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As Oban Celtic step up the search for a new manager, former boss Kenny Wotherspoon took time to reflect on his three years in charge of the Ganavan-based side.
A shinty career that began with U17 London Shield success at Oban Camanachd progressed as Kenny forced his way into the Lochside Rovers side. However, matters took a twist when he crossed the Oban divide to join Oban Celtic in 2008.
Kenny Wotherspoon stopped playing on a regular basis when he took over as Oban Celtic manager, challenging his players to lift the 2016 Marine Harvest South Division 1 title in his first full season in charge – and they did just that.
It wasn’t all plain-sailing though as Kenny recalls: ‘I went into my first game against Col Glen at Ganavan with zero experience in managing a shinty team and if you’d told me when we fell behind after just three minutes that I’d finish managing the side with a 7-2 victory over Beauly at the same venue three years later, I’d never have believed you. However, we went on to beat Col Glen 7-1 that day with Daniel Madej scoring four times. And the boys have shown steady progression each season since. We were mid-table in South 1 when I took over and the team is now established as a National Division side.’
Promotion to the National Division was a big step but Kenny tested the squad further, targeting National Division survival to avoid an immediate return to regional shinty. There were many doubters but the target was met with a bit to spare as the side finished the season in sixth place with ten points.
Kenny then raised the bar further, setting a new target of beating their 2017 finish and the squad built on the potential shown the previous year to come fifth in shinty’s second tier, this time amassing 12 points.
The National Division has not been without its critics but Kenny can see benefits.
‘The National is very competitive and it has worked well for Oban Celtic. You can get surprise results and we ran Kilmallie close twice last season. We ended up in a mini-league with Beauly, Strathglass and Inverness but we finished ahead of them so I hope our players, committee members and supporters take that on board. There can be a lot of travel though and, for example, relatively short journeys to Kilmallie and Inveraray this year are replaced next season by trips to Skye and Glenurquhart and that was one of the factors in my decision to step down.’
Kenny has long called for greater commitment from his players. ‘There was a point towards the end of last season where it just became a case of getting the team over the finishing line. We had below average numbers at training and players not available on a Saturday and it was frustrating that, for the second half of the season, I was basically asking boys if they would play rather than selecting a team.
‘The players need to show more commitment if Oban Celtic are to make the next step. We were probably the only team in the National who only trained once a week. We tried training twice a week but it fell away with only the diehards appearing twice. It might be the same at most teams but I just wanted all the players to show the same level of commitment as me. Without that, I just didn’t feel I could take the team further.
‘Discipline is also important and it cost us dear to lose some key players over the course of the season, often just for petulance or backchat.’
Kenny agrees there have been some top performers along the way. ‘I think most people thought of Ross MacMillan as a defender rather than a forward when he joined us. I played him up front and he finished that season joint top scorer in the National along with Fraser Watt and Calum McLay. Ross is a good player who can play in both positions and he did well for the Scotland U21s in defence this year.
‘Ally McKerracher has also been an important player during my time in charge. Ally is so versatile and he’s another great player. Neil Carmichael is another who has always been there. He’s a warrior, whilst Daniel Madej has also been great but he didn’t always get to show his form last season as he has been hampered by a foot injury.’
In terms of opponents, Kenny was also able to cast an admiring eye. ‘Kyles in the cup were a good side to watch, whilst Ruaraidh Graham is doing a fine job blooding the younger players at Inveraray. Kilmallie were also top opponents and they did so well in the Camanachd Cup semi-finals.
‘We played a friendly match against them at Mossfield in 2017 and lost heavily so I’m particularly pleased about how well we did against them last season. We only lost 4-3 at Canal Parks and were 2-0 ahead before eventually losing 4-2 at Ganavan and we missed a penalty in that game. Kilmallie are strong but we can hold our heads up high with how we did against them.’
Kenny Wotherspoon very much enjoyed his role leading the South U21 squad last season that ran their North counter-parts so close just 12 months after being unable to raise a team for the same fixture. Kenny recalled: ‘I received an approach from the South Committee to ask if I was interested in taking the South side along with my Oban Celtic role. I said I was if there was someone who could assist with the administrative side of things and Les Kinvig was a big help with that. I knew I could raise a strong South squad and I wouldn’t have taken it on if I’d thought it was a pointless exercise. I knew the potential was there.
‘I was keen to get a squad together and work with them as I don’t think it is fair to just make a selection based on club games as players are playing at different levels. We played a trial game against Oban Camanachd and another match between the full squad of 30 players before whittling the numbers down to 20 and then the final squad of 17 players.
‘I really enjoyed meeting new players from other clubs and getting to know some different personalities.
‘Our final squad was of a really good standard even if the majority of our players played at National Division level. The North squad was mostly from the Premiership plus Kilmallie who were the National winners but our boys did incredibly well and ran them so close. To first be a couple of minutes away from beating the North and then to eventually lose on penalties, after leading 3-1 in the shoot-out, was sickening.
‘I think the South squad only loses Andy MacDonald and maybe one other for next year so this is something I’d be very keen to do again if the South committee wish.’
So will Kenny Wotherspoon, who runs his own plumbing and heating business, miss not being as involved with club shinty on a regular basis?
‘Absolutely,’ he replied instantly. ‘I’ll miss the games on Saturdays, the training and the socialising. Shinty has been a big part of my life for so long. Winning was undoubtedly the most enjoyable part.
