Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Longest Day

It might have been the midsummer solstice but for Glen supporters it certainly felt like it was the longest day ever. In any event, it was a day that took a very long time to come to an end. However there was no real sense of what was to come in the first minute or two when Lovat full-back Drew Howie had to come off the field. He had aggravated an old injury and was replaced by Fraser Gallagher. In truth that Howie injury turned out to be lucky for Lovat because Gallagher went on to have an excellent match at the back and was rarely troubled until very late on when he found the physical strength of Glen sub Callum Smith a bit more of a test for him. But that is to jump ahead of matters.

 The reality of what they were up against did not strike the Glenners, who actually had a little bit of pressure early on themselves, until the fifth minute when an error in midfield allowed Greg Matheson to run forward unchallenged and he fired home the opener from a narrow angle.  Glen fought back and Lewis Maclennan forced a save out of Stuart Macdonald but Glen were too slow on the follow up allowing Cruden to hack the ball away to safety. Next Lovat’s Lorne Mackay at the other end first timed a shot over the bar when he might have done better. Lewis Maclennan then just missed the target with a drive that flew just wide of the post. It seemed to be end to end stuff but the knowledgeable ones amongst the fans could sense that Lovat were actually the more direct and threatening of the two teams.
By the 17 th minute when Glen attacks had petered out on the rock of a sound Lovat defence or shots were having to be taken from too long a range to be effective, the truth became clear. Lovat were too focused, too fit and too quick to allow the Glen to get back into the game at this stage. It’s not that the Glen players were all playing poorly – youngster James Hurwood in the centreline had as much off his man as could be expected; the Glen shies consistently were longer and more reliable but the Lovat hitting was quicker and crisper out of defence and they also had players fit enough to pack the back line and deny Glen space.

At the other end the pace of their forwards left the Glen defence struggling. Something was bound to give but instead the crowd were treated to two excellent saves inside three minutes from Glen keeper Stuart Mackintosh. Greg Matheson took a knock at this point as Fraser Heath cleared the ball and Ryan Ferguson went into the book for protesting that ref Innes Wood should have cautioned Heath. A third strike was also saved but the rebound flew out beyond the D where Kevin Bartlett was quickest to react and he fired home number 2.

Glen’s Neale Reid then made some space and fired a shot in on target which was stopped by Stuart Macdonald but once again the Lovat keeper was not put under sufficient  pressure at the second ball and he was able to clear it comfortably out for a shy. Glen were under pressure after this but though they dealt with most attempts reasonably well they were undone when a ball broke kindly in front of goal for Lovat’s Graham MacMillan and he rammed it past Stuart Mackintosh to make it three nil.

Lovat, now high on adrenalin and confidence continued to play with fluency and speed for the rest of the half but the Glen defence managed to hold together sufficiently well to deny them further goals before the half time whistle.
Credit is due to Lovat for the fact that they forced the pace of the match and for large parts of the half the Glen front players and midfield were pushed back too deep for any attempted breakout to carry much threat. Lovat kept a high line and their pace up front allowed them to create chances which they cashed in in the shape of three goals: one from a tight angle, the second via a well taken rebound from a save and the third from a break of the ball which was finished off smartly.
The point was that the Lovat front men were on hand to take the chances: at the other end, rebounds were not chased down, and the shots on target were just not accurate enough. It was clear that the holes left by the absence of Glen first choice defenders Mike Brady and Ally Mackintosh were just too big to close.

The second half from a Glen perspective was not quite as bleak though Lovat continued to look the more dangerous side whenever they broke forward while the Glen did not really ask questions of the Lovat defence on the occasions they attacked. Lovat too came close when the excellent Graham Macmillan was allowed to burst through and carry the ball forward for twenty yards before hitting a shot which came back off the post. It was a strike created by vision but executed by speed and fitness and showed that the Glen were going to be on a knife edge all afternoon if they did not manage to get to the ball first.
Almost immediately the Glen did manage to mount some pressure when Neale Reid cut a ball across from the right to David Smart in the centre but he was eased off the ball with the cutest of back pushes and the chance was lost. Kevin Bartlett was mysteriously booked next but a careless swing from Calum Cruden which caught David Smart on the top of the head also received a card which, on a different day, might have been red.

