Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Yes We Can!

Glen are in the Camanachd Final but while everyone on the street is excited and on edge  - and the village is putting on a bit of colour - most of us close to the club are pretending it’s just another game.


It’s almost as if there is a little part of us all that wonders if after 26 years the Glen have the right to be there. Of course they have: this sort of thing just does not happen by accident. Results don’t lie. The team has performed well throughout the season and has not actually lost since the MacTavish final.

At present they stand third in the Premier League, just ahead of Kingussie.
It is also clear there is some depth to the club from the manner in which the second string played against Skye the other week. A last minute mixture of vets and under 17s with three or four more mature players holding key positions (and the keeper back in Drum helping out the firsts in a pre Camanachd rehearsal) combined to give the Islanders a reasonable game. Had it been earlier in the summer and the side had Raymond Robertson, Jack and Ben Hosie available then the whole thing might have been closer still. These points clinched the championship for Skye.
The best team in the division is of course Newtonmore and they have come through the traumas of a huge injury list to make it 5 Premier League championships in a row, helped, it has to be said, by second placed Lovat who missed an opportunity to create history by losing points in games in which they should have done better. These two sides and of course Kyles Athletic then went on to lose vital games in the Camanachd - and so the big day devolves on two teams whom it is fair to say would not have been everybody’s first choice to put down on the betting slip.
So where are we now in the run up to the Camanachd final? Well we are at the silly photograph stage. Lee Bain - a former Glenurquhart High School pupil it should be noted - has already been snapped in his working togs and very smart he looks too though he has disappointingly swapped the traditional Strathglass “deerstalker” hat for the natty tweed cap more in favour amongst the Badenoch toffs. Still it seems to suit the young man. Lee has had some injury problems this season but now he seems to be back on his feet again - and Kingussie will need him to be - because he is a big player for them and having grown up in Strathglass he knows how the individual Glenners play better than anyone else hefted to Badenoch.
Rumours have also abounded that a photo shoot was going on in the Glen too, so the Wing Centre has been waiting patiently for a pic of a monster or a castle to turn up somewhere. The only thing the Treasurer insisted on was that he was certainly not going to pay “Hysterical Scotland” prices for entry to the Castle for any players to be pictured against an historical background. It appears these snaps have been taken and will appear sometime over the weekend in publications more favoured than this one. The photographer was kind enough to send one or two over.

 Note how Hutchie does not touch the trophy. That will be an old Badenoch superstition going back to the days of the Black Officer of Ballachroan who met his match at Gaick. Now the Officer was a fair player in his day but from a Glen point of view maybe it’s a pity the game is not being played at Gaick. Maybe even the Old Grey Man of Ben Macdhui will make an appearance in the Kings strip , if he isn't already playing in the guise of Ronald ?
Note that for the Glen’s “Heathie” there is no equivalent superstition. That is most probably because the red and blacks have not actually appeared in enough finals to build up a genuine superstition.

Meanwhile the Glen is getting set up for the big day. A wee stroll around the centre of Drum shows the shops are getting geared up for the match with window displays of black and red - and the Post Office is selling tickets faster than it is selling the latest edition of the Glen Bulletin.

 Even the Drumossie Hotel has got in on the act.

Every second person you meet will present you with a copy of his chosen team -well not everybody but a goodly number. The Wing Centre has been handed little sheets of paper on four occasions complete with tactics, names with roles assigned. Both Lewis Maclennan and Fraser Heath are suggested to be playing in every known position except goalkeeper.

