Sunday, November 04, 2012

Fifty Shades of Green?

Sometimes it’s best to reflect for a while rather than come out with an opinion right away: that of course does not ever guarantee that the resultant response is any better than what would have come out right away but it should have a greater chance of being rational with the provision of a little more perspective. Well then again maybe not.
What actually happened anyway? You’ll know all about it by now: there are reports on the Camanachd website, the Skye website and on the GAA website. There’s a mass of stuff on other sites pointing out that Scotland lost heavily and questions-legitimate ones and mischievous ones -are being asked about the national side. Indeed sometimes the same question can fulfil both functions. The Wing Centre’s old mate, the journo guy from the Sunday Herald also put a piece in about the match though it’s doubtful if he was even there.
This is what he wrote anyway :

2012 Hurling/Shinty International Series Second Test
Scotland v Ireland, Cusack Park, Ennis
Ireland 8-11 (51)   Scotland 4-3 (23)
(Ireland win the series 6-2 on points)

Ireland’s hurlers gave Scotland’s shinty players a master class in how to take chances today in the second test of the mixed code game in the process running out easy winners and  making them International Series champions for the fourth year in a row. 
Having hung on to a respectable score line courtesy of two late goals in Inverness, Scotland came to Ennis full of hope that they could turn the series round. These hopes were dead and buried long before half time as it became clear that the Scotland back line simply could not cope with the deadly finishing of the Irish forwards.
In an attempt to get early points on the board the Scots started off with five front men and the tactic seemed to pay off when Kevin Bartlett popped a point over inside the first minute. Irish keeper Bernard Rochford then made a tremendous save to deny Keith Macrae before the home side struck back to even matters with a break away point from Tipperary’s Seumas Callanan. Two further superb saves at close range by Rochford and some frantic Irish defending denied Scotland the breakthrough goal their bright start merited - and then all of a sudden the sky fell in and the match was finished as a contest. 
Brendan Murtagh started the rot in 6 minutes with a single point but when a run from deep from Tipperary’s Patrick Maher in 7 minutes resulted in the first Irish goal of the day the flood gates opened.
Ireland rapidly increased their lead with a goal and a point from Murtagh and a hat trick from Shane Dooley his second goal coming from an unstoppable direct hit and the third after a slip by Scotland defender John Barr.
At the other end Scotland contrived a brief spell of pressure but first John Stewart then Keith Macrae failed to convert further chances while long balls from the centreline were scrambled clear by tenacious Irish defending. Kevin Bartlett did get a point back in 35 and a minute later Finlay Macrae blasted home a free hit for Scotland’s first goal of the afternoon but the tide swung yet again with Callanan scoring single points three times in quick succession to send the home side in at half time with a comfortable 24 point cushion.

Scotland opened the second half brightly and neat play from Kyles Donald Irvine set up a Bartlett strike which brought another fine stop from Rochford. Ireland stretched their lead further with a fine goal from Barry MacFall before Bartlett, Scotland’s best player on the day found space on the left to score his side’s second goal.
Try as they might the Scots could not keep the Irish out and two rapid points from Dooley and another goal from Murtagh kept the pressure on the visitors.   Bartlett scored another for Scotland in 61 minutes but a point from Murtagh, another goal  from Callanan and two late points for Dooley meant that Keith Macrae’s last minute goal for Scotland could hardly count as consolation.
A humbling score line on the day then - and one which leaves The Camanachd Association and Scotland coach Drew Macneil with much to think about before next year’s Test Series.

Yeah. All very well but what does the result suggest about the future of the International series?

