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


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