Tuesday, August 27, 2013

And now…the end is near…

It had to be the goal of the season: young Ryan Porter got possession out on the left and slipped the ball inside for Iain Macdonald, “Balbeg” himself, to slam the ball into the Aberdeen University net for the opening goal of a fine 3-0 win that was, it’s fair to say, unexpected. It was 35 minutes into a match that Glen had found themselves having to work hard to stay in- and then all of a sudden, out came shinty sunshine.
Maybe it wasn’t the goal of the season though –that might have been “Balbeg’s” second which came after a Liam Girvan strike which had made it 2-0 just after half-time.  Iain, playing his first game of the season to help out the squad got on a ball in the 70th minute and knocked it high up into the top corner of keeper Terry Stebbing’s net. So why was this unexpected?  Simply because of the fact that the Glen were really strapped for players: it was virtually a third team which was on the field. Even Davie Stewart, who is nearly retired in real life never mind shinty life, also had to play along with a number of youngsters from the under-14s and under -17s. Aberdeen
weren’t a bad side either-they just did not have a finisher like Balbeg while at the other end Cameron Maclennan marked his return with a number of good stops. In the end it was a heartening result and snapper Neil Paterson was kind enough to take a team pic of the lads after the match which will take its place on the “Wall of Honour”. It is a super pic and for the first time in his life Big Mike Cameron was allowed to kneel down in the front row. Doesn’t he look chuffed? Double -click on the picture to see it better.

Incidentally, the match also marked the final game for Aberdeen Uni of Steven Mackenzie who has been at the heart of the Aberdeen side for over 20 years. He has now moved back north and doubtless he will be reincarnated in the green of Beauly before you can say “Murph”.
But then again the best goal of the season could also have been any of the three the top squad scored against Lochaber bringing a halt to their recent unbeaten run. The first one was an excellent piece of interplay and is the equal of anything seen from the Glen top squad this season. Neale Reid dropped deep to pick up a ball pushed through from midfield; he played it further back to Lewis Maclennan. Maclennan first-touched it forward and wide to youngster  Euan Lloyd who held it just long enough to draw a tackle before slipping across in front of goal where David Smart  smashed it into the net with the Lochaber defence completed at sea. It was a work of art- and it took only 5 minutes to create. Neale Reid doubled the advantage a few minutes later when he broke through a series of challenges before making the final shot count.
Then it was back to sleep for the Glen, though they did have a number of
opportunities which they were unable to covert. Zands Ferguson got one back for Lochaber and the Wing Centre for one began to doubt the fortitude of the side. After all John Barr was not in the defence though to be fair Neil Macdonald was absent for Lochaber, and if truth be told his loss to Lochaber was greater than that of Barr to the Glen in this contest. Finally in the 70th minute Neale Reid himself clinched a Glen victory by picking up the ball and running right through the Lochaber defence and scoring all on his own. Probably the only senior team in the league that would allow this to happen was a Lochaber team without Neil Macdonald at buckshee. Everyone else would have tried a body check at best and risked a yellow - but then again what does the Wing Centre know? 

Glen got the points- and they were a must get, though nothing is certain yet especially since Kingussie contrived to allow Fort William another two points. Whether they can be described as “valuable points” will depend on whether Fort William can keep winning. Memo for Astie - don’t schedule the Glen v Kingussie until after August 12th when the hardy natives of the high chaparral go out hunting the heather-hens.

