Friday, October 26, 2012

One down and one to go

Yep.  One down and one to go. Sometimes the headline just has to err on the side of simplicity. Not that the Wing Centre is talking only about the Shinty/Hurling International at this point. No the real subject on the agenda this week is the Glen youngsters who played their penultimate match  last Saturday at Blairbeg- and tomorrow if the snow keeps off they are due to head to Aberdeen to play the ‘Varsity in the last match of the 2012 season.
The Wing Centre was away last week and missed out on the Kingussie match which was fixed up pretty late on in the week and actually took place on the morning of the International.

Glenurquhart 1 Kingussie 1 (Marine Harvest North Division 2)

What like of game was it?
It was good enough- and there was no recurrence of the Beauly nonsense. Which just shows you that shinty players on both sides don’t always get their judgements right.
That being said Glen went into the match hoping to put the record straight. Having already finished 4th in the league might appear in some supporters’ eyes as a good result but to Manager Iain Macleod that position is a disappointment, considering that after a desperately poor preseason and weak start, the team had come on well enough to have realistic aspirations for a higher finish in the league table.
The priority might be to rebuild and focus on the future but that is no excuse for failing to live up to the potential that is within the squad. Unfortunately as everyone in the team and on the sidelines knows that is what has happened on at least two occasions this season.
That having been said, Glen started well  and really were worth an early goal which would have settled the side but instead lost out when Rory Borthwick was able to tap the ball simply into the net after  the Glen defence was unable to clear effectively despite having two chances to get the ball away. That apart the defence played well and was able to hold out against a Kingussie front-line of Thomas and Rory Borthwick, Michael Clark and Rory Macgregor.
Despite going in at half-time 1-0 down, Glen had in fact enjoyed most of the play. More composure up front or a class play-maker up on the dust and the team would have done much better over the season.
Play in the second half saw the same pattern, as predictable as the old Glenurquhart black and white check-lots of pressure and no goals until finally Paul Mackintosh levelled matters near the end with a fine strike on target. Despite further pressure, Glen were simply unable to add to their single strike.
On the positive side, a good number of the lads played well. Top amongst them was James Hurwood whose tackling, timing and hitting were first class on the day. He links well with fellow defender Drew Maclennan: they both share a similar tenacious attitude and when they are both on their game the defence is supremely secure.
Equally secure was Donald Fraser and he dug in against Michael Clark, not giving him anything cheaply and in the end keeping him off the score sheet. The experienced Paul Mackintosh, who suffered a nasty break to his hand in an early season Premier League match against Kyles, slotted in well at full centre and made a huge difference to the side. Tirelessly he drove the team forward for the whole game and got his just reward when he scored a good equaliser when he was eventually pushed forward into the attack.
Front man Daniel Mackintosh also played well, getting to the ball first and moving it early though his finishing deserted him in front of goals- and that was probably the story of the season.  Apart from an excellent Newtonmore side Glen were the team that the Wing Centre felt had the greatest potential this season. However potential has to be realised through effort, self-belief and commitment and when it came right down to the crucial matches something wasn’t quite there. Newtonmore deservedly won the League- and congratulations to Glen Tonkin and his lads for doing so but Glen fell short in the Cups which went to Beauly and Kingussie. They are the lads with the medals which matter: Glen are left with hard-luck stories. It does not have to be like that, you know.

Scotland 19   Ireland 25 (The Marine Harvest Shinty - Hurling International)
While Paul Mackintosh was knocking the ball into the net at Blairbeg, his cousin Stuart was picking it out of the net in the annual Shinty/Hurling cross code fixture at Inverness’s Bught Park. Wow- don’t you just love these Blue Peter type links?  But truthfully, tomorrow at Ennis if Scotland are to have any hope of winning the series it certainly has to be a case of “And now- for something completely different”

