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The 2018 shinty season was always going to be a testing one for Lochside Rovers and their manager Gareth Evans.
The successes of 2017 were rewarded with a league and national cup double but a surprise semi-final defeat to a strong Inveraray second team in the Bullough Cup semis ended hopes of an historic treble.
Normally a championship winning season would leave a solid base to build on but the loss of veteran Stephen Sloss through retiral and youngsters Daniel Sloss, Evan MacLellan, Chrissie MacMillan, Cameron Sutherland and Craig MacDougall to the Oban Camanachd squad meant 2018 was always going to be a period of transition.
Two defeats and three draws from their opening seven matches left Lochside off the pace by the summer. However, the new team settled and went on a spectacular winning run which saw them take maximum points from their final nine league matches. It was a winning run which saw Lochside finish the season level on points with champions Bute who took the title on goal difference.
Lochside might wonder what might have happened had Kilmory not pulled out of the league, denying them the opportunity to pass Bute’s goal difference advantage.
So how does Gareth Evans reflect on the last 12 months? ‘The loss of five or six players certainly left us short but that’s what Lochside are there for, to provide players for Oban Camanachd. The injection of players into the first team squad helps with competition for places and the players that stepped up held their own. It also gave a few of the Lochside fringe players a chance and there were some new faces too.
‘We made a slow start to the season and lost two late goals to Bute in our opening game, although they were the better team that day. We drew with Ballachulish in our next match and I remember thinking I hope that doesn’t come back to haunt us at the end of the season and it did as we lost the title on goal difference. I suppose you could say the same about our draws with Taynuilt and Col Glen as one point from any of these games would have won the league.
‘However the guys went on a great run to the end of the season and our best performance was against the Kyles Athletic seconds in the Sutherland. They had a strong team out that day but we blew them away.
The tie against the Kingussie seconds at Ganavan in the next round was a disappointment. We lost 3-2 but it’s a game we should have won.’
After breaking into the Oban Camanachd first team in 1994, Gareth Evans played in a side which reached six Camanachd Cup finals in nine years, lifting the famous trophy in 1996 after beating Kingussie 3-2 in the final in Inverness.
He hung up his caman at the end of the 2014 season and immediately took charge of a Lochside Rovers side which had notched up fourth and then fifth place finishes after winning South 1 in 2012.
As Gareth shared his experiences with the younger players, Lochside Rovers were pipped to the 2015 South 1 title on goal difference by a strong Bute side.
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 needed to get fitter and that season was a line in the sand,’ noted Gareth.
Lochside worked on their fitness and the double-winning side a year later was testimony to that. ‘I think we’d have finished high up in the National that season had we been in it. Stephen Sloss came back and was outstanding in defence. Michael MacQueen is another player who has made a big contribution. One of the first things I did at Lochside was to phone Michael and make sure he would be involved regularly. He has so much talent and he now has a silver-mounted caman for his efforts.’
Gareth’s haul over the piece is one league title plus twice missing out on the championship on goal difference. A Sutherland and a Bullough Cup were also won but that wasn’t enough for the boss. ‘We should have had one more over the four years. That might be me being greedy, but I believe it. Oban Celtic deserved the title in 2016 but I would have liked to have played them a year later with the side we had.’
Gareth Evans had let the Oban Camanachd committee know he was ‘99.9 per cent sure’ 2018 would be his final year as boss following a shinty career which has spanned 25 years. He won’t be leaving the scene completely though and his role as Oban Camanachd vice president means he’ll still be involved at the sharp end for the club.
‘I’m too nosey about what’s going on to leave it altogether,’ he laughed. ‘I’ll fulfil the fixtures secretary role for both teams to take some of the weight off the managers. There’s a lot of work done behind the scenes though. Eccy (Chis Eccleston) as president, Aidan (MacIntyre) as secretary get through so much work and our new treasurer Katie Cameron will bring a new outlook. Fiona (Livingston) did so well in the treasurer’s role for many years. It takes around £35,000 to run the club each year and pitch hire for games and training are our greatest expense.