So that was it then- no more shinty at Blairbeg until March 2014 and it’s only August 2013. For the Glen the season has lasted almost six months - and there is a Saturday to go before the end of the month. Somehow it does not feel right.
Then the Co-manager resigned: it is a well-known fact that a crisis strikes Glen shinty on or about the 20th of August every year. Last season was “The Year of the Broken Cup”   as it will be remembered by the Gaelic-speaking inhabitants of the Braes. This year will be recalled as “The Year of the Resignation.” Anyway, on the Skye Website and then again P& J on Monday and yet again in the Tuesday Courier the story broke and there it was.
What’s to say?
The good thing about Glen shinty is that whenever there’s a crisis the Club pulls together and bounces back through engagement with the community.
The first step in that process was Zandra’s Sixes which took place on the Friday night before the Games. An excellent tournament with 6 teams each representing different sections of the community, the numbers only being depleted by the absence of the injured and some of the senior lads who were off to the Tough Mudder Challenge in Edinburgh.
The games were close – and in the end the side that came through to lift the cup was Druimlon captained by Lewis Maclennan. The player of the tournament was youngster Fergus Robertson who was in the Balmacaan squad.
On Games Day the big highlight was the Tractor Push. Organised by Iain Macleod, this involved the players getting together behind a tractor and pushing it down the Glen from Corrimony, through the village and round Blairbeg. A list of “thankyous” and a
pile of pictures are on the main Club website (http://glenurquhartshintyclub.com/). The picture here is taken by Francis Jones of Milton - it is an excellent pic and makes you realise once again, as if you did not know it anyway, just how green the Glen is in summer.

The money from the Tough Mudder and the Tractor Push will be shared by the club and by the Glenurquhart Care Centre.
Nothing now remains, but in accordance with the ancient custom of shinty , to wait for Kyles Athletic to eventually require us to step westwards and permit us to play our final fixture of 2013. When that great day dawns, as eventually it must, then let’s hope we do not need the points.
The quality pictures are by Neil Paterson with the exception of the one already referred to by Francis Jones. Any remaining pics must be by someone else!!

 PS-The Glenurquhart Bulletin 2013 is on sale now. It contains the usual out of date Shinty Report but everything else is up to the mark and it’s well worth a read. Get your copy from the Post Office, the Library or at either of the garages.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Soldiering on.

“That was the saddest story I have ever heard” said the ancient former player when the Wing Centre told him about the Lovat game as he walked up Balmacaan Road after the match.
The ancient former player was working in his garden re-staking dahlias which the wind, that had blown in all the way from Skye, had disturbed.
”Don’t worry” he said. “It’ll all turn out right in the end. As the Brahan Seer said
“Though Lovat caught them on the hop
   the Glen will always be on top”
“When?” said the Wing Centre.
The ancient former player did not reply and turned again to his dahlias.
Of course, the ancient former player had not seen the match: with dahlias to stake he had decided to give the Glen v Lovat game a miss and watch Newtonmore/ Fort semi on the telly instead. He told the Wing Centre this. He was looking forward to it because he thought Fort might win.
“I’m not sure. I really think Fort will be up against it today, “said the Wing Centre.
“I don’t think so,” said the ancient former player, “there’s been a sign that tells me different.
As the Brahan Seer said:
“When the Balavil Estate be sold
  Newtonmore Shinty Club will fold
….and I see the Macphersons have put it up for sale, so Newtonmore are finished.”
“The Brahan Seer never said that”
“Oh yes, he did. If you want to, you can go and look it up in Rosemary Gibson’s book. It’s in one of those songs that Davy Holt sings- except he never sings that verse when he’s in Newtonmore for obvious reasons – and since he never gets gigs anywhere else, no one ever hears the verse. Smack’s in the business and he told me himself.”