The Wing Centre missed this game- and could not really face watching more than the last 10 minutes on the i-player. However, his old mate David Calder did suffer the match and produced a report for the Sunday Herald which the Wing Centre is happy to include here.
“Scotland’s shinty players struck ten points in the final minute of their double header against the Irish hurlers at Inverness to give themselves a fighting chance in the return leg in Ennis next Saturday.
For most of the match the Irish looked the more committed outfit against a Scotland side which lacked cohesion and frequently chose the wrong option out of defence.
Scotland manager Drew MacNeil was cheered by the late rally but is realistic about his side’s chances in County Clare in a week’s time.
“The first thing to say is that I am mightily relieved. Realistically we got out of jail today. To go to Ennis sixteen points in arrears would have been an impossible situation, but six points that is definitely within our scope - we were well out of it in the first half and even when we had them under pressure after the break our finishing was poor”.
While Scotland’s forwards fired blanks at Irish keeper Bernard Rochford , Ireland possessed  in Patrick Horgan  one of the most lethal finishers ever seen in the cross codes series.
The stocky Corkman led the Scottish defence a merry dance scoring 23 of his side’s 25 points.That tally included a hat - trick of five pointers , the best kept until last when he produced an outrageous sidestep on Scots defender Mark MacDonald and then showed his power as he held off the remainder of the Scots defence before placing the ball behind substitute keeper Stuart MacDonald.
Horgan gave early notice of his calibre when he fired over the rugby style goal posts for a point to open the scoring in the sixth minute.
Scots fans celebrated minutes later when Kevin Bartlett showed deadly finishing with a thirty -five yard strike for two points but within a minute Horgan stunned the home support with a brilliant individual effort, first losing marker Daniel Cameron before smashing the ball past a helpless Stuart Mackintosh in the Scottish goal.
Steven MacDonald spurned a chance to close the gap but his long range effort drifted beyond the upright.
A single from  Horgan extended the Irish lead to 8 - 2 and then in the 21st minute he returned to torment the Scots defence with another surefooted strike after leaving Donald Irvine floundering in what was virtually a carbon copy of his earlier goal.

MacNeil rung the changes with senior debutant Callum Cruden making way for Fort William’s Niall MacPhee.The move improved Scotland’s attacking option and double pointers from Bartlett and Steven MacDonald took the score to 13 - 6 only for Horgan (2) and Shane Dooley to stretch the hurlers’ lead to 16- 6 at half time.
Within minutes of the restart the home crowd held their breath as Dooley found himself in space and with only MacKintosh to beat blasted the ball wide.
A Bartlett two pointer raised Scots hopes but Horgan killed them off with three single points  to bring the Irish to 18 - 9. McManus and then Horgan made it 20 - 9 before Horgan hit the score of the match to extend the advantage to 25 - 9.With the Scots fans drifting towards the exits Kevin Bartlett smacked home a brilliant five pointer from close range.
With virtually the last action of the match a long range Neil Macdonald free hit dipped under Rochford’s bar to give Scotland an outside chance of winning the home and away series.
If the Scots are to turn around the series it will be done with the players in MacNeil’s current squad meaning there will be no place for Kyles Athletic’s prolific hit man Roddy MacDonald who pulled out of the original squad.”

So what went wrong and what went right then?
Scotland started slow or Ireland started fast-whatever way you look at it this has not happened before. Scotland usually lead at half time. They cannot let this happen again. Scotland’s skipper Norman Campbell found the game by-passing him in the early part of the game as the Irish played a spare man in front of the back line and fired long balls up to hit man Horgan who made the absolute best of his chances. Scotland did not get to grips with this Irish tactic until the second half.
Guess what? For the first time in the series fitness was not an issue. Scotland were going as well as the Irish at the end.
Scotland dominated possession in the second half but failed to take at least 4 clear two-pointers. That can’t happen again.
When Scotland kept the ball low, played wide and cut it back they did well but … the heat of the game they did not always manage that. Shinty’s default setting is not playing low and wide unless you are from Kingussie.
In the arcane point scoring system the Ogham lettering on the Ennis score board will say Ireland 3 Scotland 1 as the match starts but if the guys play well it does not have to stay that way. Personally the Wing Centre would settle for a win in the game and lose the series rather than losing both by going for broke to win the series- but that tells you more about his character than it should.
Are there any variables Scotland cannot do anything about?
Two-The first one is the length of the grass. We can beat anyone on the hyper –surface of Croke Park but out in dairy cattle country who can say on what we’ll play?
And the second?
Ireland will be using the uber-wide Hurley goals with the low bar-not the Bught ones, which makes it easier for their two pointers. Never mind, you get that on big jobs. Keep calm and carry on.

The two pics are courtesy of the GAA Website.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Glen prepare to take on Ireland

Ok. So it’s a little bit of an exaggeration but it certainly does contain more than a grain of vérité. Glen manager Drew McNeil and three of his first team squad  viz John Barr, Stuart Mackintosh and David Smart are due to face up to the Irish hurlers at the Bught this Saturday. What is more two other Glenners-Fraser Heath and Neale Reid- are in the under 21 squad.

