the game. Cork protests-he is only going to his car to sit and wait for the end of the game. A likely story. . No he is not , he is going back out of sight into the changing room or else!
The else did not have to be invoked- Cork retreated to the Fort pavilion and so it came to pass that as the Glen ran down the clock, Cork stood with his nose pressed to the enemy glass watching his team-mates earning themselves a game which he will be ineligible to play in.
Occasionally in keeping with the mood of levity and good humour which mark out the true Fort supporter one of the yellow and black faithful would notice the demoted corporal peeping out and shout to Coke. “He’s looking ref. He’s watching the game. What are you going to do about that?”
Coke wisely did nothing.
In the end according to Bill MacAllister’s take on Drew McNeill “The Glen were worth a draw.” which one supposes they were though it is now probable that they have missed their chance of glory having failed to win on the day . The Fort will be up for the game next time-and won’t be so complacent.
Still there is always the prospect of a Happy Meal after the match A Happy Meal? Well two actually. El Presidente and the Goalie’s dad felt a bit peckish and being country boys looked about for a bothy in which to have a bite. A local eatery seemed the place-owned by a MacDonald too- so in they went.
What were they to have? Who can say? There is an embarrassment of choice.
“That looks a bargain“, says the President.
He points to a sign with a smiley face. It is advertising a Happy Meal at £1.99.
“It sure is”, says the Goalie’s father . He also likes a bargain and is keen not to let the President pull a fast one on him. After all these Abriachan guys have to be watched with care.
“Two Happy Meals , please”, says the President decisive as ever.
“Are you sure?” says the lassie behind the counter. “Two Happy Meals?”
“Yes” says the Goalie’s dad “and make it snappy”
“Snappy?” says the President.
“Yes. Snappy that’s the only way to talk to Fort William girls. You have to show them who is boss. Two Happy Snappy meals”
The two girls pause for a moment. One looks like she is about to explain something.
“Please”, says the Goalie’s dad diplomatically.
The polite approach must have worked because when they got back to the car the girls had thoughtfully included in the brown bags a little Shrek doll each. The only thing was that the burgers were no bigger than two pence pieces.
“I wonder if the Blar could do Happy Meals?” said the President.
“Probably - but they would need to have bigger burgers and rolls. This stuff might do in Fort William but could you imagine Jimmac being happy to eat this.?”
And so they both went back to the Glen as happy as only people who have eaten a happy meal can be.
What about the pic above? It’s Bill and Dave ,the two managerial bon viveurs themselves with a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape from the Balmacaan cellar. Can’t see them settling for a Happy Meal. The Wing Centre thinks they have their eyes on a Civic Reception in the City Hall.

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.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Billy's Goal says "Bye Bye Skye"

