Thursday, September 20, 2012

Kyles wear the Smiles while Glen prepare for a surprise Sutherland final

It has taken at least four days for the Wing Centre to get his breath back after another fantastic Cup final at Mossfield. What is it about Oban that brings these big occasions to life? The pitch, large and just a little slidy, was certainly in good nick and the weather, though somewhat breezy, was fine too.  
Mostly however it was the crowd who made the match the good humoured enjoyable occasion it was. The Wing Centre found himself a seat in the stand and was surrounded by Kyles fans of a certain vintage who knew the game thoroughly and who suffered mightily the slings and arrows of their teams varying fortunes throughout the course of the afternoon- so that when it came to the last few minutes of the match, even the neutrals felt themselves drawn into the fold and were almost willing Kyles to win.
When Kyles did win it was as if there was an open invitation to everyone in the stand to come back to Tighnabruaich for a wee ceilidh : natural Highland good manners on our part  meant that we did not go  and impose ourselves though doubtless we would have been given a welcome. Had we sat in the Inveraray section of the stand the welcome would have been just the same, though the mood at the end of this particular game would have had to have been blacker.
You have to feel sorry for Inveraray though-you score five goals in a Cup Final and you lose. You are leading 4-2 at half-time and then 5-3- and then just as you begin to visualise the victory celebrations it’s snatched away forever.  That will be hard to forget especially for the guys who will blame themselves for things they might have done better on the day-but for all that we like to think that shinty has become more “professional” players still play with their hearts on their sleeves – and these two sides were still chasing goals at a point when wiser counsel might have suggested to Inveraray to kill off the game, to pull Garry Macpherson deep and choke off the Kyles midfield. Then again, maybe not. It was a marvellous spectacle and made good telly-no wonder Albert Smith medal winner Roddy Macdonald suggested he would have loved to have watched the game himself.

The Wing Centre took lots of notes while he sat in the stand- and though accounts have appeared of the match in a variety of publications, this is what he saw devoid of the heather and whisky overtones that the mainstream guys are tempted to touch on which comes along with every shinty report as part of the casual racism suffered by Highlanders ever since the Statutes of Iona were enacted in the 15th century. Now that’s a perspective!!

 “A 78th minute goal from man of the match Roddy Macdonald was what it took to win Kyles Athletic the Camanachd Cup for the 21sttime in their history after a contest that turned out to be a classic 11 goal thriller. That strike was MacDonald’s fourth of the afternoon in a game which fully lived up to its pre-match billing as being too tight to call.
The early pressure came from Inveraray who adapted quickly to Mossfield’s blustery conditions and their ability to run with the ball saw them take an early lead when in the ninth minute Chris Crawford evaded his marker and slipped the ball inside to front man Russell Mackinlay who stabbed it past Kyles keeper Kenny Macdonald to put Inveraray 1-0 up.
Kyles equalised almost immediately when a long hit forward from midfield by Dunky Kerr which should have been dealt with by Inveraray keeper Graham Macpherson was tucked home by Macdonald. Macdonald then put Kyles ahead when he ran past Inveraray defenders Scott Robertson and Douglas Dando to slip the ball home.
Kyles at this stage, however, were less than convincing in their lead and Inveraray winger Chris Crawford again escaped his marker and drove the ball forward where it fell to veteran Garry Macpherson to smash home the equaliser. Within a minute Crawford had made it 3-2 when he got on the end of a long shy by David Macpherson and finished with precision.
Inveraray then went 4-2 ahead thanks to a neat Russell Mackinlay finish after Kyles defender Calum Miller had given him too much space at the edge of the box.
Fortified by the wind at their backs Inveraray pressed hard to increase their advantage but veteran keeper Kenny Macdonald managed to stop Russell Mackinlay’s drive and then raised his stick to deflect a fierce shot from Euan MacMurdo- though equally Thomas Whyte was denied by Macpherson at the other end.
Inveraray went in 4-2 at the interval and truthfully they should have been further ahead- and with their front men linking up superbly against a Kyles defence who looked more than a little suspect.
However, soon after the interval Kyles pulled one back when Robbie Macleod, a tireless presence in midfield, scored from the penalty spot after Dunky Kerr had been brought down by clumsy Inveraray defending. The Royal Burgh side however quickly restored the differential when Crawford won yet another tussle with his marker and pushed the ball wide for Garry Macpherson to make it 5-3 for Inveraray.
Then Inveraray simply ran out of steam and the Kyles fight back began. First Fraser Macdonald pounced on a defensive error to make it 5-4 with a fine strike and then Roddy Macdonald fired home the equaliser two minutes later and the stage was set for a thrilling climax.
Inveraray sensed that the match was in the balance and brought on Andrew MacMurdo and Ruaraidh Graham though the latter had to leave the field when he aggravated the groin strain that had kept him out of the starting line-up.  By this time Kyles had total command of the midfield with Zavaroni, Kerr and in particular Macleod in total control. Eventually the Inveraray dam was bound to burst and it finally did when a long shy by Kerr came into the Inveraray defence Macdonald found the space to smash the ball home at the near post for the winner , though the excellent Crawford still had suffer the pain of watching a late try at goal come back off the Kyles post and be cleared.”