Glen might have made a claim for senior captain Norman Campbell also: after all he trained with us all season while he was based in the area for work but in the end that claim cannot be pursued. Firstly and most importantly he is a Newtonmore man through and through and could not be persuaded to change his allegiances; secondly the Glen Committee would not wear it because he is a Campbell and Glen are and always have been a club associated with Macdonalds! Certainly, Mackintoshes, Frasers and various mixed clans (as the Culloden headstone describes them) might be allowed to wear the red and black but Campbells never- and there’s an end to it!
So the Glen are proud of their Scotland connection but is that true everywhere else? The Wing Centre is not so sure since there are certainly lots of superb players out there who have not made it into this year’s player pool. One wonders why. The main reason would appear to be that in the middle of a hard season it is very difficult for players to commit to the extra Sunday training sessions required to make the squad. There are other players out there who don’t feel the compromise game fits their style.
It is this writer’s impression that hurling is more physical and aggressive than shinty when played at top level: modern shinty has become much quicker less physical than its 80s equivalent.   Then the two sports have different skill sets which is in some situations don’t allow for equality of challenge. If the Scots get the ball on the ground the Irish who generally have only one hand on their much shorter stick cannot get it back without fouling or pushing usually in the back. If the Irish get the ball up on the stick and run with it the Scots are inclined to foul to get it back by either hacking or blocking off the man. The nature of the sports too puts players at differential risks of injury: Irish players holding a short hurley will find it hard to block a full blooded shinty swing with the longer club. Equally the sudden flick up of the ball in the air has meant that over recent years in particular some of the Scot’s lads-who have a tendency not to wear faceguards –have picked up nasty face injuries.
So does this international dimension deliver anything worth having for shinty? In terms of the actual sport probably not. If you were to think of the last few internationals as spectacles and compared them to the last two Camanachd Cup finals, the last three MacTavish Cup finals, or the MacAulay Cup final this year you have to say the Internationals were not vehicles for the display of high levels of skill nor did they lead to long periods of creative play. There were no fabulous goals simply because too much of the emphasis is on scoring from dead ball situations from distance : much of the rest of the effort from both sides necessarily went on preventing the other team from scoring- and because of the mismatch of skills (and one is not talking here about the relative abilities of players) a lot of the challenges were untidy and in the case of Ireland on Scotland especially, illegal-though the officials  aware of the start stop nature of the game were inclined to let play run on.

What does shinty get out of this then?
That is the whole point really. Shinty gets a dimension from this encounter that it gets nowhere else and that makes shinty more credible in its heartland. Without it, the attractiveness of the sport to participants is undermined especially at that younger level when reasonably athletic kids are courted by football, hockey, and rugby and, whisper it, basketball. These sports get credibility and brownie points from their international status. In this crazy world of lottery funding for elite sports, participants if they are half decent can get scholarships, entrance into elite academies and representative honours. Shinty, discriminated against and patronised even in its heartland needs this dimension to survive and ultimately to prosper- and Scotland manager Drew McNeil to be fair to him bangs the drum for the sport when he gets the chance.
That much is clear from last week’s Sunday Herald preview:

