Gareth Evans on Lochside Rovers

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THE POSITION of second team manager is one of the most demanding roles in shinty.
The remit is to:
• Prepare the club’s younger players for first team action
• Include enough senior players to inject the necessary experience into the side
• Be able to compete with other second teams and single teams clubs in your division
• Sacrifice your best players when the first team is short
• Keep a sufficiently large pool of players interested so you have cover for all eventualities
• Ensure everyone attends training
And do all this in front of an expectant support who will likely either be unaware or indeed care little for the aforementioned factors which the stressed second team boss has had to contend with during the week.
To pull all this off, and end the season with a league and national cup double, is the stuff dreams are made of but that’s exactly what Lochside Rovers manager Gareth Evans achieved during the 2017 shinty season.
To put the side’s progress in context, when Lochside won Marine Harvest South Division 2 in 2012, their promotion to South 1 led to fourth and fifth place finishes over the next two seasons.
Gareth Evans took charge of Lochside Rovers in 2015. After breaking into the Oban Camanachd first team in 1994, he had just hung up his caman at the end of the previous season.
It was an illustrious on-field career which hit a high in 1996 when Oban Camanachd lifted the Camanachd Cup for the third time, beating Kingussie 3-2 in the final in Inverness.
An attacker, Gareth had missed the semi-final win over Fort William through suspension and was an unused substitute in the final win over Kingussie.
His competition for a starting place in the forward line could hardly have been tougher. Gareth said: ‘The forward line of David MacCuish, Dougie MacIntyre, Fraser Inglis and Gordon MacIntyre was something special. And, let me tell you, if you didn’t pass to these guys when you were in the side, you knew all about it. Dougie MacIntyre, in particular, was a fantastic player. Definitely the best player I have seen in the game.
He had a spell with Fort William and after coming back to Oban Camanachd featured in defence. He had so much natural ability. He wasn’t the best trainer, it has to be said, but he was a wonderful player.’
Stephen Sloss, who would star for Lochside Rovers last season, was another unused substitute in the 1996 final, whilst the other reserve, Steven Campbell, who scored the extra-time semi-final winner against Fort William, got onto the field of play.
Perhaps the tough competition for a forward berth influenced Gareth’s switch to a defensive role in 1997 during what was a halcyon period for the club. ‘We reached six Camanachd Cup finals in nine years and I thought this is great. I thought this was the way it would always be.’
After hanging up his caman, Gareth looked to share his experiences with the younger Oban Camanachd players as he turned his focus to management.
After a bright first season in charge at Lochside Rovers, the side were pipped to the South 1 title on goal difference by Bute.
Gareth recalls that season well. ‘I remember a defeat to Oban Celtic late in the season cost us dear. However, there were so many positives to take. When we took over the side, it was an older squad and there weren’t so many younger players involved. Some of the youngsters were losing interest. I told them if they came to training each week, they would get a place in the side.
‘There were, and still are, other attractions for young guys including playing football. The response was terrific. They came along to training, played in the team and we had a great first season.’
Gareth acknowledges there was a dip in 2016 with the team only winning seven of their 14 league fixtures to end the year in third place. ‘We died a bit that season,’ he said. ‘So it was important we re-grouped for 2017.
‘Oban Celtic moving up to the Marine Harvest National Division at the end of the 2016 season opened up the league and I felt we would face a strong challenge from Aberdour and Ballachulish whilst Bute, despite their eight-point deduction, would always be difficult opponents.
‘We sat down with the players at the start of the year and told them they would only get out of shinty what they put in. It was important everyone bought into what we were trying to do. We all had to work harder and train harder.
‘Our target was to win all our home games as we knew that would leave us in a strong position in the league but, the reality was, we had a good pre-season and when the competitive action started, the boys did much better than we could have hoped.’
Gareth is quick to recognise the crucial roles played by his management team. ‘Eccy’ (Chis Eccleston) moved up to the first team at the end of the 2016 season to assist Haybo (Iain Hay) so Brian MacCallum, who had just finished playing, came on board with Lochside whilst Stephen Sloss and Iain ‘Scally’ MacMillan fulfilled an enhanced role as senior players.
‘We had a lot to work with as Iain Hay had done a great job with the U14s and U17s before stepping up to the first team whilst David MacCuish, Scott Buchanan and George Easton also did tremendous work with the youths, taking them from MacKay Cup success to cup wins at U14 and U17 level. That was important as it installed a winning mentality from the start.
‘These young players were used to winning things when they broke into the Lochside team and long may that last. Similarly, Alan MacKechnie has had great success with the U14s so it’s a good system for the club.
‘Stephen Sloss returned to the side after several years away from the game and has been outstanding. His runs out of defence with the ball had to be seen to be believed. You just wouldn’t believe he had been out of the team for so long and he’s a great influence on the younger players.’
The competitive season started with an emphatic 6-1 victory over an Aberdour side who would go on to be Lochside’s main league challengers.
However, any thoughts this would be a procession to the title were extinguished when newly-promoted Tayforth beat the Oban side 2-1.
‘That was one of these days,’ said Gareth.
‘We hit the post in the game and lost two terrible goals. I wasn’t happy to say the least and it was a quiet bus on the way home.
‘It sounds obvious to say but you win games and you enjoy your Saturday night. However, a shinty defeat has to mean something and when it happens it certainly ruins my weekend and I wanted the boys to feel the same.
