Shinty round-up

Skye Camanachd celebrate after winning the London Shield for the second year running. Photograph Neil Paterson.

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Oban Camanachd finished second in the Mowi Premiership and Skye Camanachd U17s lifted the Mowi London Shield following the shinty action on Saturday November 23.

Mowi Premiership

Lochaber v Oban Camanachd
Points to Oban Camanachd

Oban Camanachd finished second in the Mowi Premiership after being awarded the points when Lochaber were unable to fulfil their fixture at Spean Bridge.

Lochaber last played on Saturday September 14 when they lost 3-0 to Kyles Athletic and this was the fourth attempt to play the match.

The fixture was previously twice postponed because of an unplayable pitch and also didn’t go ahead in mid-October when Lochaber were deducted two points as they were unable to raise a team, a penalty which confirmed their relegation.

Lochaber are preparing their field for next season, whilst Oban Camanachd were keen to play the match knowing two points would seal a second-place finish with Lovat and Kyles Athletic dropping to third and fourth place respectively.

Camanachd Association officials consulted all the clubs involved and everyone agreed Oban Camanachd be awarded the points.

The outcome completed the Mowi Premiership season.

It means that during their first season in charge, Oban Camanachd boss Stephen Sloss and his assistant Kenny Wotherspoon have led the side to Scottish Sea Farms Glasgow Celtic Society Cup success as well as finishing runners up in all three national competitions – the Mowi Premiership, the Tulloch Homes Camanachd Cup and the Artemis Macaulay Cup.

Mowi London Shield final

Skye Camanachd U17 4
Newtonmore U17 0

Skye Camanachd U17s lifted the Mowi London Shield for the second successive season with a 4-0 victory over Newtonmore U17s at Pairc nan Laoch, Portree.

The final had been delayed as several of the Newtonmore players featured for their second team squad which clinched the Mowi North Division 1 title the previous weekend. A number of neutral venues were considered for the final but, with pitch maintenance plans in place across the Highlands, none were available so there was a coin toss, which Skye won, to decide who should host the final.

Pipers Angus MacKinnon and Seonaidh MacLeod led the teams onto the field. Both sides looked strong, particularly down the centre of the pitch with Skye’s Ross Gordon and Newtonmore’s Struan Ross lining up in full centre positions.

Skye made a stunning start, taking the lead within the first 60 seconds. Calumn MacKay launched a good hit-in from the right which found Taylor Matheson who turned his marker and ran into the ‘D’. Newtonmore goalie Xavio Vastano darted off his line but Matheson forced the ball by him and into the net

Despite the setback, Newtonmore settled into the match but Skye’s Taylor Matheson got his second on 19 minutes when he gathered Ross Gordon’s free-hit from deep inside his own half. Although Xavio Vastano got his legs to the ball, he couldn’t keep it out.

The large crowd were being thoroughly entertained and Xavio Vastano made a good stop with his feet to thwart Archie MacDonald.

Skye’s Taylor Matheson, centre, opens the scoring in the first minute. Photograph: Neil Paterson.

The action continued to flow after the re-start. Taylor Matheson juggled the ball through on goal but ran out of space whilst, at the other end, Ritchie Irvine was crowded out as he tried to shoot.

Xavio Vastano threw himself at Taylor Matheson’s shot, parrying the ball for a corner from which Ross Gordon sent a 25-yarder wide.

Newtonmore head coach Graeme Irvine pushed defender Declan Brannan, who featured for the Newtonmore first team towards the end of the season, forward and he almost steered a corner from the right on goal.

Skye head coach Davie Pringle resisted the temptation to respond by pulling one of his key players back into defence and his decision paid off when Taylor Matheson completed his hat-trick on 67 minutes. Taylor Matheson and Skye substitute Angus Gilpin both saw shots saved by keeper Vastano before Calumn MacKay played the ball back into the goal area where Taylor Matheson sent a low scorching shot past a helpless keeper from wide on the left.

Skye sealed the win on 71 minutes. Cameron Campbell won the ball from a Newtonmore goal-hit and fed Archie MacDonald who released Cameron MacKay and he ran at the Newtonmore defence before unleashing a glorious strike which beat keeper Xavio Vastano inside his right post.