It’s not for the Wing Centre to say-that is a matter for the sport as a whole to have a say upon-but from a Glen point of view the area is proud of the guys who over the years have turned out to play in the International series both at Under 21 and senior level. Going back to Burton Morrison, Ron Fraser, Billy Macleod and Jim Barr back in the 70s right down to this year’s crop of five,  participation in the series has given a boost to the profile of shinty in the school and community , not to mention the prestige it gives to the guys who have actually been picked. It’s maybe not the same everywhere but here beside Inverness where Rugby Caps, Boxing Caps, Hockey Caps, Curling Caps and Athletic Caps etc. are not uncommon-especially at under 21 level - the shinty international series sends out a message to kids and parents that Shinty is a sport that has an elite International level too.
Yes we could spend the money- always assuming it was available –in different, purely shinty ways but we will never get the status for the sport any other way.
Of course the game played is neither shinty nor hurling but a compromise sport where the rules have not has yet reached their definitive form. This year the points for goals were increased from 3 to 5- good or bad?
Not good for the Scots in some opinions- the National Manager was consistent saying this well before the first test in Inverness - but for the spectator it made the compromise game infinitely more watchable. In previous encounters the Irish centreline were inclined to fire the ball over for easy points from vast distances without having created anything.

Last weekend, in Ennis they successfully went for goals-though it’s not hard to have doubts about the teamwork aspect of the sport. There were some lovely touches but only one goal, by Dooley, looked like a shinty goal whereby one player knocked the ball through to another who first timed it home. Most of the rest seemed like solo efforts where a player gathers the ball deep and runs flat out balancing it like an egg on a spoon before batting or battering it past the keeper. When it came to one on one in these situations the Irish players were too fast and too strong to be stopped by Scotland’s defenders. It would have helped if the shinty lads were as fast and strong as the hurlers – and maybe in some years that was true but that wasn’t the case on Saturday.
To rub it in, the doubters are always keen to tell us the Irish don’t even play their top guys- and that they use the fixture to reward a range of players from different levels. On the face of it this appears true enough though the vast numbers of hurlers available in Ireland for selection makes the Wing Centre doubt that the best players are always found in the elite counties. It was certainly not true in Shintyland- Keith Loades was one of the most gifted shinty players of his generation; he never won a Camanachd Cup medal because he played for Kinlochshiel and not Kingussie. The same syndrome will also apply in Ireland.
Anyway this time because of availability issues all the best shinty players in Scotland were not on the park in Ennis last weekend, though a fair few were. Some of the guys absent could not commit to the training; others will have decided that the physical ferocity of the encounter does not suit their stick-playing style.

As far as the training issue goes the Manager has given a detailed interview to the Skye Camanachd website which is worth a read. The betting is that the Irish lads have even more taxing regimes at Club and County level though what they do at international level is outwith the Wing Centre’s knowledge. The issue is that should certain Irish players fail to commit then there are hundreds of other players available for selection who can perform at an equally high level - the absence of Patrick Horgan was more than adequately covered by the inclusion of replacement Seumas Callanan. Scotland just does not have that depth of playing resources, so perhaps we have to look at matters again but is that fair to those who are prepared to commit to the programme as it stands?

There are no easy answers but it’s perhaps just as well to spell out the questions.
So what positives did the Wing Centre take out of it all?  Cabers’ Kevin Bartlett is some player- so is Newtonmore’s Steven Macdonald and Shiel’s Finlay Macrae: they would all be worth serious money in a professional game. John Barr, Neil Macdonald and in particular Neil Macphee were the guys who had the obvious physique to challenge the Irish guys on their own ground. Norman Campbell is another who has that ability but for much of the game he did not seem to be in a position which allowed him to show that. The game was actually for the first time a half    decent TV spectacle – and in the end when you get right down to the bare bones, it was good to see so many Glenners involved: it does the club no harm in the Community. There you go- all straws successfully clutched- and the whole illustrated with some nice action pictures and a snap of Drew from Neil Paterson. Neil has a website at .
 As for the rest they were provided by the Glen’s own Hazel Stewart and though she does not have a website yet, she does have as large an archive of shinty snaps as Hugh Dan. Thanks Hazel. Why two of Jim? We are very proud of him in the Glen, that's all.

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