With the first leg of the cross code shinty/hurling international due to take place at Inverness’s Bught Park this Saturday, the pain of last year’s defeat courtesy of a late strike by Ireland’s Joe Bergin still irritates Scotland’s shinty boss, Drew McNeil. “We simply got careless just when we were in with a real chance of clinching the series in the second game. This year, indeed for the health of the fixture, we have to do better”
McNeil is correct in his assessment. While he has little time for voices within the shinty community which question the value the two leg series provides for the domestic game in these straitened times, he knows it is imperative that Scotland put on a show for the fans.
“Not everyone agrees but for me these contests are a great vehicle to bring shinty forward. The high tempo of hurling has given shinty a wakeup call as far as fitness is concerned. Awareness of this has spread in the shinty world and has a lot to do with the Premier League success of teams like Kinlochshiel, Lovat and Glenurquhart who all  have players in the international squad. It works both ways too. Ireland’s ground skills have dramatically improved. That has come directly from shinty- as has the fact that in their domestic game recent changes show they have come to realise that working a goal is more exciting than popping a long range point over the bar. It’s a compliment to shinty really.”
That sense of Irish indebtedness does not however translate into lying down before their blue shirted opponents. Ever since Scotland memorable win at Croke Park in the first leg of the 2009 series, results have gone Ireland’s way.
A quick glance at the visitor’s squad for the 2012 series indicates that intend to keep it that way. Joe Bergin might not be in the pool but Kilkenny’s high profile all-star Tommy Walsh is in the side along with Offaly’s Shane Dooley who hit five of Ireland’s seven goals in the 2010 series.
 For Scotland, the absence of two of the country’s best known players Ronald Ross and Gary Innes is a definite blow but the appearance of new faces like Newtonmore’s Steven Macdonald, and Kingussie Louis Munro alongside proven stick players such as Finlay Macrae and Shaun Nicholson, convinces   McNeil   that his side possess enough   guile and craft to win the series.
“Ireland are playing at a higher level than they were a few years ago but we are clear that to succeed we need to play modern shinty-keeping  the ball  low, running with it,  and aiming to score goals.   To do that we need the right conditions of course: we know the grass will be short in Inverness but what we will face on the other side of the Irish Sea is another matter. We also need refereeing that protects my players and allows them the scope to be creative. If we can get all that plus a big home crowd behind us then we can certainly do it”
Ireland generally pretend they are ambivalent about the match. They won’t choose all their top guys because they don’t want to win too easily but confine the return leg to provincial stadiums where the surface of the pitch makes meaningful shinty impossible. Yet this year their selection of goal scorers like Shane Dooley show they really would quite like to win it. Ireland have not chosen 14 All-stars but then again perhaps the mixed code game does not suit all their stars –jusrt as it certainly does not suit all ours. Equally interesting is the fact that they readily agreed that the points for a goal should  be increased from 3 to 5 – and it is perhaps a pointer as to what may happen in their domestic game one day.
Shinty has definitely picked up on the fitness aspect- but this writer feels that hurling must more radically adapt to survive. With its kicking , handling and especially with its ability to rack up long distance points without interlinked creative play it is essentially a dull sport redeemed at the top level by player fitness and the atmosphere created by big crowds. At the same time it must be struggling in the Emerald Isle to compete with Gaelic football and rugby. International Shinty has perhaps given them a glimpse of an intrinsically better game. Here’s a further hint for them: make the clubs longer, ban catching and kicking and get rid of points for hitting the ball over the bar. In fact just play shinty- and then as well providing both sports with a necessary international dimension perhaps we would have a more meaningful contest on the field.

Wow ! Did the Wing Centre really write all that opinion stuff-don’t get him started on the structural review.
Whatever……….. May Saturday’s Glenners  and Shinty win.

The pictures were taken by Neil Paterson: Visit Scotland should think about using them. Check out his stuff at


Friday, October 05, 2012

Kingussie Youth Policy Pays Off With Sutherland Victory

Cheeky eh?  Suppose so-when you see the headline in the context of the photograph- but it’s still true. Kingussie won the Sutherland Cup in what was a disappointing contest in Beauly last Saturday. They won certainly because they had some good young players but they also won because they had three old heads in the team, helping to form a backbone of a unit that was just good enough to beat the Glen. The emphasis is on the “just”.  Kingussie were just good enough to get through – but if they had not been presented with a penalty in the 25th minute then there is every reason to think that the result might have been different.
Normally the Wing Centre keeps a calm and even temperament and so this week the temptation to get the post out of the way early in the week was resisted because truthfully it was hard to know what to make of the game.  The impression picked up by this Glen supporter at Beauly was that Kingussie having been deprived of success by Newtonmore –unfairly as we now know- felt they had a moral right to the Cup and harboured some sort of resentment against the Glen. That negative feeling was heightened by the absence of Rory Fraser who missed the match because he had been banned for a sending off which happened sometime after the original final. Glen had been scheduled to play Aberdeen University in their last league match before the final but when Aberdeen University pulled out of that fixture it was tentatively suggested that the Glen play Kingussie in their remaining league match the week before the final. That would of course have given Rory the chance to play in the big game- but having the two teams face up to each other in a league match the week before the final is simply silly for reasons that are too obvious to repeat and the Association sensibly did not schedule the fixture.
Clearly in Kingussie a feeling of resentment against the Glen had been brewing on the back of sympathy for Rory’s plight and you have to say that it was a shame for Rory- and why on earth did the Badenoch club not make an issue to the Camanachd Association of the fact that his ineligibility should have been overlooked because of the timing of the offence. Glenurquhart would have been perfectly happy with that situation. If they felt so strongly about it, Kingussie should have backed their player’s right to play. They clearly didn’t do so strongly enough.
For these reasons the game therefore got off on the wrong foot- and it turned out not to be an advert for shinty and the Association must be happy it did not go out on National TV. Glen did not play particularly well and at times lost their discipline: Kingussie too must take their share of responsibility for the spectacle. As tension rose both sides made it hard for the referee though it has to be said the Glen were at fault particularly in naïvely questioning decisions.   Perhaps they don’t feel that in Badenoch but that is how it is seen from a Glen perspective.

