Thursday, October 25, 2007

Young Guns Stun in the Sun-and so does Davie Stewart

Glenurquhart 7 Beauly 1
A lovely day for shinty and with it a lovely result - and to be fair a victory of this size against a competent Beauly second team could not have been predicted. Not only that but before the Wing Centre starts this report it is well worth saying that the old heads in the Beauly team ,Steven “Murph” Maclean and Roger Cormack played fair sensible shinty allowing the young Glen forwards an opportunity to play their own shinty without fear of a dirty challenge or the painful crack of a follow through. Time and again Roger Cormack at the back , at a stage in the match with a few goals against when lesser men would be tempted to frighten off a youthful opponent with aggression, simply worked the ball wide and sent it clear with a minimum of fuss - a excellent example to all of how a top player should behave. “Murph” was exactly the same : hard and old style against Davie Stewart and Iain Macdonald but the Wing Centre noticed that when the ball broke into the area of Glen youngsters Ewan Menzies and Neil Porter, the old war horse (“Murph” won’t thank the Wing Centre for calling him that) played it fair and square but still made sure the kids were all right.
Probably though Beauly did not have enough old heads in their squad to compete with the Glen. Though Beauly did have a row of reasonably experienced younger players to add to Roger and Murph, the Glen had a solid line up the middle from goalie Dave Emery, full back Malc Munro, buckshee Gary Smith, full centre Iain Macdonald and Davie Stewart at full forward. The rest of the guys were schoolboys with the exception of Ross MacAulay up front and New Zealander Roger Grant at wing back who made way in the second half for debutant Calum Smith.
The game started off evenly enough and if anything Beauly were more lively in the first ten minutes and both Malky Munro and Drew Maclennan had to be quick to snuff out attacks from the men in green but that was to end suddenly in the 13th minute when a neat ball from wing forward Bradley Dickson-who was to have his best game of the season-fell to Ross MacAulay and the big fellow made no mistake from the edge of the D.
In the next minute ,the Glen managed to double their lead when a long ball upfield from right wing centre Neil Porter was gathered in by Davie Stewart and neatly dispatched.
Beauly were not yet out of the match however because from the throw up Glen keeper Dave Emery had to look lively to block a shot from Elliot Moir down by his right post . Some slack Glen defensive play however led to a Beauly goal which was conceded in the 16th minute when Connor Ross fired a shot firmly past keeper Emery who did not manage to get enough on the ball to keep it out of the net.
The Glen defence settled after that and in particular Drew Maclennan stood out with his good anticipation and clean hitting out of defence.
The Beauly goal also served to galvanise the Glen midfield and Iain Macdonald began to pump up long balls to his young forwards. However it was his neat slip out to Neil Porter that began the build up to the third goal. Porter played the ball across to Bradley Dickson who played a perfectly weighted pass through between the Beauly defenders for Davie Stewart to finish.
In the 25th minute it was half forward Ben Hosie’s turn to shine. Always a skilful and stylish player, Hosie ghosted into the D to slip home a cross ball from the right.
It was five up before half time when Davie Stewart sealed his hat-trick after getting on the end of a long through ball from full centre Macdonald.
The young guys probably don’t get jaffa cakes-manager Henderson is more a digestive man-but they certainly deserved double strength juice at half time.
Beauly steadied the ship somewhat in the second half bringing on both Roger and Connor Cormack but nothing would have prevented the next Glen goal. That came in the 60th minute when right wing centre Neil Porter, who had an excellent game throughout, found himself in space and tried a shot from distance. It was a glorious strike and one that he and the spectators will long remember.
Despite the score ,the game swung a little Beauly’s way and a strike by “Murph” Maclean was judged by referee Graham Irvine to be a penalty after it struck keeper Emery on the leg. That it was not going to be Beauly’s day was amply proved when Connor Ross fired the ball past the post.
By this stage Manager Steven Henderson had given a first start in the black-and-red to Calum Smith at wing back and Ross Macfarlane on the wing. Neither looked out of place : Calum was strong in the tackle and quick to cover while Ross had an excellent first time drive which the Beauly keeper did well to tip over. Ross had come on for the other Glen youngster in the frame Ewan Menzies . Ewan played the first half in a difficult centreline role against an experienced Beauly player but stuck to his task and when the opportunity arose hit balls well upfield. Being moved to Wing forward in the second half allowed him more freedom on the ball and he was unlucky in this period not to hit the target .
There was one more spark to come from the Glen youngsters however when Bradley Dickson added the Glen’s 7th goal with a neat finish capping what for himself had been one of his best performances in the Glen shirt.
All in all it was day full of hope for the future of Glen shinty- and the Wing Centre who was surly at the start when told that he had to stay in Drum to take a collection and could not go to Inverness ,enjoyed the day so much that he took the above snap of the youngsters and the not so youngsters. What is more the D will make big copies for any player who would like one. There is also a rather neat shot of a slim line keeper Emery bossing his box which for a small fee -cash only -will not be posted. If the fee is not forthcoming then the Wing Centre foresees a Caption Competition in the offing.
ps The first team won with goals from Neale Reid , Eddie Tembo and two from SuperLewis. These helped the side to a 4-1 victory. That puts SuperLewis on 29 goals which is … eh… um not bad -pretty much at Ron level for a season.