So there it was –the young guys won in the end probably because they were fitter- and you would have to guess that this is the end of the road for Inveraray’s finest crop of players since the 1930s. The only sadness for them is that their high-water mark coincided with that of an excellent Fort William side and of course Ronald Ross. They can certainly be proud of their involvement in the 2012 Camanachd Cup final.
Back in what some imagine to be the real world tennis player Andy Murray was suggesting that Scotland should use public money to set up a tennis academy in Scotland. The question has to be why?
Funding elite sport so that a talented and lucky few may become millionaires and live abroad in tax havens has never seemed a sensible use of public funds to the Wing Centre.
Scotland has also won more Olympic gold medals than Sweden, Norway or Demark. Is the average Scandinavian worse off than the average Scot? You can certainly bet that he enjoys better community facilities for sport.
In the end, the Camanachd final made the Wing Centre begin to re-assess what sport is for. These guys from Kyles and Inveraray all represent a community and bring it together: professional sports don’t do that. Local sports of all types certainly do.

Anyway our community mourns the loss of one of its all-time stars  while preparing for a cup final they did not expect to be in. Iain “The Yank” Macdonald one of the important figures in the re-emergence of Glen Shinty in the 1950s and 1960s passed away on Camanachd Cup final day and a more detailed obituary will be posted here in due course. At the same time Iain Macleod’s youngsters are getting ready for the Sutherland Cup final and posted a 5-1 win over an Inverness side that was good enough to help us out with a practice game. Thanks to Donald Cameron of Inverness for the pictures.The Kyles ones came from their own site. Thanks guys

Friday, September 14, 2012

‘More too much for Glen but Mossfield duel too close to call.

Wow! Shinty-politics….politics–shinty. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which and despite having lived in wee villages all his life, the Wing Centre knows that the ups and downs of shinty and life are every bit as convoluted as the realpolitik practised at the UN. In Shintyland however nobody practises anything - the game is for real. Perhaps this will be illuminated later on - perhaps it might be more politic, however, not to do so - we shall see.
So what’s left to come this season? For the Wing Centre the most immediate item is a visit to the Camanachd Cup which is being held at Oban’s Mossfield: for the Glen youngsters there is the little matter of the final of the Sutherland Cup, though for the full back Donald Dunain there is the more pressing question of whether he will get the barley cut before the big day - for sure as fate that will be the only day the rain will stop.

For matters to report on, there is only the game against Newtonmore because the bungee jump never happened.
Let’s just do the game.

Newtonmore 1 Glenurquhart 0 (Premier League)