In the match itself, Glen started well enough and had much of the pressure in the opening period of the game though it has to be said the park was a little too sticky for free-flowing shinty from either side. A glorious strike by Jack Hosie brought a fine save from Kingussie keeper Russell Menzies and a few minutes later a rasper from Drew Maclennan almost persuaded the Glen support that the red and blacks had gone ahead but the ball had somehow just shaved the crossbar.
The game then began to get bogged down with Kingussie coming back into it but their shooting was wayward and keeper Cameron Maclennan had little to do bar simple housekeeping. Then in an attack Kingussie were awarded a penalty after goal judge Russell Ross spotted an infringement within the D. King’s youngster Savio Genini kept his nerve firm and the ball low and converted the penalty into a one goal advantage.
Shortly afterwards Glen youngster Euan Lloyd was pulled up for careless swinging- and probably went in to the book for his reaction to the whistle. From this strike Kingussie worked the ball out wide on the right and Rory Macgregor knocked it into the path of Michael Clark who finished with consummate skill by tucking the ball up over Maclennan.
The second half was fairly even though the perception seemed to amongst certain Kingussie spectators that the Glen were the undisciplined baddies. Not strictly true: if the Glen were guilty of anything it was of not accepting sensibly and quietly when they had fouled and getting on with the game. It was hard to take therefore when having a cup of tea and a pie on the sidelines at the start of the second half it was suggested to the Wing Centre by one of the ladies from Kingussie – a lady of the sort of  vintage that calls a dress a frock-that the Glenurquhart squad were rough, nasty and violent. Rough, nasty and violent- surely not! Cameron, Euan, Drew, Dunc Rory and Jack? Never- these are all lads whom any granny would be pleased to have as grandsons: still it gave the Wing Centre a little idea of what it must be like to come from Newtonmore and spectate at the Dell.
Glen picked up the pace a little in the second half although there were also long periods when Kingussie had the upper hand. Chances were missed at both ends and in particular Glen’s Calum Fraser will feel he ought to have done better at the top end when he was put through midway through the half.

Glen’s chances further diminished when centre Calum Smith was red-carded after a tangle with Kingussie’s Greg Macrae. Both players had not been seeing eye to eye for much of the game and Calum’s inexperience showed when having received a clonk on the head in a tackle he allowed the red mist to descend. He was rightly dismissed, was extremely apologetic after the event and hopefully will have learned from it- because up to that point his contribution had been invaluable.
Glen did have a number of attacks after that point and at the other end Cameron stopped a drive inadvertently with his head but there was to be no way back for the Glen and Kingussie went on to take the Cup.

To sum up: Glen need to hold their discipline, not get involved in back chat with the referee and opponents. That’s two Sutherland Cups Glen have lost within the last three years and they ought to have done better in both.  Ross MacDiarmid was excellent at the back for the Glen and though Drew Maclennan, James Hurwood and Jack Hosie had good spells, as a team the Glen did not gel.
For Kingussie clearly the older players did well but two who also caught the eye were wing back Rory Mackeachan and in particular Scott Macintyre who did as much as the sticky ground to blot out the menace of Jack Hosie on the flank. The King’s forwards are lads with lots of promise but they did not quite get going on Saturday. Perhaps not a bad thing.
Glen were supposed to play Kings in the league this Saturday which is why the blog has been delayed. However that game is off because Kingussie were having a struggle to raise a team since there is a wedding in the town. The match will be rescheduled later.
On a cheerier note Glen players were involved in the North Under-14 and Under -17 victories against the south last weekend. Calum Macphail was in the under-14 squad and Euan Lloyd, James Hurwood and Ewan Brady were in the under-17s. Smack and Glen Tonkin of Newtonmore were the coaches
These pictures came from the Camanachd Association. The others all come from Neil Paterson with the exception of the first one which is from Tina Marshall and the last from Donald Cameron. Look closely at Tina's pic and you may see the image of a rainbow on the left. That symbolises a new beginning –apparently.

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