Thursday, May 17, 2012

Home and Dry in the Cups-for now.

Glenurquhart 4 Kilmallie 1 (Macaulay Cup 1st Round)
Glenurquhart 9 Strathglass 0 (Strathdearn Cup 1st Round)

Why is this happening? There must be some explanation- the players are the same, the opponents are the same but the results are different. The only thing the Wing Centre can put it down to is the fact that -despite the evidence gleaned from the amount of water left in his wheelbarrow after forgetting to lean it up against the wall of the shed- the pitches must be getting drier and that seems to suit the Glen style. Well maybe.  Certainly the top side has trained regularly and hard over the run in to the season – but then so has every other team. On the down side injury and other commitments have meant that the Managerial Twosome have probably never had their first choice squad out on the pitch since the Macdonald Cup  though that could be equally said to be true of every other manager as well.
Just get on with it eh?
Suppose so -but this week Glen went into the Macaulay cup first round missing Lewis Maclennan, Ruaraidh Cameron and of course Paul Mackintosh. On top of that both Billy Urquhart and Andrew Corrigan having been delayed by helicopter hassle and work commitments in Norway until Saturday morning were never going to make it from the start and so the extra subs on the bench were Euan Lloyd and Jack Hosie, both under 17s who had already played that day v ‘Glass and had taken the knocks traditionally associated with that encounter.
Whatever the starting line-up, Glen opened the match in blistering fashion and in the first minute a shot from David Smart rebounded back into the path of Fraser Heath and the youngster knocked it past Kevin Toye in the Kilmallie goals to put the Glen one up.
If it did anything the speed of that strike brought it home to the watching Red and Blackers that Glen start every game that way-it’s just that the initial shot tends to go by or be missed- and that for all of their pressure and for all of the chances created, the Glen have not been good at finishing off teams with goals when they were on top. It also shows the importance in shinty of the second phase ball. Unless the ball goes off the field, the game is never dead. Last week the second phase ball-rebounds from defence- gave us three goals against Kingussie: it was also to play its part today.
Glen kept up early pressure on the shop goals, helped a little with by the freshening wind and more by the bite of Ally Mackintosh at wing forward in that he prevented a very good Kilmallie back from clearing for distance and thus kept the ball up front. Still the fears were rising on the side line as two shots from David Smart and one from the ever competitive Dave Maclennan went past- certainly the attempts were close but …..
Then in 20 minutes Neale Reid fastened on to a ball from one of a number of Glen corners, twisted, turned, held off the physical  challenges and fired the ball home. Two minutes later the Glen increased the differential when Arran Macdonald in the centre played through to Ally Mackintosh- he slipped the ball on to David Smart who made sure with a fine strike.
Kilmallie are a good side however- their performance in a recent  MacTavish final is evidence of that-and they managed two ferocious strikes on target which forced Glen keeper Stuart Mackintosh into two excellent saves. The first came from a John Stewart shot which he struck hard and low forcing Mackintosh to kill the ball with the hand before clearing. The second came after a lovely piece of interpassing which left Ryan Stewart in the clear for probably the only time in the match and his strike was guided away for a corner with the heel of the club. Both shots were worthy of goals but when they were missed you could see confidence visibly draining away from the Kilmallie players, a fact underlined by the next Glen goal which came soon after. Reid picked up a ball about 15 yards out and rocketed a shot in on Toye who pulled of a superb reaction save. The rebound however dropped to Fraser Heath and he rammed home the ball to make it 4-0 for the home side.
It ought to have been 5-0 because Glen were awarded a penalty soon after for a Kilmallie infringement but Heath, though he hit the ball hard enough, was dismayed to see it fly just over the bar.

From a Glen point of view the second half was a disappointment in as much as that was the end of the scoring. Glen continued to press for a time in an unfocused way and the Kilmallie defence were able to prevent further damage.  The game died as a spectacle quite early on in the half when Kilmallie forward John Stewart received a straight red card from ref Evan Macrae for chibbing Arran Macdonald in the face with the club off the ball. Simple as!
Comment? This sort of practice was historically reasonably common in shinty when the Wing Centre was a boy-he had the stitches in his head to prove it- and while it looks messy, provided it does not smash your teeth, it is probably easier for a working man to cope with on a Monday morning than a pile of broken fingers which was the more common by product of a nasty swing.