It has to be said that this result was a disappointment because at the end of it the result means that Newtonmore are guaranteed a third League title in a row. You can’t grudge it to them but on the other hand you kind of do because they have managed to edge out the Glen in both games played this season - and there’s one more to go at Drum which will not mean anything to Glen unless we can beat Newtonmore 7-0 while Inveraray concede an equivalent number to Kyles. Likely? The Wing Centre does not think so either.
Glen did give the match at the Eilean a real go however - and they really went all out to pressure Newtonmore from the off. Playing against the breeze, Glen held territorial advantage for the opening period and forced a run of four corners which, although they worked well did not unfortunately end in a goal. There was a bit of controversy in this period also when Neale Reid forced the ball over the line for a goal but this was overruled by the officials who indicated that it had crossed the by-line before it came to Reid. David Smart then forced keeper Mike Ritchie into a fabulous save from the edge of the D - and at this stage Glen were clearly on top.
 Liam Girvan then picked up an injury and he was replaced by Jack Hosie who settled in well enough up front though robust is the best word to describe the blue and white defence when they want to win.
As the half wore on the Glen front four fell away and could not quite find the fluency of passing which would have let them draw the sting from the Newtonmore side. The Glen centreline however did play well in this half and the Newtonmore centres, when they did fire the ball up, found that the Glen defence were pretty solid. Particularly solid - not to say at times inspiring was keeper Stuart Mackintosh but it was a very bruising match and by halftime full centre Arran Macdonald was beginning to suffer with injury.
The second half belonged to Newtonmore. Why? Glen found themselves in a very competitive physical situation and found themselves pulled into a hitting game rather than their own preferred passing game. It is plain to everyone now that this Newtonmore side like to play to their strengths : they play retro shinty from the midfield onwards - they rely on long hitting into central areas and look for defences or individual players to lose a one on one duel with their powerful front men. Glen defenders were mostly switched on but lost a goal to a soft foul which allowed a long ball into the heart of the defence. Newtonmore were fortunate to get the break of the second phase ball and Evan Menzies was on hand to score what will probably be the title winning goal.

Glen did not capitulate however but as the game wore on an equaliser became less and less likely as Glen play deteriorated. Stuart Mackintosh had in the course of the match two top drawer saves and two others of proven worth. Mike Ritchie had that superb save early in the match as already mentioned: he was also fortunate when a ball came back off the inside of his  post and came back into play - and then of course there was the Neale Reid attempt about which the Glen still feel a little aggrieved.

if you were summing it up you might say that, on the day, Glenurquhart more or less played Newtonmore in a Cup final on the Eilean and were marginally beaten. The Glen boys to their credit kept going right to the end though by the end of the match the guys in the centreline were unable to resist much more.
Newtonmore are now Premier champions and they deserve their third title in three years: from what the Wing Centre saw of the new Orion Trophy it looks pretty indestructible which should at least be a comfort to the Camanachd Association.
They are believed to be holding a rather important match in Oban this weekend - not that you would know much about it from the Strathspey Herald’s paragraph or two about the match. In the absence of both Kingussie and Newtonmore from the final, the “Strathy” devotes about 68 words to Shinty’s biggest day of the year. Badenoch the Heartland of shinty? Hmmm!
The Courier sadly did not do any better preferring instead to fill the space with a hot news story about the winning team being able to take the Camanachd Cup home and being able to keep it in their bedrooms because they are being trusted not to break it. Apparently once upon a time, a bad club broke a cup but now since other teams are good they would not do that - at least that is the way the Wing Centre read the story through mists of rage.

Maybe it’s time to get back to a look at the all south final. Who will win?
The Sunday Herald guy was on the money as usual last week - he certainly doesn’t sit on the fence.

 The omens are looking good for an Inveraray victory in next Saturday’s Scottish Hydro Camanachd Cup final at Oban’s Mossfield Park. At least that’s the opinion of Donald Clark, mine host at the town’s George Hotel and chief sponsor of a Royal Burgh side who are making their fourth final appearance of recent times.
“Last time we won the Camanachd in 2004, the final was also at Oban and we’ve mirrored the same build up as we had that time. After training the team comes back to the George for a bite to eat and to talk tactics. It helps the guys bond and the buzz is coming back into the side at the right time.”
It is fair to say that opponents Kyles Athletic –the pair are contesting the first all-South Camanachd Cup final since 1983-don’t see things quite that way. “We respect Inveraray”, says Kyles coach James Perlich. “They are an experienced side and in the cups at least, they have a winning mentality but, we have been more consistent than them in League terms and we feel we have the game to beat them on the day.”
Perlich is correct about Inveraray’s cup pedigree.  Despite failing to shine in the Premier League -in contrast to Kyles who have been main challengers to Newtonmore for the Premier League title over the past two years -Inveraray managed to knock Kyles out of both the MacAulay and Celtic Society Cups earlier this season.
They were able to do so because in Gary Macpherson, Euan MacMurdo and Chris Crawford, they possess some of the best forwards in the modern game. Add to the mix sharp-shooter Russell Mackinlay now returning to full action after being a bit player for the last three years and you have a winning combination, especially if, as Kinlochshiel found out in the semi-final, the rest of the side have the experience to take the sting out of the game when the front men have put them ahead. In this latter capacity defender Douglas Dando, man of the match in their Camanachd winning side, will play a key role and if he comes on to a game then Kyle’s veteran playmaker Fraser Macdonald may be in for an interesting afternoon.