The Wing Centre went up the road and had a cup of tea - then he switched on the telly: it was clear from the score that Newtonmore were very far from finished, so that rather undermined his opinion of the Brahan Seer’s prophecies in general and his shinty ones in particular. That night he did not sleep well. He kept going over the Lovat game in his head. It made for a restless night. He kept wondering what Glen might have done.
The game started off well enough when Neale Reid fired the Glenners ahead midway through the first half. They were going well and the Lovat attackers kept bouncing off the Glen defenders and then about 30 minutes in - disaster John Barr pulled a hamstring and he had to come off. From that moment on it was always going to be
difficult. In Lovat terms, it would be as if they had lost Stuart Macdonald. Lovat can lose anyone from their team except Stuart Macdonald –though they might pretend otherwise. If they were to lose Stuart Macdonald, they would begin to fail. Not that the other players would suddenly be rubbish-they were missing Calum Cruden and Greg Matheson which was probably the reason that the Glen looked so dominant early in the game- but without Macdonald the side’s self-confidence would begin to slip- and players that would normally be solid would begin to have doubts. Without John Barr, Glen are half a team, like Bute without Hector- and that’s the reason other sides - Kingussie in particular - pressurise refs to get John booked or sent off. No particular malice: it’s just the way. Lewis Maclennan and Neale Reid kept up the attacks: Macdonald had a series of good stops and the Lovat backline especially Drew Howie remained cool and kept the ball out and notwithstanding a little bit of pushing in the back which always goes unnoticed  they kept the Glen safely at bay.
Glen by that time had suffered their second disaster –the loss of “Dixie” Maclennan who received a swipe in the ribs. There is no more whole-hearted player than Dixie-what you see is what you get but despite his absence the Glen carried on in command. Then, out of the blue, with the last hit of the first half, Lovat were gifted a goal back which Kevin Bartlett was happy to accept.
Glen came out in the second half and in the 49th minute Lewis Maclennan through persistence and close control put then Glen into a 2-1 lead which was well deserved, and even the Crofting patriarchs in the crowd were now beginning to feel that the Glen merited a win.
However, at about the 74th minute mark Owen Ferguson found himself presented with an equaliser. Lovat seemed to be very pleased to get a point and Glen though they kept on pressing really should have been content to settle for a point. However,they continued to push forward and two minutes from the end were denied a goal when James Macpherson took a ball in the air but it bounced back off the bar. It should have sealed the match-instead what we got was Lorne Mackay out on the left with the ball, unmarked and he popped in an unremarkable shot which somehow found the net. It was the last hit of the game. Fair play to Lorne-he had taken a knock early on in the match and he had the guts to come back on and score the winner. He above all had a right to feel chuffed.
For the Glen though, it has to be put down as at least one point chucked away- and when you add in silly points dropped earlier in the season especially a crazy last minute loss at Kinlochshiel which was hotly disputed at the time, then it’s no wonder that the Glen now find themselves potentially in a bit of bother at the bottom of the Orion Premiership. We all like Lovat’s Mary Ann but it probably wasn’t wise to mark her birthday by presenting her team with both points.
The second team match against Kingussie was a disappointment also. Glen had a reasonable side but an inability to convert chances made the difference. Bob Macgregor and Savio Genini were the Kingussie scorers and while Kings played a young team, with the exception of Lee Bain at full back, the fact that five of them had been good enough to play the previous weekend in the Camanachd semi v Kyles is testament to the fact that they have a good squad for the future. As for the Glen, Ewan Menzies, James Hurwood and Cairn Urquhart all played well.  A particular word has to be said about youngster Lachlan Smith who went into wing back and did well. It was especially good to see him matched up to a player of similar size and age and he handled himself well, as did Liam Robertson who went on up front. Liam has just about got over a broken finger and he has shown himself to be a promising player. Their final Marine Harvest Division 2 match is against Aberdeen University- and that will be the end of the season. Shinty finished a whole week before the Games?
The first team-those who are left standing that is- are up against Lochaber, a side that have come back like Lazarus in the second half of the season. Since Glen put them out of the Camanachd they have not lost a match: in any other sport we would be calling for their players to take a drugs test.
Seriously though, Lochaber did not suddenly become a good side: they always were one and their young forwards were always liable to score if given the chance. They showed that right at the start of the season when they were unlucky to merely draw with Lovat. Glen will have to be a bit luckier than they were last week to get even a point out of them- and at the same time Fort William have a pile of games in hand and will be facing up to sides with nothing to play for and who will be giving “youth a chance” which everyone knows is code for playing a weakened team.  Ho-Hum!
The darkest hour is just before the dawn- trouble is there might just be more than an hour or so to go before the dawn. There is nothing for it but to be good and soldier on in spite of everything, secure in the knowledge that Newtonmore will win everything and that next year Lovat too will get injuries.
Three pictures from Tina Marshall this week-thank goodness she went into town before the end of the game and thus pics of the Lovat goals were avoided. The player in the second team in pic 3- probably young Lachie Smith and probably his Mam will know but then again with these helmets you can never tell.
Tina's stuff can be found at http://tinamarshall.co.uk/blog_110.html