There is certainly no shortage of suggestions for a Plan B. It all makes for a nice build up. On top of all that Russell Jones of the Camanachd Association is going round the Primary Schools tomorrow to let them see the Cup.
Which brings us to the preview: “It’s too close to call” is the usual cop-out. Cop-out or not it is genuinely hard to call. For one thing it brings together Kingussie and Glenurquhart in a re-run of the classic 1988 final. On that occasion Kingussie eventually came out on top 4-2 but only after the Glen had given them a real scare taking a 2-1 lead into the half time dressing room. Kingussie were the favourites on that day and they’ll be favourites again this time simply because they have tradition on their side but that said this present Glen team now are at a different level from the squad of ‘88. This is their 4th major final in the last few seasons though in saying that, none of them has played in a Camanachd Cup semi-final before this year’s win over Skye. There is this time very little between the teams and that judgement of the relative strengths of the two sides is supported by the stats surrounding their Premier League meetings this season: both sides took points off each other with narrow home wins - and at present sit third and fourth in the Premier table with every possibility that they will finish the season on the same points though goal difference at present favours the Glen.
Back in 1988 the different goal scoring abilities of the two sides was very marked. Out of the top 6 scorers in the then North League, 4 were from Kingussie (Davie Anderson, Kevin Thain, Angus MacIssac and Steven Borthwick). Coming in at No 5 was Ron Fraser with 29, a full 19 strikes shy of Anderson.
That said tradition will certainly play a part as it does in every Camanachd Cup final but will it win the day? And for whom?  Both teams have a long history: Glenurquhart existed even before the Camanachd Association did having come into being in 1884 while Kingussie date from 1893. In cup winning terms however Kingussie clearly come out on top. While the Glen are making only their second ever appearance in a Camanachd final, Kingussie have won shinty’s premier trophy 22 times in total and 12 of these have been since 1988.Indeed in a nice nod to tradition Kingussie will wear special commemorative strips which will honour their 1914 Camanachd Cup winning team, six of whom later lost their lives in the Great War. From Glenurquhart too came many who made the supreme sacrifice - there are 52 names from the 14-18 war on the Memorial outside the Bank - but given that the last Glen team to get to an important final was back in 1902 the names of those who had a shinty connection among the dead have sadly gone unrecorded.

In today’s squads both sides have excellent forwards: while the Glen’s James Macpherson is the top scorer in the competition so far, Kingussie youngster Savio Genini who scored with a fabulous strike in the semi-final was the pick of the Badenoch frontmen for most of the season. That was until a certain Ronald Ross M.B.E. was restored to the side for the semi. Ross completely changed the dynamic of the team scoring once and netting two penalties in the shootout against Fort William. Davie Anderson reincarnated as Kingussie co-manager acknowledges the contribution of Ross but is keen to shift the focus away from the sport’s most high profile player.“Of course, Ronald has been a great performer for us but people have to remember he has only played one game in the Camanachd Cup this season. We defeated Lovat and Kyles without Ronald so it is not the Ronald roadshow in the same way as it has been before. We have players in there, like Louis Munro, Fraser Munro and Lee Bain, who have never won a Camanachd Cup winners’ medal. It will be as much about these lads because they are desperate to be like the Kingussie players before them.”
Davie is putting up the usual managerial smokescreen and why not? That said the eyes of all the punters in the stand will still be on Ronald - but he is right about one thing. It won’t all be about Ronald. The Glen have a fine squad - and if the guys in the middle can come out of the tunnel focused and get a grip of the centre-line then they have a serious chance of a result. Much will depend too on the Glen forwards not allowing Lee Bain and James Hutchinson in particular to make long clearances from defence. The Glen defence may have problems with Ronald and Savio but the King’s backline will definitely have a hassle with Fraser Heath and David Smart - Kingussie’s Bob Macgregor will have to be on top form to do the leg-work.
It is more than probable that this match will hang on smart tactics and a bit of good fortune although the referee can also make it or break it. The Glen have worked hard this season: they have held their form for the second part of the season, though the long gap without a game since the semi will not have helped. One would also wish for them to have scored more goals but League wise they haven’t conceded many either. They will have to be careful early on but then the Glen start quick too. Above all however the Glen deserve this result - and simply must want it more. Come on Lads - make this one a win for Jimmac, Big Tom, Peter English , Geordie, Ali Ban, big Ron, the Brickie, Mr. Reid, Sandy in New Zealand, Angus in Edmonton and all the supporters , players right back to the 22 guys who put this whole Glen shinty thing together in 1884. Can we do it? Yes we can!!

The pictures:the one of Lee is from Neil Patterson; Jeff Holmes gave me the one of the guys with the cup. The rest came from the Archives and from Sheena Lloyd.

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