‘I didn’t work with an assistant at Oban Celtic, although Davie Hamilton did a huge amount of organising behind the scenes. I picked the team and I took full responsibility if we lost but I also took massive enjoyment when we won.’
There will be advantages to taking a step back though as Kenny acknowledges. ‘I will get time to watch players if I’m still involved with the South U21 squad and I’ll take in as many games as I can to do that. It’s always difficult to get shinty volunteers so I’ll always still be around.
‘I won’t have my whole day taken up as you do with say an away club match though. That allows for more family time and whilst my wife Lorraine has always been very supportive, it will allow me to take our son Fraser to his football on a Saturday morning and take our daughter Millie to her activities.
‘Never say never.’ That was Kenny Wotherspoon’s parting shot when asked if he’ll make a return to club management in the future. Meantime, he was at pains to remember his former colleagues ahead of the new season.
‘I’d like to wish my successor and Oban Celtic all the best for next season and I hope they keep progressing.’ And, perhaps recalling where it all began, Kenny Wotherspoon turned his attention to Oban Camanachd, adding: ‘The same goes for Camanachd and their new manager Stephen Sloss. I hope it all goes well for them too.’
2019 Artemis Macaulay Cup draw
The 2019 Artemis Macaulay Cup draw was made live on Oban FM’s Sports Show on Saturday December 8.
The Macaulay Cup, first presented in 1947 by then Oban Times editor Flora Macaulay, 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.
Les Kinvig drew the home sides, with Davie Hamilton picking the away teams. Davie Thomson and Roddy MacKenzie were also in attendance.
The pick of the first round ties sees Inveraray host Kyles Athletic in a derby tie whilst Kinlochshiel have home advantage against Lovat.
Kilmallie, who ran Newtonmore so close in last year’s Camanachd Cup Final, have another chance to beat the odds as Newtonmore visit Canal Parks. Oban Camanachd will be confident of progressing at Col Glen, whilst Bute and Oban Celtic and Aberdour and Glasgow Mid Argyll resume rivalries.
Caberfeidh and Skye and Lochaber and Kingussie will all feel they can progress.
Saturday May 4 2019
Inveraray v Kyles Athletic
Bute v Oban Celtic
Aberdour v Glasgow Mid Argyll
Col Glen v Oban Camanachd
Kinlochshiel v Lovat
Kilmallie v Newtonmore
Caberfeidh v Skye Camanachd
Lochaber v Kingussie
Saturday June 15 and Saturday June 29
Bute/Oban Celtic v
Aberdour/Glasgow Mid Argyll
Col Glen/Oban Camanachd
v Inveraray/Kyles Athletic
v Caberfeidh/Skye Camanachd
Saturday July 20 2019
Bute/Oban Celtic/Aberdour/ Glasgow Mid Argyll
v Col Glen/Oban Camanachd/
The Artemis Macaulay Cup Final will take place at Mossfield, Oban, on Saturday August 17. Kinlochshiel are the current holders, having beaten Kyles Athletic 3-2 in last season’s final.
Macaulay boost as Artemis sign up for three more years
The Macaulay Association is delighted to announce that long-term sponsors Artemis Fund Management has extended its support for another three years.
The Artemis sponsorship allows the Macaulay Association to promote youth and women’s shinty as well as the Macaulay Sixes and the Macaulay Cup events.
The announcement stretches Artemis Fund Management’s commitment to 12 years and is a tremendous boost for shinty.
Irish win Kinlochshiel shinty/hurling clash
Kinlochshiel went down 5-1 against their Irish friends Castletown Geoghegan GAA in their shinty/ hurling challenge match at Kirkton on Saturday December 8.
The sides have met regularly since 1979 and now play for a trophy in memory of two huge characters, Johnny ‘Ach’ MacRae, Kinlochshiel, and Finbar Clarke, Castletown, who were both taken too soon.
The Kirkton pitch was in good condition considering the rainfall over the previous 48 hours and a sizable crowd were thoroughly entertained throughout.
Alison MacRae made the trophy presentation to Mary Clarke after the final whistle.
Ken MacColl, Kirkhill
A highly regarded member of the shinty community, Ken MacColl, died peacefully on Wednesday December 5 following a short illness.
Ken MacColl played his club shinty for Strathglass and Lovat and, when his playing days were over, he refereed for a number of years.
Ken and his brother Kelvin were goal judges in the Sutherland Cup Final between Fort William and Kilmallie in 1995, whilst Ken was again goal judge when Skye defeated Kilmallie in the 2008 Balliemore Cup Final.
His officiating highlight came in the classic Centenary Camanachd Cup Final in 2007 as he and Callum Duff assisted referee Duncan Kelly as Fort William beat Inveraray at the Bught Park, Inverness.
Ken MacColl was also made president of the referees’ body the Camanachd Referees Association for a period of time.
Laterally Ken continued to pass on his experience to current referees in his role as a match assessor. He was well liked within the refereeing fraternity and well known at all shinty grounds, particularly in the north of Scotland.
Camanachd Association president Keith Loades paid tribute to Ken: ‘I’m so sad to hear Ken has passed away. It was always a pleasure to be in his company. He was such a nice man and he was in the Camanachd Association offices recently as part of his match assessor duties. The whole shinty community had great respect for the contribution Ken made to the sport throughout his life. Few have given more.’
Lochaber will hold an emergency general meeting (EGM) at the Bridge Cafe, Spean Bridge, on Thursday December 13.
This comes after last week’s annual general meeting. The EGM gets under way at 6.30pm with all players asked to attend.