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Friday, August 09, 2013

Making a Point on the Night Shift

Okay. The Wing Centre didn’t believe it either. In fact, such was his lack of faith in the squad that went off to Fort that he did not bother to accompany them. Nor did he look at Twitter or Facebook or even the Glen Website- until 10.30 pm by which time the game had just finished – and mirabile dictu, the Glen had won a point they never should have come close to.
You can have some pity for the Fort William squad- whatever else you might think about them, you know how they feel. How many times in a sporting life have you been all over a team, yet can’t put the ball in the net and because of that you lose something precious-like a point? Usually the Glen are in that position. If it’s any consolation to Fort, at least they did not lose which can sometimes happen in a game like that- and they still have games to play to retrieve their situation.

What is more they also have a chance to retrieve the situation tomorrow in a Camanachd semi-final against Newtonmore, a chance of glory which should have belonged to the Glen, if  only they had not gone and mucked it up.
Moreover the Glen, despite the point, are not safe- though they will have chances for more points in games to come though no one would put too much money on them to beat Lovat. You don’t  tend to win matches if you don’t score, and the Glen can’t score enough and indeed they have not done so since the MacAulay Cup Final last year.  Contrast that with the front three of Newtonmore - Fraser Mackintosh, Glen Mackintosh and Danny Macrae who are all on 20 + goals each. When Newtonmore complete the season they will have won the Premier League, The MacAulay and the Camanachd – and they will have deserved it. The Glen put them out of the MacTavish, which shows the level the Glen can aspire to at their best  but then they blew the final - it still hurts to think on it - and the rest of the season has been an anti-climax marred by serious injuries and suspensions.

So much for the bright side.

What about the Fort game? It was down to goalie Smack. He played a blinder. If you thought he was good in the MacTavish, then on a wet Fort William Saturday evening he was outstanding. He pulled off a number of saves from rocket shots from outside the D, commanded his area, scared the goal judges, gave away one penalty and saved two, got booked and presumably drove home to play the box in a town pub just before closing. Maybe not the last part - he might even have had a Belladrum ticket too and got back just in time to see the fireworks.
The Skye website carries a report of the game which means that they probably had a Sgiathanach or two at the match-you can find a Sgiathanach in every village in Scotland and probably England too – and they are very proud of Smack because his Mam is from the Island herself so they feel he is really one of them. Probably because of that connection and the fact that since the Bodach retired they haven’t had a real goalie of their own, they carried a report of the game. Seemingly Drew MacNeill and Fraser Mackenzie were on the team lines - as was second team boss Iain Macleod and a rake of others though when one considers  the forwardline of Lewis Maclennan, Fraser Heath and James Macpherson then if they had got the ball up the other end then they might have scored.
Anyway the Skye website said the following:
"Fort William had to settle for a share of the points following their 0-0 draw with Glenurquhart at An Aird. Throw up had been scheduled for 4.30pm but it was delayed for almost an hour as the Scottish Hydro Camanachd Cup tie between Kingussie and Kyles Athletic went into extra time. Fort William’s Cameron Grant was free of suspension and Niall MacPhee returned from a working trip abroad. Bryan Simpson made a welcome appearance following injury and Chris Bamber and Duncan Rodger were also back. However Gary Innes was missing and Liam McIntyre remains a longer term injury absentee. Glenurquhart duo Eddie Tembo and Ewan Brady were still banned. The Glen were also without the services of Andrew Corrigan, David Smart, Neale Reid, Liam Girvan, Andrew MacDonald, Stuart Reid and Billy Urquhart. Reserve players were also hard to come by as many had already committed to attend the near-by Belladrum Music Festival. Co-manager Drew MacNeil started at wing back and second team manager Iain MacLeod and a not fully fit Paul Mackintosh joined co-manager Fraser Mackenzie on the substitutes’ bench. An entertaining first half ended goalless. Fort William had a great chance to go in front when referee Colin MacDonald awarded them a penalty. However Glen keeper Stuart Mackintosh made a fantastic save from Steven Stewart’s spot-hit. Fort William were awarded a second penalty in the second half and this time Bryan Simpson stepped up but again, Stuart Mackintosh saved brilliantly. Indeed Scotland keeper Mackintosh made at least another three outstanding stops in the game. It was a backs against the walls job for Glenurquhart and keeper Mackintosh was ably assisted by the make-shift defence of John Barr, Drew MacNeil, Ally Mackintosh and Ross MacAulay who were all outstanding. John Barr picked up a hamstring injury around the hour mark but carried on because of the lack of options on the bench. Ian MacLeod went on for Ewan Menzies and had a very good game and Paul Mackintosh replaced James Macpherson for the last 10 minutes.”

