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.

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