Glenurquhart 3 Skye 0

Two neat goals by Neale Reid put this North Division 1 League tie clearly into Glenurquhart hands before Billy Urquhart (pictured above at Monday night training) made the points safe with a typical poacher’s finish in the second half. All of a sudden the Glen have won four games in a row which should put them in the frame for team of the month if they would only bother to win the matches within the required parameters of date.
Skye, lets face it, were not at full strength- any Skye side that takes the field without twoMacdonald brothers- is not going to be the top team but truth to tell they have some good and neat players and if they can keep these young guys going and ignore the lads who would rather play pub football , they will turn into a formidable side.
The island has a big enough pool of young men nowadays to have an excellent team that can compete at the highest shinty level. Or it would have if only Eka Davidson and the WHFP would realise that football is a busted flush as far as pulling the Eilean out of the Ceo is concerned. If the island would concentrate on shinty then it has the resources to win Camanachd Cups more than once which is why it is good to see Willie Cowie helping take on the youngsters. So all power to the Morrisons -unsung in shinty terms beside the Mackinnons, MacDougalls ,Cowies and Murchisons but servants to the noble game on the Island nevertheless and much respected on this side of the bridge as well.
So for posterity the goals:
No 1 Neale Reid out beyond the D slipped away from wing back David Nicholson caught the ball cleanly and flashed it home about head height. Time 9 minutes
No 2 -this time from further out, Reid side stepped the approaching back and drove the ball high into the net. Time 15minutes.
The sides went in for half time and the Glen came out fired up as required. A Lewis Maclennan drive was stopped by keeper Angie Murchison and the rebound was pushed back in over the line by Billy Urquhart. That made it 3-0.
This is the second game Billy has been quick in on the keeper and rammed in a rebound and if he can keep doing this it will add an element to the Glen’s play which has been missing for some time. It doesn’t always work however : at Lovat recently he had followed in a shot from Andrew Corrigan but when that bounced wide after being blocked by the keeper he did not have time to vacate the D before Neale Reid smashed a beauty home. Disappointingly but correctly it was given off-side.
At Kyles however and now against Skye , Billy’s speed into the box paid off and since Lewis and Cork (Corrigan) tend to play deep even though perhaps they shouldn’t ,then the presence of Billy Urquhart on the edge of the D will be an extra item in the goal scoring tool kit.
So what did the Glen do after Billy scored his goal in the 50th minute?
If the sharn on the soles of the Wing Centres countryman shoes is anything to go by, Cork and Lewis spent the rest of the afternoon hitting shots into the field containing John Cameron’s two pedigree bulls.
Fortunately the bovines in question were about as riotous as Mr Reid ( Strathdearn medal 1977) on the rampage after a curry night - and so the wing centre was able to walk about between them affecting unconcern looking for balls amongst the bulls . Unsurprisingly, he found two (including a plastic one-how it got there perhaps Mr Bell’s Primary Squad can explain- and the Wing Centre suggests they explain things to Mr Bell fast) but others remained undisturbed in the long grass .
How did we not score more goals when Skye ,apart from one or two shots which Stuart Mackintosh in goal deal with well, barely managed to cross the centreline.
Simply because we are elaborate when we should be simple: we pass when we should put the ball on the goals. The quality of the shinty played is extremely entertaining but the return on investment is simply not high enough for the talent on display. We are masters at using possession to weave complicated knots of Celtic complexity that lead nowhere. The side will have to be aware of this because at some point we are going to need a scrappy goal to give us a passage into a final where we can play the beautiful game in front of the TV cameras to our hearts’ content.
The other point is that the front man-the man at the point of the diamond -simply has to be closer to the D, otherwise when the ball comes into Glen possession ,there is too much to do before the goal can be shot at. The players are certainly capable of scoring from distance - and of course these attempts are spectacular but let it be born in mind that Ron Fraser and Billy Macleod scored most of their goals from within 12 yards of the goalmouth- particularly latterly when the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. If anything, Big Peter Macdonald was even closer to the goal line.
In the last quarter of the game, the Glen were forced to bring on several subs when first Arran Macdonald went off after a knock to be followed by Lewis Maclennan. David “Dixon” Maclennan also came off after a smack on the hand . The replacements Ali Mackintosh , Calum Miller and Calum Fraser did what was required but did not really have enough time to effect any change on the game though Calum Miller in particular -if he can get himself a little fitter after suffering from a injured foot against Fort William in the Mactavish Cup match-looks like he can be a useful addition up front. He certainly has the strength and playing closer to the goalmouth he can help create chances much nearer the business end of the whole proceedings.
A little rant then this week but one masquerading as a straight forward report overburdened with analysis: no wonder, because the wing Centre spent the Friday night working out how Fort William would be able to beat Kingussie in the Mactavish Cup final . He got it right : all you need is better players than the other team. To some extent that is what the Glen have at the moment. The only problem is that they have to keep on proving it or everything they have done up to that point doesn’t really matter. You are only as good as your last game. Against Skye that was good enough: it remains to be seen if that standard will do against Lovat on Saturday .