Referee Calum Girvan brought a keenly contested but sporting encounter to an end and John Angus Gillies from sponsors Mowi was on hand to presented the London Shield, donated by London Camanachd in 1989, to Skye skipper Murphy Henderson.

The Douglas Mackintosh Memorial Medal for man of the match went to Skye’s Ross Gordon who was excellent throughout. Hat-trick hero Taylor Matheson, buckshee back Ross MacKinnon and William James Sutherland, who also plays for the Skye U14s, were also impressive for the islanders, whilst captain Struan Ross, Declan Brennan and Charlie Ferguson all shone for Newtonmore.

The Douglas Mackintosh Memorial Medal was presented to Player of the Match Ross Gordon, Skye, by past Camanachd Association president John Mackenzie. Photograph: Neil Paterson.
Stephen Sloss looks back on a first term as Oban Camanachd manager

It has been a long season for Oban Camanachd. It started with an emphatic 5-1 friendly win over Glasgow Mid Argyll at Mossfield just before Valentine’s Day and ended in late-November as Christmas shopping lists are being prepared and festive plans are firmed up.

It was a campaign which saw the side, under the new management of boss Stephen Sloss and assistant Kenny Wotherspoon, play every match possible. They reached all three cup finals, winning the Scottish Sea Farms Glasgow Celtic Society Cup and finishing runners up in the Artemis Macaulay Cup and the Tulloch Homes Camanachd Cup, whilst also finishing second in the Mowi Premiership.

The second friendly match of the pre-season sparked optimism as the Oban side beat Newtonmore 3-1. However there was a faltering start to Oban Camanachd’s league programme as their first four games yielded just two points from draws with Lovat and Kinlochshiel before narrow defeats to Kingussie and Kyles Athletic.

Given Oban Camanachd finished the season just three points off top spot, these dropped six points proved costly. The slow start could be put down to the new management team introducing their new ideas and the squad adjusting accordingly.

‘I hope that’s what it was because it certainly was a new set up,’ said Stephen Sloss. ‘I keep saying that it’s these fine margins that make the difference but, because it was mine and Kenny’s first year when we brought in a lot of new stuff, hopefully this year we are all now familiar with each other and we can kick even further ahead next year.

‘There were dropped points in these early games but the one that really killed us was the refereeing decisions which cost us against Kyles Athletic at Tighnabruaich.’

Beating Oban Celtic in the Celtic Society sparked a 12-match winning run during which Oban Camanachd won the Celtic Society Cup, beating Kyles Athletic 2-0 in the final.

With the side battling in all competitions, a second league defeat to Kingussie followed soon after, one of three matches Stephen Sloss reckons cost the side a real season to remember.

He said: ‘Statistically, Oban Camanachd have probably had the best season we’ve had for a long time. But, ultimately, three games cost us an historic season. We lost to Kingussie in the league at Mossfield. If we had beaten them, it would have set us up for the end of the season.

‘Losing the Macaulay at Mossfield, again to Kingussie, and really not turning up in the Scottish were the other two disappointments.

‘However you need to remember we are quite a young team so these boys will be better again next season. This year was a big experience for them and it was all fresh so hopefully we can kick on and build on what we have achieved this year. Everyone knows the standards we are expecting here at the club and I believe we will keep going next season and get over that last line which is what’s needed to bring big trophies home.’

Getting ‘over the line’ is the next level for the club. The Macaulay final against Kingussie was a close affair but Oban Camanachd didn’t do themselves justice in the once-abandoned Camanachd Cup Final against Newtonmore.

The only blemish in Oban Camanachd’s final run of six matches following the Camanachd Cup Final was a 1-0 reverse at Lovat in a match Sloss’s side did enough to win.

‘We did plenty fitness work and were fit all year,’ said Sloss who also asks a lot of himself as he added: ‘I also learned a bit tactically on other teams this year and there are some mistakes I won’t make again next season.’

Sloss and Wotherspoon wisely used the end of the season matches to give game time to some of their promising youngsters, helping increase the size of the first team pool for next season.