Kyles, who have a back-story of 20 cup final successes over the generations to spur them on, are a team who will look to make their own luck. However, the most recent of these wins was in 1994, and the present side over the past year or so has earned a reputation as the coming team which has never quite arrived. Yet where Inveraray have experience, they have youth and pace. Much will depend on whether their midfield trio of Robbie Macleod, Duncan Kerr and David Zavaroni will stand up and be counted. They put in the work against Newtonmore in the semi-final and provided a solid platform for Roddy Macdonald and Thomas Whyte to get them the goals that put them within one game of being legends in Tighnabruaich. On Saturday they will need to do it one more time.( SH 8/9/201200)

Yep - you are right - he thinks it could go either way. He doesn’t have an opinion and he’s sticking to it.
The pictures are courtesy of the Camanachd Associations pre-match publicity plus one of the boys lining up at Mossfield on “that day”. Mr Reid ?  Here he is smiling.


Saturday, September 08, 2012

That Winning Feeling

Glenurquhart 4 Glengarry 0 (North Division 2)

The Wing Centre was elsewhere last Saturday on club business mark you  and thus avoided the match against Inveraray at the Winterton- a fate that he was not unhappy about considering that the side which travelled down the A82 was extremely short of personnel. But of that more later.
He also missed the match against Invergarry at Drum not to mention the Strathdearn final at Glengarry Stadium where Beauly, that sleeping giant of North Shinty not so much as woke up but turned over in the shinty bed and pulled the blankets off poor Fort William and actually won the trophy for the first time in 55 years.
The game which did surprise was the 4-1 victory against Glengarry at Drum because with the Hosie brothers absent –Ben in America and Jack in Inveraray- and with  both Calum Fraser and Ewan “Boo-Boo” Fraser  out, it could have been a sticky afternoon at Blairbeg against a side which have given us trouble in the past. ‘Garry unfortunately had only 11 players on the field which is a pity but these guys are all good players and on the day despite the numerical advantage Glen found them hard to break down.
Glen opted for a mobile front line with James Hurwood and Drew Maclennan pushed up into the front line along with Ewan Menzies and Daniel Mackintosh. In the event, the first half proved rather flat and the Glen forwards did not play as fluently as they should have done. Glen did score  a very well worked goal that was finished off by Ewan Menzies and but any thought that would settle the side down to play good shinty soon evaporated   and the game produced very scrappy first half and Glen were disappointed to go in at half-time only one goal up.

The second half was much more promising and the side came out in a more determined frame of mind. Everybody worked hard for each other and eventually the side got what it deserved. Drew Maclennan began to revel in his new-found status up-front and bagged two good strong goals while Euan Lloyd nabbed another to bring the total to four.
Elsewhere in parts the performance was reasonably positive.  Keeper Cameron Maclennan had a good solid game in goals and posted a shutout. Ross MacDiarmid too played well in defence as he has done for the whole season. Bradley Dixon was used as a free man, almost as an extra mid-fielder as well as a half back and his performance was outstanding. Running non-stop for 90 minutes he read the game superbly. Another success was Ross Macaulay whose great hitting and high work rate were an inspiration to the rest of the side. Ewan Menzies also played well. He has a good first touch which allows him to look up and distribute the ball well and to cap his performance he scored a fine goal.

With the re-organised Sutherland Cup Final coming up on the horizon, it was important that the Glen got through the game with neither injuries nor bookings. Fortunately things worked out well in this department and all the players stayed positive even during spells in the game that saw the side playing well below par. You cannot ask for much more.

Can the guys win the Sutherland Cup? Are Beauly Strathdearn winners? ‘Nuff said.