Monday, June 04, 2007

Glen Score Four in Balliemore

Balliemore Cup

Lovat 1 Glenurquhart 4
What an elusive, shy bunch these Lovat fans are! Like the roe deer that raid the gardens in Milton, you sometimes see them slipping across a fence or slinking through the long grass but when you try to take a photo of them , they melt away. Here the Wing Centre crossed Balgate with his trusty Kodak but too late. The Kiltartans proud had shot off back to their crofts- or more likely up to the Crofters Bar - to seek some solace in the demon drink- and all that was left was their droppings : a few empty water bottles, some pieces of paper and seats in the dug out still warm. It was like a scene from the lighthouse on Flannan Isle. Next time the Wing Centre will come over the night before and build himself a hide -Abriachan style- so he can get a pic of a bunch of them in the wild.
Still it was a dodgy start though. Lovat are a skilful team even if their will power let them down this time and it does not do to forget that on the last three occasions they have contrived to beat the Glen. Usually Lovat don’t give up or perhaps more worryingly ,the Glen let them back into the game, but on Saturday the counter attack did not come.
The dodgy start was down to Lovat’s Raymond Rennie. He is a superb stick player with an eye for the goals : if he trained seriously he would be - well even more dangerous. In four minutes, in the first Lovat attack, the ball was hit long into the Glen defence , crossed over smartly by MacAulay at wing forward , missed by full back Gregor McCormack and Rennie smashed it low into the net from an acute angle. He was just outside the D and the pace with which he hit the ball meant it was past keeper Mackintosh before he could react. Excellent start for Lovat :depressingly early to concede a score for the Glen.
Yet, that was more or less the last chance Lovat were to get for the whole afternoon. From that point on the Glen defence, organised by John Barr, took command while the midfield of Paul Mackintosh, Arran Macdonald and Dave Maclennan simply sealed off the border. It was a hard battle at times but the midfield dominance for the Glen was so complete that that Lovat were reduced to trying long rushed shots at goal a number of which sailed into the field behind the goal and were never seen again-in much the same way as the Lovat team itself disappeared.
Lewis Maclennan crashed home the equaliser in 10 minutes and then the Glen were denied a superbly taken strike by Neale Reid. Andrew Corrigan received a ball on the left and fired it in on target only to see his shot stopped in the air by Lovat keeper Stuart Macdonald. The ball flew back in the air out beyond the D where Reid took it first time in the air and scored - except that Billy Urquhart who had run in on the keeper following up on the initial drive didn’t have time to get out of the D.
Referee Graham Cameron-good to see him back in black and white- correctly ruled the goal off side -except it’s a pity to see such a lovely strike denied a goal. But rules are rules- and without them where would we be?
“ 2-1 up” says the devil on the Wing Centre’s shoulder but alas it was not so in real life Kiltarlity time.
That decision left the Lovat defence marshalled by James Gallagher still to be overcome - and despite some lovely pacy play by the Glen forwards with Neale Reid in spectacular form against James Whyte ,it took until 25 minutes on the clock before Dave “Dixon“ Maclennan finally put the Glen in front. He did it with a clean strike which eluded Keeper Stuart Macdonald who till that point had been beginning to look invincible.
The third goal was a penalty. Pressure on the Lovat defence- and more importantly-the harrying of the Lovat defenders to prevent them from clearing the ball led to keeper Stuart Macdonald losing his stick in a challenge with Billy Urquhart. Macdonald then played the ball with his feet which led to the award of a penalty. Lewis Maclennan teed up the ball and smashed it past the keeper ,which proved ,the Wing Centre reflected just how good an investment it was for the Treasurer to have phoned up Mr Nolan of Tanera Camans and persuaded him to part with two new forwards sticks to replace the one that L broke in the Aberdeen game. With 5 goals having come from the favoured club and having failed to persuade Lewis to play with anything other than a Tanera-the boy has expensive tastes- the Treasurer now feels honour bound to pay for them.
The second half continued in the same vein as the first- though the departure of Paul Mackintosh from the centre line not long into the second period led to some slackening of the Glen’s midfield grip for about 10 minutes until his replacement cousin Ali Mackintosh adjusted to the pace of the game. Lovat tried to cash in by switching Ewan Ferguson to full centre and moving Ryan Ferguson to half forward and for a period this caused some jitters in the Glen defence. Having lost a two goal lead in two previous matches there was some understandable anxiety on the touchline that the defence clear their lines quickly- and when buckshee back Mr B did some spectacular keepie up on the left instead of battering the ball up field roars of wrath rose from the grey beards on the side. When the ball went out of play for a Lovat shy and the resulting drive whistled past the Glen post the roars were even more wrathful. Some further footering about caused more complaints which brought about an irate remonstration from the young footerer.
“Be quiet, you old git” he yelled.
The gits looked at each other. Which one was meant? They had all been shouting- why should the young man favour one and omit the rest?
“It must be you Geordie, “said Ali Mac, “because you are the oldest.”
Geordie looked at Ali Mac and said “Aye Aye”.- so he obviously didn’t think it was him.
“No “, said the former President, “I am the oldest. I demand to be the git”
“Why should you be the git?” said the Treasurer “I have years of service and am quite capable of being a git as well”.
“Aye Aye “ said Geordie and he looked as if he meant it.
The Wing Centre knew it could not be him because he had been shouting encouragement and words of advice and besides he had only written nice things about the be-stower of gitdom.
“Perhaps if Jimmac were here we’d be clearer about the matter”, said the Treasurer, “but now I don’t suppose we’ll ever know who the git is”
“Young people nowadays”, said Geordie.
“Young people nowadays what?” said the Treasurer.
Geordie narrowed his eyes.
But the Treasurer had hit on a wheeze…
“Do you think we could make up tee-shirts with the logo “Shinty by Loch Ness- Game for Gits” on them and merchandise them at the Runrig concert for Club funds?” he said.
Geordie looked at him.
“Now you’ re proving that you really are a git” said Geordie. “Just like you proved you were when you tried to sell tee-shirts with “Shinty-Monster Sport by Loch Ness” on them.”
“That was an idea ahead of its time,” said the Treasurer. “My only mistake was I didn’t get the Rat to do the marketing.”
They couldn’t think of any more gits and so returned to the game whereupon Lewis hit his third goal- a hatrick and all the scorers were Maclennans.
“ Tell Mary Ann that Billy Urquhart got that goal” said a git.
“Teach these young guys to stop calling us gits”
“But Lewis is innocent”
But it was too late-Mary Ann was away with the wrong name and Lewis lost a goal just because the gits were thrawn.
“Two minutes to go “said Manager No 1
“We’re going to enjoy the rest of the game” said Manager No 2.
But hardly had those two gits settled down to enjoy the match than referee Graham Cameron blew the whistle early. Git!

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