The starting line-up already includes Scotland U21 caps Daniel Sloss, Daniel MacCuish and Daniel MacVicar with keeper Cameron Sutherland unfortunate not to make the cut for the match against the Irish. The last six matches of the season saw increased action for Craig Easton, who looks composed in defence, midfield powerhouse Blair MacFarlane, who will surely prove to be a shrewd acquisition from Taynuilt, and busy offensive players Lewis Buchanan and Ross Campbell.

Sloss acknowledges the rich vein of youthful talent at his disposal. ‘We are very lucky to have some of the best young players in the country coming through and there is a lot of work at the club that goes into that.

‘It’s difficult giving them game time over the season because we have such a strong squad but we need to get these boys in and playing and we’ve taken the opportunity over the last few matches to do that.

‘Playing-wise, we have some boys sitting in their later years in a playing sense so we don’t want to get to a point where they leave and there’s nothing coming through. So we want to kick forward and be in a position that if a player leaves our squad, we have a young player who is up to standard and ready to come in to replace him.

‘I think the young ones are only going to get better. We have a few on the fringes. It is also important to give them game time with Lochside rather than be a substitute with the first team and only get 15 to 20 minutes on the pitch.

‘I think if we can keep these young boys coming through, Oban Camanachd could be quite a dominant side over the next five to six years.’

The overall position at Oban Camanachd is positive and the progress made is evident, something echoed by the manager who is very much up for the challenge next season. ‘I think overall we have had a bit of a mental block in a couple of finals but I feel that after the experiences we have had this year, it will be different next season. I honestly believe we will win the next national final we are in.’

Few would bet against that assertion and exciting times could be just around the corner for the Oban Camanachd support.

Alan MacRae takes positives from squad’s meeting with Irish counterparts

Scotland U21 head coach Alan MacRae took a number of positives from his squad’s recent meeting with their Irish counterparts in Dublin.

The talented Scots held a narrow lead following a pulsating first half before the hosts pulled away after the re-start.

Alan said: ‘The main positive is the experience gained by the seven players who made their debuts at U21 level. It is nigh on impossible to explain to them the intensity and physicality of play against the hurlers. There is a huge step up from U17 level to U21 level where they played against top class, up-and-coming hurlers from first tier counties.

‘All the players showed good determination and gave everything.
‘They kept competing to the best of their ability, even during a difficult second half when their heads could easily have gone down.’

Scotland led 13-12 at half-time before a combination of the re-introduction of Ireland top-gun Mark Kehoe from Tipperary and a key tactical switch eventually saw the Irish run out convincing winners.

Alan explained: ‘We scored some good goals and competed well in the first half. However, we let the Irish off the hook as we didn’t convert our two-point opportunities and, on a number of occasions, we shot for goal from distance rather than taking the point by sending the ball over the bar.

‘In the second half, the Irish came out with renewed determination and they brought their star player, Mark Kehoe from All-Ireland winners Tipperary, back on. He proved in the second half to be too hot to handle for our defenders and he scored four goals.

‘The Irish management also changed formation by dropping an extra defender into the centre of defence. He made a huge impact and we struggled to pin him down and stop him from intercepting our attacks and orchestrating their forward movement.

‘The Irish fitness and quality was there for all to see and they took advantage during the second half as our boys continued to try hard but struggled to make an impact on their game flow.’

There remains a clear pathway on the shinty side for players to progress from U17 level to the U21s then onto the senior side.

Alan agreed: ‘This experience is essential for the players who could potentially move into the senior ranks. Some of the players they faced are first tier hurlers who are already at the top of their game and who are playing in senior county competition.

‘The Irish always take the U21 international extremely seriously, so this experience will stand our players in good stead for stepping up to compete for places in the senior ranks in the future.’

The lessons from the recent encounter are clear and alan added: ‘I would like to think we, as a team, will have learnt that you cannot give the Irish an inch or they will take a mile. The importance of hitting the two-pointers and keeping the scoreboard ticking over and pushing your advantage when you have it is paramount and something that we need to be better prepared for next year.’