That  act left his team mates to struggle on  a man short- and to be fair they made a good fist of it because although the Glen were a man up they never really took advantage of that fact and rather sat back to see out the second 45. Perhaps it was the thought of next Saturday’s MacTavish semi but the prevailing mood seemed to be to take it easy and avoid taking a knock. Which was fine but it allowed Kilmallie to improve and in as much as Ross Lavin scored with an excellent strike in the 80th minute they could have been said to have won the second half 1-0. They might have had a second too were it not for a lung bursting covering run from defender Liam Girvan who sprinted the width of the field on tiring legs to nip the ball away from the caman of Kilmallie’s Liam Macdonald as he was bearing down on goal with only Smack to beat.
Earlier in the day the Strathdearn Cup tie appeared a one sided affair and in terms of goals it was. The trouble is that if you see shinty through a “football” lens you don’t realise that the score in a game where one side is superior to the other rises all out of proportion to the degree of superiority. Unlike in football, you cannot kill the game by playing defensively; the goalie cannot waste time by holding on to the ball; you cannot play back passes and unless it goes off the field, the ball is always live. It was a pity for Strathglass: they were struggling for players on the day and no doubt some of them were pencilled in to play for their senior side in inverness later on in the day but they competed which is the main thing. They also kept going and kept their discipline and boss George Fraser should be pleased with that as a start. Things will get better undoubtedly.
With Calum Fraser, Calum Miller and Ross Macaulay all unavailable and Cameron MacLennan still away on holiday Glen manager Iain Macleod started himself up front and the move paid off when he helped himself to two early goals. The first came about after a poor hit out from the Strath keeper fell at his feet and he finished off smartly. The second was presented to him after some neat interplay by James Hurwood and Euan Lloyd left him with a free shot in goal which he finished convincingly. Youngster Euan Lloyd got the third counter on the ten minute mark after Jack Hosie played him through.
What was positive about the match was not so much the goals but the performance and the Glen style of shinty which the fast moving Drum pitch encouraged- and that lay behind the creation of the next goal. Macleod played the ball to Lloyd who found Jack Hosie wide.  The Glen winger fired the ball in on goal and James Hurwood was on hand to snap up the rebound and claim number 4.
Number 5 came in the 30th minute when Daniel Mackintosh finished off a rebound from a powerful strike from distance by Ewan Menzies. Dan the man nabbed his second a few moments later when he unleashed a trademark 25 yard rocket that left the visiting keeper with no chance and sent the Glen in for their oranges at half-time 6-0 to the good.
Number 7 was a work of art when Mackintosh pushed the ball across the face of the D and Jack Hosie sprinted forward to ram it home in what was more or less the move of the match for this spectator-though Ewan Menzies was still to round off the day’s proceedings with two fine strikes of his own.
So   perspective?
To score 9 goals in a game is a great achievement for any team but what was really pleasing was the fact that Glen had 6 different scorers, 5 of whom were under 20 years old which, though it is early days yet, suggests some continuity for the future
Donald Fraser was again solid at full back and looked comfortable throughout the game. He is clearly an asset to this squad and it is good to see how much he is liked and respected by the youngsters in the side. Ross MacDiarmid was his usual tidy self, playing well at the back beside Donald, feeding off him and clearing his lines well.
 Bradley Dixon had a faultless afternoon first at half back, then at wing centre. All season he has shown a fantastic attitude and is prepared to run himself into the ground for his squad. Undoubtedly he is one of the Glen’s most improved players this year.
James Hurwood, Drew Maclennan and Calum Smith played well in the centre line with James pushing forward where he took the chance to score a good goal. Calum, who missed the last two games through being off-shore, was a bit rusty but showed strength in the tackle and good hitting. Jack Hosie, Daniel Mackintosh, Euan Lloyd and Ewan Menzies all had excellent games and by demonstrating a high work rate all got on the score sheet. All should have had their confidence boosted by the experience as should Rory Maclean and “Boo Boo” Fraser who also had a run on.
Next week the youngsters will face up to Beauly at Braeview which, if this rain continues, will be like playing in Granny’s treacle pudding- so the defenders may be up against it if the Green boyans have some big guys up front. But then again, maybe not and in these uncertain climatic times the pitch may even have had time to dry off.

 The big match is at Drum of course against Newtonmore in the MacTavish semi. It may seem counter-intuitive but in recent seasons we’ve done better against them at the Eilean. With last week’s loss to ‘Shiel Newtonmore will be very much up for this match- and the Glen pitch suits them better than Kirkton ever does . Why- even the great John Fraser struggled there.
Last time the Glen played a semi of the MacTavish at home, they won-on penalties. ‘Nuff said.
Pictures- one taken by old friend Brian Denoon at the Kilmallie match. Dave Emery supplied the others with the exception of the one of Drew. That is not the best of snaps but then and no wonder Drew looks a bit strained. He had to stand for ages while the phone which had just returned from France worked out where it now was. Eventually it decided it was home and dry in Highland.

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