Thursday, October 27, 2011

Roman Holiday ..... then comes Irish wakeup call

The Wing Centre missed out on the Glen’s equivalent of an end of term outing when Mr Reid hired a big bus to take the faithful down to Glenorchy to sign off for the season. To be fair a number of lads Stuart Mackintosh, Andrew Corrigan and John Barr (sadly not EJ) had to follow up the trip to Argyll with a journey to an even remoter part of the world viz. Athy Co Kildare where they were involved in a gutterfest every bit as muddy as the one they were involved in at Glenorchy.
Still though the Wing Centre was in the Eternal City (of which more later) he was kept appraised of the score not the least by Astie who phoned him by mistake whilst he was walking round the Vatican – the Wing Centre was doing the walking, that is, not Astie - though with a name like that the Camanachd Association’s esteemed representative on Earth would be at home in many a Roman wine cellar.
The full story however was provided by Il Capo J Barr himself –who is incidentally the subject of some recent media speculation. In more or less his own words the story goes
“Suffice it to say that Glenorchy adapted better to the slippy conditions and deservedly went into the lead. The Glen struggled for most of the first half to come to terms with the pitch but a welcome solo effort by John Barr got the side back in contention. Neale Reid came off to avoid aggravating his leg injury with the under 21 international to come and Liam Girvan came on to play on his ancestral pitch.
After halftime the quality of the Glen play began to assert itself and clearer cut chances were being created. Liam Girvan snatched a goal with a tap in after his own shot had come back of the bar. Glenorchy responded with some pressure of their own but Liam added the third goal to make the run in more comfortable. Glen then had a couple of goals chalked off for off-side but John got the fourth goal towards the end”
It was a good result in as much as it left the Glen sitting in 4th place in the Premier League on 20 points and with a bit of luck- i.e. if Kyles manage to win their match against Kingussie, as they have to if they want to win their first Premier title-then it has not been too bad a season. Don’t put it any higher than that though because considering the fact that three guys are in the National squad with EJ in the extended pool , Neale Reid made the under 21s , various other guys have made the under 21s in the past and Fraser Heath also made it into the under 17s then we could have done better.
The Wing Centre missed all this of course as stated earlier because basically the Glen should have been finished of all shinty activity- and he had booked a trip to Rome in order to obtain a version of the “Currachd Ruadh” the traditional red cap of the Glen shinty warrior. Having received a “Currachd Ruadh” in the shape of a fez some years ago (see blog December 2008) it seemed only fair that a red cap representative of that other great faith be purchased. Not so easy because although the side streets of Rome near the Vatican are filled with little shops selling religious vestments, to purchase a cardinal’s hat you actually require to be a cardinal- and presumably in possession of a piece of parchment written in Latin and addressed to the shopkeeper indicating your entitlement to purchase. This the Wing Centre did not have but that small disappointment aside his Roman Holiday was most pleasant and greatly enhanced by a chance meeting in a restaurant –Taverna Angelica (where else?) with an Irish priest Monsignor John Kennedy who appeared familiar with hurling , shinty and shinty/hurling ,that trinity of sports much revered by the Gael and no-one else.
Which takes me on to the Shiny/Hurling international first leg in Athy, Co Kildare? Everyone knows that for shinty to have a chance then the guys have to keep the ball down on the ground, work it forward and score points. If they do get a chance of two points from distance they simply have to take them because everyone also knows that big strong Irish guys-All stars or not- will simply bash the ball over the bar from the half way line and build up a points lead that Smack can do nothing about.
The guy in the Herald had previewed it thus:
Last year Scotland, after a memorable win at Croke Park came unstuck in the later stages of the home tie, eventually losing out on aggregate to a resilient Irish squad which had learned in the course of the first game how to negate the shinty boys superiority on the ground.
Despite that loss Scotland boss, Drew McNeil was upbeat about his side’s chances in this year’s mixed–code contests. “I am confident that we have a side who can match whatever squad the Irish choose this year. We know we have to focus on our shinty skills which means get the ball on the ground and keep it moving. It is a disappointment the shinty season is still not finished- the decisive Premier Clash between Kyles and Newtonmore has still to be played yet sides like Fort William have been idle for some weeks. That has not helped in keeping all the players up to the level of fitness and focus needed for the Test series. Our guys are also used to playing summer shinty but you don’t always get the conditions for that at this time of the year. Having said that last year at Croke Park the surface was superb and we were able to profit from that. From all reports the park at Athy is of a similar quality- and hopefully when we get back to Inverness the Bught won’t be too heavy either.”
With his emphasis firmly on skilful stick play McNeil has found places in his squad for six players who ply their trade outwith shinty’s Premier Division, though at least three of these have had recent top flight experience. Of the others, brothers Finlay and Keith Macrae of Kinlochshiel have had an outstanding season for a side which has just been promoted to join the Premier Division. They are joined by Caberfeidh’s Kevin Bartlett a forward with a superb first touch whose loyalty to his local club means he will never win the sports glittering prizes as he surely would have done had he been born in Badenoch or Argyll.
While eyebrows might be raised at the absence of players in the National squad from Premier Clubs like Kingussie and Inveraray- the sports all-time top scorer Ronald Ross is not included- McNeil is philosophical. “The presence of Newtonmore’s Norman Campbell as team captain, is a big plus for the side. He was man of the match in the Camanachd Cup final and no-one is more experienced at this level than he is. I had difficult decisions to make in the selection process as there were a high number of talented committed players available to choose from but our preparation sessions have gone well and I certainly feel we have a side that can do enough over both legs to bring the International trophy back home.”