The Wing Centre knew nothing of any of this and indeed seeing the list of names of the missing got scared all over again when he read it. The guys said nothing about it at all when they came back,  probably in the way war veterans used not to talk about their battle experiences, so traumatised were they by what they had gone through. At least two of them expressed sympathy for Fort William and said “The Fort William boys must have been sitting in that dressing room at the end of the game wondering what on earth happened.”

The only bit of info to add is that John Barr was booked as well as Smack: it will doubtless have consequences.
That “valuable” point is of course no use unless some others are also “picked up” smartly, starting with one against Lovat. At least that game won’t be starting at 5.30 pm. There is no doubt a whole debate to be had about matches being stacked up one after another on the same pitch, not least the question of dressing rooms but that conversation with the "powers that are" might be better having at another time.
The pictures are from Neil Paterson at http://www.neilgpaterson.com/ Many thanks to him for his generosity to the D. Lets hope the same can be said about his Crofting colleagues tomorrow. Yep,  you can never tell-that's the point of sport.
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Friday, August 02, 2013

The Cares of High Office

The Chairman was looking glum the other morning when the Wing Centre popped over to see him. There was no point in asking him why because everyone in the Glen knew he was mad because the boys had been sent to Kingussie when they should have been playing at home. Everyone in the Glen also knew that both Glen sides had lost–and everyone in the Glen knew that EJ and Brady had been sent off and while everyone knew why EJ had been sent off no-one really knew why Brady had been sent off-at least sent off on his own.
“Cheer up, Boss” said the Wing Centre. “Don’t be moping about that Kingussie thing. It’ll soon be forgotten about. Shinty is always like this. We’ll be back challenging for 6th in the League in no time”
The Chairman said nothing: he sat slumped in his chair the cares of office burned deep into his furrowed brow. The Wing Centre felt uncomfortable and so filled the silence with words.
“Macleod’s crowd had a good win against Beauly the other night, didn’t they?”
“We were very lucky- and let’s hear it for Beauly. The most upright, fairest team in all the Leagues. They were prepared to help us out by playing on the Friday night- and they did Bute a good turn by letting them play the Balliemore final a week after it was due so they could have their best player available. You wouldn’t catch many teams doing that. In fact I almost wish I was a Beauly man myself.”
The Wing Centre was not prepared to go as far as that. Having a wife whose ancestors hailed from Ferry Road he knew first-hand what Beauly people were really like-and sometimes it frightened him. Still the Boss had a point.
The Beauly game had been a good watch. A pleasant sunny evening, a good crowd and a very close game which if there had been any justice Beauly might have won. As if there was ever any justice in shinty! At the heart of their trouble was the fact that Glen keeper David MacFadyen had a superb game and kept the little green men at bay particularly in the second half.
By that time he had to since manager Iain Macleod had given the Glen a first half lead with a long ball forward which eluded everybody including Glen front man Paul Mackintosh who tried in vain to get a touch on it. That goal was mightily valuable and so the whole Glen game plan revolved round maintaining the slender lead it gave- and to that end Drew MacNeill, first team co-manager instilled the right kind of grit into the defenders. Equally though there was some very nice play up front from Dan Mackintosh and Ben and Jack Hosie and if Rodger Cormack had not been such a cantankerous, competitive old stager then there is no doubt that there were more Glen goals to be had.