Still, the Glen continued to try to push forward and Lovat keeper Stuart Macdonald managed to hack away a shot from Lewis Maclennan which had squirmed past him, a save which tended to confirm the Glen support in the belief that this was never going to be their day. Indeed Glenurquhart attacks lacked the fluency of interpassing which characterised more or less each Lovat incursion into the Glen half – and the pace of the Lovat front men really meant that the Glen defenders really could not get any real depth or consistency to their clearances under pressure. Glenurquhart did to be fair, spend more time in the Lovat half in this period of play and this yielded a snap shot from close in from Neale Reid which was saved by Macdonald and cleared away.
To underline the fact that it was simply not Glenurquhart’s day Lovat’s Lorne Mackay scored a fourth from another Glen mistake when a rebound from goalkeeper Mackintosh was not cleared by Glen full-back John Barr.

Lovat then enjoyed a further spell of pressure before a snap shot from distance by Eddie Tembo brought another fine reaction save out of Macdonald.

The strike was to mark Tembo’s last involvement in the game and he was replaced by Callum Smith who moved to take up position at full forward while Dave Maclennan moved to his more natural centreline berth. This switch allowed Glen to mount some more sustained attacks but again the shooting was wayward, except for another powerful drive from Reid which Macdonald kept out. Always though, the pacy Lovat front men were liable to cause damage when they moved forward but it was actually Lewis Maclennan who was on the target at this stage when he picked up a little knockback from Callum Smith who was beginning to get some change out of Lovat fullback Gallagher.

Lovat took a fifth goal in the 90th minute when yet again another of their fast breaks won them a free hit when Andrew Corrigan threw the club to put Kevin Bartlett off his strike. The free hit was rolled across the face of the goal and Lorne Mackay was not marked closely enough at the back post and was able to finish from an acute angle. The only thing left to add to Glenurquhart woes was the bizarre end that came to the match when a Callum Smith strike in injury time flew into the net and came back out off the stanchion and the goal was not given much to the justified anger of Neale Reid who was booked for protesting. One would like to think this card would be rescinded given the circumstances once the officials have had time to think about it but given the way the Glen’s luck turned out on the day one would not bet on it.
In the end then Lovat ran out justified winners of the MacTavish. Somewhat flattered by the score perhaps but not much. They were certainly in parts too quick and clearly too fit for the Glen. While they weren’t first to every ball, as the post-match narrative would have it, they were first to more than their share and while the pace of Mackay, Macmillan and Bartlett was killer and helped them make their own luck they were also helped by Glen errors, which to be fair, the red and blacks were forced into. Superb goalkeeping from Stuart Macdonald also played its part in the Glen defeat as did the fact that until late in the game the Glen defence and centreline were really unable to take the game forward to the opposition. One might have thought that with injuries causing the loss of big players like Howie and Matheson that the Glen might have had a chance to get back into the game but the Lovat squad had clearly enough strength in depth to be able to cope.

Lovat now will want to push on and their next big test will be in the MacAulay against Newtonmore. They ought to win but you never know; they will certainly face more focused opposition from Newtonmore than they met at the Bught on Saturday.
As for the Camanachd Association, they need to cut the grass, do something about the stanchions and get someone to dust the seats at the Bught before the next final. On the other hand it was probably just as well for the Glen that the grass was not bowling green short since that might have helped the quick Lovat forwards to even more goals. On reflection, that long grass may well have been appropriate for the longest day. Perhaps even if the game had been played at Balgate, the Glen might have had a better chance!!

The action pictures are from Sheena Lloyd: the rest from the Wing Centre. The pictures of Mary Ann were provided by Neil Paterson.

 Last week the “D” made a pledge to get a decent picture of Mary Ann because the one we had was not very good- so here we have two. Obviously one is a lovely portrait but the other one is the real Mary Ann who is a legend in North shinty circles and received a well-deserved honour in the Queen’s Birthday List.

Behave yourselves-of course the other pictures have a Glenurquhart focus but if all else fails , read the text.

Why the band? The last man on the right- and this is the first time the Wing Centre has been able to use this line- is a genuine “Drum drummer.” Take a bow John Goodfellow of Druimlon, the only Glenner who had a successful day.

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