‘It’s important to have good sponsors and the Oban Inn support us well as have Scottish Sea Foods which have helped with the youths.
‘The Superball, a fund raising idea by the late Nonnie MacInnes, is a big help and has now attracted 120 members who pay £10 monthly. The monthly prizes are £500 and £100 and we are always on the lookout for new members.’
So whilst Lochside will miss Gareth Evans, will he miss them?
‘Yes, I’ll really miss it. That’s one of the reasons I’m remaining involved at committee level as stepping back completely would be too much.
‘I suppose I’ll really feel it when Saturday morning comes and, for the first time in many years, I’m off to work instead of gathering the squad for a game. I’ll miss the crack on the bus and the result really makes or breaks your weekend. A win and it’s a few pints with the lads but a defeat means you go home and sulk.’
Gareth, who lives near the famous Mossfield pitch, works for Matheson’s Furnishings in Oban and is quick to acknowledge the role played by boss Neil Matheson who allowed him to be available for shinty despite Saturday working being part of his job.
Gareth’s commitment is such that he used his holidays to ensure he was available for games.
‘I’ll be back at some point, but not for a while yet. It will be good to see the senior team some Saturdays as I haven’t had a chance to do that for a while.’
Gareth is quick to recognise the crucial roles played by others. ‘This is by no means a one man band,’ he said. ‘David MacCuish, Eccy (Chis Eccleston), Stephen Sloss, Iain ‘Scally’ MacMillan and Brian MacCallum have been a big help along the way as have Haybo (Iain Hay) and Fraser (Inglis) for their work on training nights. Thanks are also due to all the players and the committee.’
Whilst Gareth Evans ensures all the thank you messages are delivered, there’s no doubt the Oban club has much to thank him for.
Changes at Oban Camanachd
There have been a number of changes at Oban Camanachd following the club’s annual general meeting.
With 24 members present, changes within the office bearers see Chris Eccleston take over as president from Duncan MacMillan, whilst Gareth Evans replaces Chris Eccleston as vice president.
Aidan MacIntyre is secretary and Katy Cameron replaces Fiona Livingston as treasurer. Claire Jackson continues as child protection and youth secretary.
On the playing front, Stephen Sloss is Iain Hay’s replacement as first team manager and he has yet to confirm his background team. Former boss Iain Hay welcomed the move saying: ‘Stephen (Sloss) was at almost all the Oban Camanachd games this season – home and away – and has helped me out a couple of times so he knows what it’s all about. He’s a no-nonsense type but the most important thing is he gets more commitment from the players whether that is at training during the week or at matches on a Saturday. With the younger players a year more experienced, and one or two more to add, I think the future is bright.’
The Lochside Rovers and Oban Camanachd U17 managerial appointments will be confirmed early in the New Year.
Oban Camanachd’s 1996 Camanachd Cup winner Stephen Campbell will look after the U14s along with Andrew Pearson.
Pat Steeman stays on as fund raising convenor, whilst Fiona Livingston is the Superball promoter and Malcolm Clark takes over from Aidan MacIntyre as social media convenor.
Iain MacIntyre continues as chieftain, whilst Nigel Evans is honorary president and continues to look after the club’s transport arrangements.
Iain Hay and Gordon MacIntyre join Alan Dunnings as honorary vice presidents.
Oban Camanachd and Lochside Rovers will play Glasgow Mid Argyll in pre-season friendlies at Mossfield on Saturday February 9.
They are on the lookout for friendly fixtures for the remaining Saturdays in February.
John Willie Campbell
One of shinty’s most distinguished servants, John Willie Campbell of Skye and latterly Errogie, Inverness, died on Saturday December 15.
John Willie Campbell was born and brought up on Skye and will be best remembered as having reported and commentated on the playing side of the game for the BBC from 1968 to 1991, including the day Skye Camanachd won the Camanachd Cup in Fort William in 1990.