‘I wouldn’t go as far as saying that loss was the best thing that could have happened to us, but we then went on a fantastic run.’ It was a run that would see Lochside win 11 games on the bounce, scoring 53 times and only conceding twice.
Gareth has no doubts where the strength of the team lies. ‘Our defence was our strong point last season. Keeper Cammy Sutherland joined us from Ballachulish and has been a fine player this year, winning the Marine Harvest South Division 1 Player of the Year. Stephen Sloss at full back led the defence. He has such an unbelievable will to win and, having played in defence myself, I know what a superb job he has done. Chrissie MacMillan has also played his role well, whilst youngsters Daniel Sloss and Craig Easton are two tremendous talents and they’ve already had a shot in the senior side last season. It’s pleasing to have Craig Easton involved as he’s a guy who was in the youth ranks at Dumbarton Football Club.
‘Our captain Michael MacQueen has also been outstanding.
‘He has come back to shinty and we gave him the responsibility of being captain. I think he was determined to get his hands on a silver mounted caman.
‘Although he has mainly been used at full centre, we have put him up front a number of times and he did the business every time, scoring some really important goals.
‘Youngsters Ross Campbell and Lennon Campbell broke into the squad and they have held their own playing against adults. They have both exceeded expectations.’
Team spirit has been another plus. ‘The whole squad get on really well and that helps. They’ve all been training this year and the squad was certainly fitter than the year before.’
If there was one disappointment in 2017, it was the Bullough Cup semi-final defeat to the Inveraray seconds, denying Lochside the opportunity to go for what would have been an historic treble.
‘Inveraray fielded a strong side that day,’ recalls Gareth. They had several youngsters but there were a number of Camanachd Cup winners too. We were all over them and Toad (Graham MacPherson) in the Inveraray goal made some great saves but we started to get frustrated and it wasn’t to be.’
When asked of Lochside’s toughest test of the season, Gareth picks the 2-2 draw with Bute at Ganavan, the team’s next match following the Inveraray defeat. ‘Bute are a senior team but they opted to drop down from the national at the end of the previous season to rebuild. That was a tough game and it took a last minute penalty from Michael MacQueen to earn us the draw. It was a real pressure penalty, but it didn’t faze Michael.’
Lochside got back to winning ways against Ballachulish and it soon became a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ they would be crowned champions.
There was also a cup success. ‘I remember looking at the Aberdein Considine Sutherland Cup draw, which is made right through to the final, and seeing that all of our ties were away from Oban.
‘There were trips to Beauly, away to a strong Kyles side and off to face Bute at The Meadows. It was a great run which earned us a semi-final against Glenurquhart at the Jubilee before a tough final against Kingussie which we won 3-1 to become Scottish junior champions.’
Lochside’s success was further recognised when Gareth Evans received a deserved Marine Harvest South Division 1 manager of the year award although a prior commitment meant he was unable to attend the ceremony.
With an Oban Camanachd AGM looming, and a new season just around the corner, what should we expect next from Lochside Rovers?
‘I understand my role,’ said Gareth. ‘Lochside Rovers is a feeder team for Oban Camanachd. My remit is to get the young boys ready for the step up to play in the senior team. It is so important the young ones get game time and I think that strategy is now paying dividends and the younger players have been excellent.
‘It’s up to Haybo, of course, but we have already seen Daniel MacVicar and Daniel MacCuish establish themselves in the first team and I’m sure there will be more to follow next season.
‘Winning trophies is great and we want the players to retain that winning mentality they have had through the youth teams. The best bit about my job though is seeing the younger players get a chance with the first team. That’s special.
‘We may just have won the league but I see 2018 as a period of transition where we will have to rebuild again. Stephen Sloss has said his return was for one season only and he’ll be a big loss. We won’t have Iain MacMillan on the field either so that’s another big miss but I am glad Michael MacQueen is going to carry on.
‘I expect to lose several players to the first team too so there will be another injection of young players from our successful youth sides.
‘The message to the younger players is clear, if they come along to training, they will play. We’ll be all right for numbers so there will be competition for places.
‘I think Aberdour and the Inveraray seconds will be challengers next season, as will Bute.’
However, 2018 will also be Gareth’s final year in charge of Lochside Rovers – or to quote the man precisely, he is ‘99.9 per cent sure it will be his final year as boss’.
He has already informed the Oban Camanachd committee of his decision but anyone who knows Gareth won’t be surprised to hear he’ll still be available to assist with any club matters. Few will grudge him a break from a senior playing career, followed by a management role, which have almost spanned 25 years.
Gareth works for Mathesons Furnishings in Oban and has an understanding boss in Neil Matheson. Gareth’s commitment is such that with Saturday working being part of his job, he is allowed to use his holidays to fulfil his Saturday shinty commitments.
Neil Matheson deserves great credit for his part in this arrangement, but it is also just another example of the lengths Gareth Evans will go to for Oban Camanachd and shinty as a whole benefits greatly from such dedication.
Looking at the bigger picture for the Oban club, Gareth said: ‘The next step for Oban Camanachd is to win a trophy and I’d love to see them do that as much for Haybo (Iain Hay) as for the club. He is a great Oban Camanachd servant and he puts so much into the first team management role and he is absolutely the right guy to be in charge.’
As if running Lochside Rovers isn’t enough, Gareth is also an Oban Camanachd vice president. His duties, along with fellow vice president Duncan MacMillan, include standing in for president Alan Dunnings.
The game of shinty is richer for the contributions made by the likes of Gareth Evans. Even if he does stand down at the end of the 2018 shinty season, it is impossible to imagine he will not be involved behind the scenes in some shape or form which is reassuring as the game needs people like Gareth Evans.