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.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Glenurquhart High School in Dublin and Kilcormac : Showcasing the Game of the Highlands.

"Superb ground skills. This is hurling as it used to be” said the venerable spectator as he watched Glenurquhart High School under 16 side take on Drumcullen GAA under 16s under the compromise rules. The local spectator mirrored exactly the very thoughts that the Wing Centre has always had about the unequal merits of the two codes : he has long been comfortable with the thought that shinty ,with its emphasis on the stick and only the stick, shorn of the catching and kicking that dominates the modern game of hurling-is the superior sport in every way.
But this trip was not about simply proving to a passing Irishman the inferiority of his own dear sport of hurling rather it was about introducing the boys of the Glen High School to the massive nature of the sister stick sport and opening their eyes to the potential that lies behind shinty.
Shinty is not revered as it should be in Scotland : even in the very Glens where it should be given its place the sport is slighted and ignored even while it dares to survive.
Which is why at the start of October 2007, twenty six pupils from Glen Urquhart High School crossed the Irish Sea as part of the school’s contribution to Highland 2007.With the group went Depute Head Teacher Mrs Josie Mackenzie, P.E. Teacher and Scottish International lady shinty player Laura McConachie, and three shinty coaches Helen Maclennan (Glen Urquhart), Jimmac Mackintosh (Glen Urquhart) and Donald Fraser (Strathglass)
Of course a trip to Ireland has to be paid for and Edinburgh-based sportscotland , with its money cut back to allow London have an Olympic extravaganza, found itself not obliged to help. Nothing for it but to show a can do attitude and get the cash in. As Mrs M said in the Inverness Courier “The pupils have been involved in fundraising and we have received marvellous support from the wider community in putting together funding for this trip. This is a wonderful example of our community supporting our pupils in showcasing our local sport and all of us are deeply appreciative of this support” These were points that Mrs M was to make to the host clubs on several occasions whilst in the Emerald Isle.
For the record donations came in from :Highland Industrial Supplies (£1500) Loch Ness Angling Competition (£1000), Kilmartin Estate (£500)
Mackintosh Joinery (£500) Councillors Discretionary Budget (£500) Glenurquhart Highland Games (£250) Glenurquhart Shinty Club (£250), Glengarry Shinty Club (£100) Strathglass Shinty Club (£250) Glenurquhart High School (£500) and Runrig (£300). Mr Russell Fraser and Mr Garry Mackintosh generously helped with the provision of helmets and other equipment for the trip.
So what happened?
Here’s the blow by blow account you’ve waited for. Having left Inverness on the morning flight to Dublin, the first highlight of the trip was an afternoon tour of the 80,000 seat National GAA Stadium Croke Park which was arranged for and paid for in a personal capacity by our own Alan Macleod of the Camanachd Association. The lads - and the three lasses- were conducted round the spectacular stadium. The highlight came when after touring the dressing rooms , they were led out of the tunnel on to the edge of the pitch. This was followed up by a visit to the huge GAA store to stock up on hurleys and other souvenirs.
Tuesday saw the action begin but not until the group had enjoyed a visit to a peat bog which was used to extract fuel to power an electricity generating plant. Thereafter it was on to Kilcormac school (Colege Naoimh Cormaic) where the boys put on a demonstration shinty match (Under 16 forwards v Under 16 defence: Under 14 forwards against Under 14 defence) This was followed up by the under 16 side taking on the College under 16s (the Irish recorded a narrow win) and the visit was rounded off with the consumption of vast quantities of food and some Irish dancing (colleens supplied) at which the lads acquitted themselves very well.
The next port of call was down the road to Drumcullen GAA Club where one of the County Offaly coaches introduced the squad to the skills of hurling and then both teams played Drumcullen sides. This time-whether they had been buoyed up by the feasting or merely by close contact with the local girls- the boys won both games and were suitably rewarded with a large trophy depicting two hurlers. More food ensued before the party returned in triumph with their spoils to their accommodation in Dublin.
Wednesday morning found the happy throng in central Dublin for a quick history/singing lesson on Molly Malone and a brisk spot of shopping before the party was whisked off to St Aidan’s College in North Dublin to play against boys who are affiliated to Whitehall Colmcille (the side which the Glen team played against in October 2006). There with the irrepressible Seamus in charge as ref, the Glen School sides won both their matches.
It was a very tired but happy school party that flew home to the Glen on Thursday .
So what was it all about?
It certainly ought to have helped the boys to see the shinty they play in their various clubs in a wider context. It should also have helped make them aware of the community element which is so important in shinty and let them see how much more powerful that element is in the hurling communities of Ireland. A team sport should be all about building communities and have little to do with personal gain : as a social education lesson in school time the trip to Ireland was worth a thousand work sheets. Oh yes, it helped build on stick skills and provided a bit of bonding. No doubt the crack was good as well

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