He provided results for BBC Scotland, BBC Highland and Gaelic radio and television throughout that time.
He also wrote for the Scotsman, Sunday Post, Press and Journal, Highland News and West Highland Free Press.
Shinty historian Dr Hugh Dan MacLennan said: ‘John Willie was one of my best friends and greatest mentors. He has left a record of the game which is incomparable in the form of results of matches and competitions extending throughout his media career which is held in the Highland Archive in Inverness. He became known as the ‘Voice of Shinty’ through his radio work and distinctive presentation and delivery. He was a man who placed his family and his faith above all else and will be sorely missed. He was one of the most distinguished servants of the sport and heritage of the Highlands, ever.’
Camanachd Association president Keith Loades added: ‘John Willie Campbell was one of the most significant figures in shinty in the 20th century. He served the game in every capacity from his boyhood as a player in Skye, through university to the full range of administrative duties and responsibilities imaginable. He will be remembered as a distinguished president who navigated stormy waters in the 1980s and faced many challenges with a calm and dignified manner. He would never have been happier than the day Skye Camanachd won the Camanachd Cup in 1990.
Beyond the shinty community, John Willie was one of the best-known voices in Scottish broadcasting and an outstanding chronicler of the game’s playing side.
The Camanachd Association and shinty in general will be forever in his debt and his passing marks the end of an era and a contribution to our sport and heritage which is unlikely to be matched. The sympathy of the association and its members and the wider shinty community is extended to Margaret in Errogie, his son Donald in Edinburgh and daughter Shona in Inverness, his grandchildren and the extended family and friends in Skye and elsewhere. Fois is sith dha.’
Lochaber look for first and second team managers
Lochaber have advertised for first and second team managers.
Neil MacDonald started the 2018 shinty season in charge of the Lochaber first team with defender Brennan MacDonald, assisted by Michael Delaney and Robert Johnstone, leading the side for an interim period before Lachlan Campbell ended the season in charge.
The second team was managed by John Fraser but he, too, has stepped down. The club is looking for new managers who have the ability to monitor and enhance performances and improve skills by providing training, encouragement and constructive feedback. Good communication skills and critical thinking are also prerequisites.
Applicants should have shinty management experience and the ability to work with players as well as the commitment to travel on a Saturday for home and away games.
There is first aid and physio support in place and there will be assistance available for midweek fitness training if required.
Anyone interested should contact Aeleen Campbell on 07760 155313 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, contact John Delaney by email at email@example.com
Fraser Heath for Lovat
Scottish international Fraser Heath will play for Lovat next season.
Fraser has made the switch from Glenurquhart to Balgate and will add to Lovat manager Fraser Gallacher’s options next season.
Fraser can play in defence, midfield or up front and is likely to make his debut in the Lovat Cup clash with Beauly at Braeview Park on Saturday January 2 2019.
Skye Camanachd AGM
Skye Camanachd held its annual general meeting at its clubhouse at Pairc nan Laoch, Portree, on Thursday December 6.
Douglas MacDougall stood down as chairman after three years but stays involved at the club. Fiona Cruickshank is the new chairwoman, whilst Thomas Wilson stays on as vice chairman.
Marion Gillies is the club’s new secretary, taking over from Chrisanne MacDonald, whilst Alasdair Bruce remains treasurer.
Donnie Martin and Ross Cowie both retired from their roles with the club. Donnie Martin served the club as player, youth coach, manager, chairman and groundsman amongst other roles since the early 1970s.
Ross Cowie’s involvement with the club stretches equally far back and includes managing the team to Camanachd Cup success in 1990.
Skye Camanachd’s new board of trustees will be confirmed in January.
New bosses at Glenurquhart
Glenurquhart is under new management as Stuart MacKintosh and Eddie Tembo take over from Iain MacLeod.
The team was relegated from the Marine Harvest Premiership at the end of last season and MacKintosh and Tembo will be supported in the Marine Harvest National Division next term by Dave Menzies who previously co-managed the side with Billy MacLean.