Oban Camanachd hold AGM
Oban Camanachd’s annual general meeting took place at Rockfield Buildings on Friday December 1.
With 25 members present, the AGM was a straight-forward affair.
Duncan MacMillan stepped up from vice president to take over from Alan Dunnings as president.
Chris Eccleston stepped down as secretary but becomes the club’s only vice president as Gareth Evans concentrates on his Lochside Rovers duties.
Fiona Livingston carries on as treasurer. The club’s finances are as good as they have ever been due, in no small part, to Fiona’s efforts.
Claire Jackson joins the committee as child protection and youth lead.
Iain Hay continues as first team manager with Chris Eccleston staying on as coach.
Gareth Evans remains as Lochside boss along with his assistants Brian MacCallum and Iain MacMillan.
Stephen Sloss has been appointed head coach for the U14s and U17s.
There are two roles for Pat Steeman who becomes fundraising convenor and superball promoter.
Aidan MacIntyre is social media convenor.
Iain MacIntyre is chieftain whilst Nigel Evans and Alan Dunnings are honorary presidents.
Oban Camanachd are actively looking for a new secretary.
Iain Hay and Gareth Evans will meet soon to discuss player pools for next season and who will be the Oban Camanachd and Lochside Rovers 2018 team captains.
Both Oban Camanachd and Lochside are looking for pre-season opponents – playing either home or away during February 2018.