In the event the guys did not do too badly though the Wing Centre having seen the game on a tiny internet screen did think that the chances will need to be taken when they come up since some of the Irish players , particularly Eoin Kelly looked pretty deadly in front of the posts.

Shinty /Hurling International First Leg
Ireland 1-16 (19 points) Scotland 2-8 (14 points)

Scotland lost out in the opening leg of the international series against Ireland at Athy , Co Kildare yesterday but by keeping the difference in scores down to a manageable 5 points they did enough in the first leg to give themselves in with a chance of winning the series on aggregate when the sides meet again next week in Inverness.
On a wet windy afternoon, with the grass rather longer than is comfortable for shinty players, the Scots found themselves on the back foot right from the start. The physicality of the Irish backline, allied to the conditions meant that an early chance for John Stewart remained unconverted. Fort William’s Gary Innes managed to get Scotland off the mark lead but Ireland quickly pulled the strike back and raced ahead into a 5-1 through a series of single point strikes the best of which came strikes from All-star Eoin Kelly of Tipperary and Kilkenny’s Michael Rice.
A series of missed chances from free hits by Gary Innes added to Scottish concerns before a two point strike from Caberfeidh’s Kevin Bartlett brought Scotland some way back but the pattern of the Scots front play was too ragged to threaten the Irish goal – and when a fierce drive by Innes was spectacularly stopped by Irish keeper Patrick Mullaney, Scots heads went down and two further points from Kelly and a single from Eoin Nolan saw Ireland go in at half time with a comfortable 8-3 lead.
The second half looked to be the start of a rout when single points from Eoin Price and Willie Hyland and then a goal from Nolan increased the Irish lead to what looked like an uncatchable level. However, Scotland rallied began to move the ball about and pulled points back through Bartlett and Keith Macrae (2)
Though Ireland maintained their dominance by finding single points regularly throughout the half, Scotland’s front play was finally rewarded with a goal in 57 minutes when a John Stewart cross was expertly finished off by Keith Macrae. Further Scottish points came from Innes and Robbie Macleod and then in 68 minutes Innes ran through to tuck the ball past Mullaney for his sides second goal and the points which keeps the series alive.

Why the Scottish optimism? Simply because despite the clear victory (19-14) as far as the series goes the Irish only have two points while Scotland have one. Thanks to the two late goals - Keith Macrae and Gary Innes - Scotland earned a “bonus” point. Ireland received nothing for goals since they only scored one but they picked up the two points for a win - so Drew’s boys have it all to play for and the competition is still very much alive.

The pics were published courtesy of the Camanachd Association and Irish snapper Pat Tinsley who may be contacted at if you would care to do so. Pics include the team and the three Glen boys plus Glen coach Drew wearing the national colours.Also included is JB (sen) looking cheery-must be looking forward to getting out of the hot seat? Maybe no.Never seen him smile? Well he's the guy in the middle if you are confused.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

They think it’s all over : it is now. Thank goodness!

Kilmallie 1 Glenurquhart 1 (North Divison 2)