Most spectacular shinty of the night however was a forward run from Beauly’s Jack Macdonald when he ran 30/40 yards at full pace playing keepie up. It would have been worth the admission price alone-that is if there had been an admission because Beauly did not seem to do a collection and it is only through physical force that the Wing Centre prevented the Glen Treasurer from doing his own collection on the night.

The next day the depleted Glenners welcomed, with some trepidation it has to be said, Inveraray to Blairbeg. Inveraray is a team which is not really suited to National League shinty because , having such a small squad, they are not always able to muster a full squad to travel away to boring run of the mill league games which this one was. Give them a cup tie and matters are different but they arrived in Drum with just the bare minimum, having dispatched Russell Mackinlay to lead the line in Aberdour apparently. Just as well they were short because Glen were even shorter.
Glen opened in fine style and dominated the opening exchanges. An early ball just past the post from Liam Girvan was the first sign that Glen were in an attacking mood and a minute or so later from a free hit the ball was pushed wide where Neale Reid was able to break through the tackle of his marker and fire an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net. Girvan had another shot smothered then a long ball from Lewis Maclennan was blocked by the stretched Inveraray defence as was a drive from James Macpherson. Liam Girvan, who was just given off-side, volleyed the rebound back net-wards but keeper Graham Macpherson made an instinctive palm save and the danger was past.
Just before half time Inveraray’s Ruaraidh Graham was allowed to run through on the left hand side of the field and slip the ball inside to Peter Macintyre who made the score 1-1 with a nice finish.
The second half was a long, hot contest with at times Inveraray coming heart stoppingly close to a winner. However it was the Glen who prevailed in the end. Lewis Maclennan was pushed up forward up forward to grab the winner and he forced a bizarre goal out of ‘Rary full back Alan Macdonald when he pressurised the defender into hitting the ball down on to the rock hard Blairbeg surface where it spun up over the head of goalie Graham Macpherson into the roof of the net for the winner. Just as well too.

Glen brought on second team defenders Brad Dickson and Iain Macleod to seal the win- and these two lads put in as fine a performance as was necessary in the circumstances.
Glen held on to win two extremely valuable points and then the next day Drew, clearly miffed because Fraser had not given him a game as sub, took the guys into the Inverness 6s where they stormed into the final and, because they were unable to score a goal, they ended up losing 1-0 to of all people Lovat.
The consolation was that John Barr was the Player of the Tournament just like Lewis Maclennan was the player of the MacTavish final. That game however summed up Glen’s season- all over teams yet unable to score.

The Wing Centre recapped all this to the Chairman. It made no difference The Boss was still silent and clearly troubled.
“Is it because you can’t remember where we hid the three bits of the MacAulay Cup?”
The Chairman looked up sharply. “I don’t want to hear the word bits used” he said.
“No, no,   I mean the lid, the base and the main part- we split them up and hid them in different parts of the Glen for safe keeping. Glenners have always done that to keep stuff safe from Lochabermen.”
“Lochabermen. I’m sick of Lochabermen. In fact everyone is sick of Lochabermen. Most of the guys have decided they would rather go to Belladrum rather than Fort William and I can’t say I blame them. I don’t know who we are going to get to play there at that late hour- in fact you will probably have to play yourself. Geordie, Jim Barr, Iain Balbeg and Mr Reid are all signed up. Indeed if I could find Alec Shaw’s number he’d be in the squad too”
The Chairman looked grim.
“What are you wanting here anyway?” he asked.
“I just popped in to tell you that the wife says I have to go to Belladrum too……”
Outside the door through which he had quickly exited the Wing Centre could hear stuff being thrown about. Out on the gravel as he scuttled back to his car he came across a badly dented silver trophy which had been hurled after him. He picked it up and shot off. It was only when he got home that he realised to his great relief that it was the Macdonald Cup.

 The pictures belong to Tina Marshall except the ones which are obviously rubbish which the Wing Centre took on his phone.
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