Mostly everything is nice about a day out to Skye. The trip down Loch Ness and up over Cluanie to Glenshiel is stunning. Then you come into Kyle and beyond the bridge unfolds the whole majestic panorama of the Cuillins. Then you cross the bridge – though it isn’t quite so nice on the far side it’s good enough really- and drive up past Broadford and Sligachan en route to Portree.
On the outskirts of the town as a Glenner you usually stop at the big wooden building where there is a café that sells vegetarian lentil soup and toasties made of real cheddar before you venture into the Smoke.
However despite your fears when you eventually reach Pairc nan Glaoic, everyone is very pleasant and welcoming- and round the pitch are guys who back in the day really could play shinty. The Wing Centre noted many such worthies and while picking out individuals would be invidious it is impossible to pass up the fact that had he been a real journalist, he would have got together the only two Albert Smith medal winners within a 300 mile radius for a photo op. There standing within feet of each other were Glenurquhart’s Ally Mackintosh, the 1988 winner and Skye’s Willie Macrae, the 1990 winner of the prestigious bonn.
As always with the Wing Centre, when it came to actually doing it, he was coma co-dhiu- and so the moment passed unrecorded. The ambience though continued to be excellent and more importantly dry. In fact the only thing that wasn’t pleasant was the actual game of shinty itself.
His reporter’s notebook is filled with notes and jottings which reveal an increasing hysteria on the part of the writer as the game progressed – or rather as, from a Glen point of view, it failed to progress. Doubtless in the course of time a more balanced account of the match will appear – on the Skye Camanachd website and who knows- even in the pages of the WHFP - but this version needs to come out now even while the iron of doubt and despair is still hot.
The pitch was heavy in parts but in good condition despite the fact that it had endured a winter of rain. It is long however - if you haven’t been for a while you tend to forget that and there is a bit of a slope. The other factor on Saturday was that there was quite a strong breeze - which actually dropped towards the end of the day- and the Glen elected to play with it in the first half. The opening stages were quite even and perhaps in the early minutes Skye did seem to hold the advantage though John Barr and Mike Brady at the back for the Glen were solid and Stuart Mackintosh was never under direct threat at that stage. Most of the first half was pretty much a stalemate in that centrelines and defences were on top and the game was stopped on a couple of occasions for injuries to Skye players. Glen did have a three or four attempts on goal with Lewis Maclennan coming close with a shot which just flew past the post. Raymond Robertson, making his first team debut, also had another excellent attempt which just flew over the bar much to the relief of the Skye defence.
At half time the Glenners were uncertain. The second half meant that Skye would have the wind and surely they could not fail to make better use of it than the Glen had done.
“No,” said the Glen elder statesman DP Mackintosh. “It‘ll not work like that. Skye will definitely get more of the ball; they will push up their centreline and that will leave much more space for our forwards to play in.”
He was nearly right. Skye certainly pushed up as the wind encouraged them to do but that simply left more space for the Glen front men and as far as possession was concerned the Glen camped for the second part of the game in the Skye half. It was a frustrating afternoon indeed and the Skye defence were tenacious to a man while goalkeeper Jamie Gannon appeared inspired. He saved powerful shots from Eddie Tembo and Ally Mackintosh and smothered another drive from Raymond Robertson down at his right hand post. Neale Reid also fired a ball just over the top in what was an afternoon of continuous pressure in which the Glen had 18 corners and the Wing Centre lost count of the times a Glen player had just one final touch to make to claim a goal. Lewis Maclennan and Neale Reid were in the D man on man with Gannon time after time but that last ball would not fall right for the forwards.
All the time this was going on the fear was lurking at the back of the mind that Skye would break away up field and nab a goal. They had done that two years ago to the Glen in the Camanachd but fortunately Jordan Murchison was absent this time. Indeed last year they took Kingussie to penalties in the MacTavish before going out so there is no doubt they are a side who should be playing at a higher level.
Extra time came and extra concerns. The Glen have not been penalty friendly for several years and so the real urgency was to grab a goal and hold on until full time without Skye getting back in. Fortunately that is what happened. Just after the start of extra time Lewis Maclennan managed to play a ball through to James “Frosty” Macpherson and he prodded it over the line and into the net for the only goal of the game. That action was Frosty’s last action of the game. He had been nursing a hamstring problem since the Kingussie match and had only come up to Skye because an injury/availability crisis left the Glen in extremis. He was popped on at the end of the second half of the game but restricted mobility meant he could do little to help the cause. However when the chance came of a goal he forced himself after the ball struck it home but compounded the damage to his hamstring and he will now undoubtedly miss several weeks until he recovers. Without his effort though Glen could still have been playing yet without scoring.
Glen second team boss Iain Macleod who had come west to help out, replaced Macpherson up front and Billy Urquhart , who had taken over from Raymond Robertson earlier, then did their best to make the game save but Gannon was still in form.
Skye mounted a strong challenge in the second half of extra time but the Glen defence which has only let in one goal all season were able to hold on. The final whistle when it came was most welcome and half an hour later the Glenners were kidding themselves on that they had known they would win all along. It was ever thus.
Best for the Glen were Ally Mackintosh who was excellent, Mike Brady, John Barr and Eddie Tembo who is half a Macleod anyway and always feels at home on the Island. Best for Skye were Jamie Gannon and defender Stevie Morrison.
Photos? Just Alasdair the Bruce is his open air lair. How he commentates in the rain and wind is a mystery to one and all. The others–the guys on the field pre-match and old Cork on the bottle. If any others turn up they will be acknowledged and posted.