Isn’t it strange how a day which starts out rather dull can turn out to be not so bad after all? No? Well if you don’t think so then you ought to have taken a trip with Hendo and his tribe down to Kilmallie last weekend. It was raining in Drum, damp at Invergarry but would you believe it-dry in Caol- and though the pitch was heavy and indeed gloopy in the middle, the new pavilion was coming on nicely. Not so bad now is it?
The Kilmallie crowd were friendly- even Fort William’s former great Ali Clark was allowed to watch the match unmolested- and in the end the Kilmallie team were remarkably generous. How so? Well if you read on you will find out, but truth to tell the Wing Centre does not feel that they meant to be but then it’s the actions that count.
For this match the Glen welcomed Garry Mackintosh back in goal-poor Dave Emery is now in plaster after the ‘Shiel game and is likely to be so for the next 4/5 weeks - and Ian Macdonald took up his place at full back. Also back on duty on his return from injury was big Donald Fraser while the work commitments which prevented Liam Girvan making the trip to Oban, at least permitted him to turn out for Hendo and just as well too. Kilmallie also beefed up their side by popping Kevin Toye into goals and also making use of Peter Macintyre in the front row.
When the game started it immediately became clear that it was going to be a long afternoon for the Glen. The heavy pitch and longish grass made it obvious that this was to be a game where the emphasis would have to be on moving the ball quickly and hitting it far and long- and it was Kilmallie who had the early edge in this respect and they pinned the Glen back for the first 20 minutes or so. The defence stood firm however with Iain Macdonald, Donald Fraser, Ross MacAulay and especially Gary Smith digging in, standing up to the physical challenges and clearing their lines. The few Kilmallie attempts were either wide or high or indeed easily disposed of by Garry Mackintosh. However, the ground was so heavy that in this period practically the only time the Glen made incursions into the Kilmallie half came after long hit-outs by Mackintosh but despite the best efforts of the young centreline they were unable to keep the ball up in their opponents half long enough to threaten seriously. Liam Girvan and Billy Urquhart did work an opening but Urquhart’s snap shot was well saved by Toye.
Then Kilmallie were awarded a penalty. The lad put it past the post. Then a few minutes later Kilmallie were awarded a second penalty. This time Garry Mackintosh saved the shot. It was at this point that – metaphorically at least - the sun came out for the Glen. They began to push forward a little: Ian Macleod moved back deeper and things began to improve.
At wing centre James Hurwood and Bradley Dixon who had been doing well when they got onto the occasional ball now began to thrive, with Hurwood in particular picking out Ewan Lloyd on the right wing. On several occasions Lloyd won the ball well and moved it swiftly forward, though the sticky mud and slippy surface meant that even after he had moved the ball he was vulnerable to a late challenge. He took a few hits which began to take their toll and just on half time he was replaced for a while by another youngster Jack Hosie.
However the Glen weren’t out of the mud yet because three minutes into the second half Peter Macintyre put Kilmallie into a 1-0 lead when he ran onto a through ball on the left and pushed it home from close range.
On the side line the hearts of the Glen faithful sank. To avoid relegation a point was required: at this early stage in the second half even a single goal looked beyond the red and blacks. But then as so often happens, the whole mood of the game changed - and for the rest of the half the Glen with Iain Macleod and Andrew Macdonald beginning to dominate pinned Kilmallie back though they found keeper Toye in top form. He impressed the Wing Centre as a young man cool under fire and time and again he stopped goal attempts and cleared his lines without looking stressed.
Finally after drives from Stuart Morrison, Jack Hosie, and Billy Urquhart had been blocked, Liam Girvan got the goal that mattered. Girvan had looked particularly dangerous for the previous ten minutes and had had one drive blocked by Toye a few minutes earlier when he inadvertently pushed the ball too wide to the left before getting his shot away, giving Toye plenty opportunity to get his angles right. This time however a long ball forward by Iain Macleod was pushed into his path and he fired the ball home from close range to even the score and give Glen their invaluable point.
So that was it? Not quite. There was in fact in the 92nd minute a third and final penalty but
Garry Mackintosh saved that one as well. Phew! That was a close one. Relegation is officially avoided.
The Kilmallie guys were remarkably laid back about the result though their mood was probably down to the fact that Ronald Ross’s late winner for Kingussie against Lovat at Balgate had saved their Premier side from relegation.
“Some player that Ronald Ross,” said big Peter. “The 85th minute. Just when you need him up he pops with the killer goal”
From the way the guys were smiling there is every chance that Ronald will get an invite to the Kilmallie dinner dance and there is a fair chance too that he’ll get a special award for “Services to the Club” He would be sensible to accept too because these guys look as if they know how to party too which is something Ronald won’t be doing in Kingussie at least for
another year.

“By the way,” said Peter “your first team won in Oban. 3-1”
And that was how the day turned out even better.
Then Drew sent me the picture of the guys in a queer strip - pink - and even the cat laughed. Have a look yourself.

The Oban goals? The first from Neale Reid who pounced on a rebound from a shot by John Barr; the second came after a ball up the wing was moved out by David “Chips” Smart to Barr. He held the ball, played it across where Reid won the tussle with the defender and finished well. Then Smack played hurley, caught the ball and Oban pulled one back from the penalty spot. Glen’s final goal came via Dave “Dixon” Maclennan who capped the afternoon with a welcome goal although the unlucky Oban defender whose heel it deflected off will not be using that adjective-probably.

The main picture is of Liam. He looks pleased. His Mam will like the picture. He is even smiling.

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