Some of the game’s brightest young talent from Oban and Lochaber gave a great account of themselves, none more so that 17 year old Oban Camanachd defender Daniel Sloss who collected his second U21 cap, having previously played twice for the U17s. ‘We played Daniel at full back and he had a very good game. He had the experience from last year’s game so was given extra responsibility because of that. Nothing fazes him and he reads the game well. He was very aware and never got caught with hurlers making runs behind him.’

Daniel’s clubmates Daniel MacVicar and Daniel MacCuish also made their mark. Alan said: ‘Daniel MacVicar did a lot of good work from the half forward position. And not just in an attacking sense, where he scored a goal, as I recall at least one instance where he had to track all the way back to the half back position to prevent a goal-scoring opportunity.

Daniel MacCuish is another promising player and he came on at wing centre. It was a difficult shift for him against good opponents but he gave everything for the cause.’

Oban Celtic’s Ross MacMillan made up an Oban quartet. ‘Ross started at half back but he can play anywhere,’ said Alan.

‘The more experienced players started the match, and Ross came into that category, with the debutants mainly coming off the bench.

‘Findlay MacDonald from Lochaber was selected for a second time. He’s a worker. He got a goal last year but was kept busy in midfield this time. He’s another who you can reply on to put in a good shift.’

Kilmallie’s Innes Blackhall also claimed a second cap with MacRae saying: ‘Innes played in the centre of the half forward line and we used him as a target man.

‘He won a lot of ball in the game last year and he did the same again this time around, playing a lot of good balls forward.’

Debutant Lachie Shaw from Fort William also caught the manager’s eye.
‘Lachie’s a cracking player and he puts himself about. Like Daniel Sloss, he was with the Scotland U17s in Ireland this summer and he came on in our forward line.

‘He’s clearly a good player. I’m looking forward to seeing him in the premiership next season’

‘Nine or ten players from the squad can play again next year and the challenge for them is to push on and be key guys in 2020. There is also a chance for others to stake a claim.’

As to the future, Alan MacRae said: ‘As a manager, I always enjoy the process and working with the U21s, who are a great bunch of boys. Although we’re disappointed with the result this year, I have really enjoyed the experience over the last few years, with last year’s good win in Ireland the highlight.

‘I am now going to enjoy a wee break over the close season but I’m looking forward to working with Jamie Matheson in our new co-managers’ role with Lovat in the forthcoming domestic season.’

Camanachd Association annual general meeting preview

Representatives from shinty clubs all over Scotland will gather at the Mutha West End Hotel, Fort William as the Camanachd Association’s annual general meeting takes place on Friday November 29.

The much-respected John MacKenzie, a past Camanachd Association president and Newtonmore stalwart, is to take over from Jock Turner who steps down after 12 years as Camanachd Association Chieftain.

There will be a vote for the vice chieftain role with Fort William’s Richard Gall and Caberfeidh’s David MacMaster vying to take over from Alex Mcnaughton who has left his post.

Camanachd Association Youth Director Willie MacDonald from Fort William stands for re-election, whilst Oban’s Roddie MacCuish, Glasgow’s Burton Morrison and current Camanachd Association referee Ross Brown have all put their names forward to take a place on the board.

Finance director Daniel Palombo has to stand down after six years as a board member but he will remain on the finance committee, whilst Wendy Chamberlain also leaves her position on the board.

A number of special resolutions will be put before members who will have the chance to vote on matters pertaining to consent regarding players aged under 16, procedures surrounding substitutes, the wearing of helmets, ‘kicks’ where the ball plays the player and clubs having to provide the name of a registered and qualified goal judge.

There is also expected to be discussion around setting up a working group to look at fixtures.

2020 Artemis Macaulay Cup draw

No sooner has the 2019 shinty season finished than it’s time for one of the game’s big events as the 2020 Artemis Macaulay Cup draw is made live on Oban FM’s Sports Show on Saturday November 30. The south and north sections will be drawn up to the semi-final stage.

Join Duncan and Jim and their guests from the Macaulay Association and elsewhere when the Sports Show programme starts at 6pm.