Artemis Macaulay Cup draw
Now that the 2017 shinty season has come to a close, we know which teams will participate in the 2018 Artemis Macaulay Cup competition and they won’t have to wait long to find out their opponents.
This tournament is the only cup format in senior shinty to be played on a regional basis so guaranteeing a final between a south and north side.
Eligibility is based on the previous year’s league placing with the top eight clubs in south in one half of the draw and the top eight clubs in the north in the other grouping.
There is just one change from the south teams who competed last season as Kilmory replace Ballachulish.
There are three south teams from last season’s Marine Harvest Premiership – Kyles Athletic, Oban Camanachd and Glasgow Mid Argyll – as well as Inveraray and Oban Celtic from the Marine Harvest National Division. Marine Harvest South 1 sides Aberdour, Bute and Kilmory make up the group.
There is also just one change in the north half of the draw with Marine Harvest Premiership bottom side Kilmallie replacing Fort William who finished third in Marine Harvest National Division.
Kilmallie missed out last season meaning their only cup action was in Tulloch Homes Camanachd Cup and MacTavish Cup. However in 2018, they will compete in the Scottish, the MacTavish Cup, the Artemis Macaulay Cup and the Balliemore Cup. The north will be represented by Glenurquhart, Kilmallie, Kingussie, Kinlochshiel, Lochaber, Lovat, Newtonmore and Skye Camanachd.
The 2018 Artemis Macaulay Cup draw will be made live on Oban FM’s Sports Show on Saturday December 9. The south and north sections will be drawn right up to the semi-final stage. The Sports Show starts at 6pm.
The Artemis Macaulay Cup Final at Mossfield is usually televised live and Kyles Athletic are the current holders having beaten Newtonmore 7-4 in last season’s final.

Willie Cowie steps down at Skye
Skye Camanachd have begun the search for a new first team manager after Willie Cowie stepped down from the role after just one season in charge.
Cowie and his assistant Pater Gordon led the side to the Marine Harvest National Division title last season, giving the club an immediate return to the Marine Harvest Premiership.
Skye Camanachd will look to appoint Cowie’s replacement as a priority.

Kilmory AGM
Kilmory Camanachd’s annual general meeting will be held at the Stag Hotel on December 11.
The meeting starts at 8pm and all players, supporters and anyone interested in the running of the club are most welcome.
The MacRae Park side also announced Andy Cunningham is the winner of their 2017 player of the year award.
The versatile Cunningham can play in the forward line or centre line and was a consistent performer throughout the season.

President Loades looks forward
New Camanachd Association president Keith Loades is looking forward to his tenure at the forefront of the game.
Speaking after he was confirmed as president, the former Scotland, Kinlochshiel, and Aberdeen University player said: ‘Having been involved with the sport of shinty all my life, and having enjoyed the experience and having made a large number of friends, I wish to give something back to the sport now. Recent appointments to the board and to the staff have strengthened the association and whilst outgoing president Jim Barr will be a huge loss to the association, I look forward to continuing the good works and initiatives which he has created during his term in office. My aim is to leave the association in as good or better position than when I take over and we can do that by working together with our members to implement the new strategic plan for shinty.’

Double Scottish success for students
The Scottish Student representative squads were double winners in their shinty/hurling /camogie matches against Queens University in Belfast on Saturday December 2.
Ladies result – Queens University Ladies 0, Scotland Student Ladies 3. Mens results – Queens University 13-31 Scotland Students.