 Inveraray 0 Glenurquhart 1 (Premier League)

 But what about the Glen win down in Inveraray?
If you were an Inveraray guy you would be saying to yourself “How did we not score? Russell was playing, Gary was playing, the Twins were playing.”
Two reasons- heavy wet pitch which did not suit the Inveraray style and the Glen boys defended in depth and well. They had no choice : they were so many players short especially up front where the absence of Davie Smart, Ruaraidh Cameron and James Macpherson was a clear handicap. Andrew Corrigan was also not available at the back nor was Dixie Maclennan in midfield- so what is a black and red boy to do? Defend and rely on the elements.
Then, of course, there is always the Smack factor.
About midway through the first half Glen were awarded a penalty after a move which in fact saw Glen’s Neale Reid put the ball in the net. The ref was correct in his decision though because he had blown his whistle before Reid had put away the chance, though it does no favours to the Glen to award them a penalty. At least that used to be the case until Stuart Mackintosh took over that particular poisoned chalice. Up he stepped, placed the ball on the spot and hammered it hard and low past keeper Graham Macpherson.
Now when you go and sneak a lead and you are defending with all your heart and soul, it is very hard for your opponents to score.
That is what happened to Inveraray at Drum earlier in the season when they pinched a goal and kept Glen out. Now Glen did the same but with a cuter game-plan which involved an eight man defence with big Arran Macdonald picking up the defensive clearances from the Glen backs and firing the ball up to scampering forwards Neale Reid, Liam Girvan and debutant Jack Hosie who can all get to the ball first and cause bother. It worked a treat- very much an Inveraray style of play ironically enough and the Inveraray defenders in particular Alan Macdonald at the back found it tough to deal with while Gary and the guys up front saw plenty of the ball but did not really test Smack, though he had to deal with the usual rubbish off his feet.
Now the Glen defenders are good enough one on one for any Premier team even without Andrew Corrigan but what really pleased was the way the front boys performed.
After some Inveraray pressure the referee evened things out by awarding the home side a penalty though from a Glen point of view-there can be no other- it seemed like Russell Mackinlay was holding onto John Barr but Barr was penalised for pushing when he struggled to  free himself. Chris Crawford stepped up to take the penalty for Inveraray but he drove the ball low and hard but straight at Smack who saved easily. Perhaps ‘Raray Manager Smylie will ask their goalie to take any penalties they might be awarded in the Camanachd Cup final v Kyles. It is certainly worth a wee thought.
As the game continued both teams had chances, Glen through Liam Girvan and Neale Reid while for Inveraray Gary Macpherson and Russell Mackinlay had opportunities but neither keeper was seriously challenged.
Paul Mackintosh came back for the last ten minutes or so for his first match since breaking his hand against Kyles- he has had a cruel season missing out on the MacAulay final because of a bit of bad luck- but he is the type of guy who will not let you down when you are in a corner- and Glen were certainly in a corner for players this week. Paul actually had a chance to double Glen’s lead but it was not to be. So there it was- a win – and when Mr Corrigan (Coach) texted the Loch Ness Inn where the old boys  were trying to contain their incredulity over the fact that Beauly had won the Strathdearn against a Fort William side that had knocked out the Glen… well the mood lifted and they began not to begrudge Beauly their win.
What about Newtonmore?  Who knows- but one thing is certain this ‘More team will be desperate to wrap up the title at home. Glen? They will have their eyes firmly fixed on the Bungee Jump due to take place after the match but Glen can usually play a bit so not many of the Newtonmore lads will sleep particularly easily in their beds on Friday night.

Zandra’s Sixes was held the night before the Games: the winners were “Up the Glen”. Player of the tournament was Liam Robertson. The pics are of the winning team, of Finlay Robertson receiving Zandra's trophy and of Liam Robertson being presented with the "Player of the Tournament" trophy from Brian Fraser who gifted the cup.


Thanks to Tina Marshall for the pictures v Glengarry. She very kindly sent these snaps along off her own bat and they are excellent quality.The ones of Zandra's 6s come from the Wing Centre's own camera phone and are sadly not as good as they should be.
The other picture ? Quite simply it is one of the nicest, most genuine shinty pictures the Wing Centre has seen recently-the old Beauly guys reunited with their spoils of yesteryear. If ever a picture could capture what winning a trophy means to a club , this one does. The Wing Centre has often been cheeky about Beauly over the years but he never forgets that his good lady has an ancestry which includes Allt Dearg and Ferry Road- and she never lets him forget it either. Thanks to the Beauly Club for the picture. Its a classic- and they have not had a bad season either. Balliemore Final, Strathdearn Winners and the North Third Division trophy.

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