Oban Celtic’s upward trend continues

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Oban Celtic boss Dougie MacIntyre and his assistant Les Kinvig took time to reflect on the progress made by their squad during the 2019 shinty season.

The pair replaced former boss Kenny Wotherspoon, who had overseen a period of continuous improvement during his three years in charge. Wotherspoon led Oban Celtic to the 2016 Mowi South Division 1 title in his maiden season as boss and followed that with a sixth place finish with ten points in the Mowi National Division a year after. The improvement continued as the squad climbed to fifth in shinty’s second tier in 2018, this time amassing twelve points.

So while the challenge was clear for MacIntyre and Kinvig, to maintain the trend of continuous improvement, they were also aware that they would have to work through a period of transition following the loss of four first-team regulars.

The fact their eventual fifth placed finish amassed thirteen points, one more than the previous season, makes for a positive end of term report card.

Dougie MacIntyre thought back to these early days. ‘We started off at pre-season with two nights’ training each week as we wanted to get fitter. We also challenged the players to improve on discipline. It’s difficult enough to deal with injuries and player unavailability without also having guys having to sit games out through suspension and we went on to achieve a better disciplinary record which was very pleasing.’

Les reflected on the pre-season preparation, adding: ‘The weather affected our pre-season matches. Only two of the three games were played with the match against Taynuilt having to go ahead on the astro pitch. We won that one and although we lost in the friendly against Inveraray, there was nothing in that match at Ganavan so we went into the season with confidence.’

Dougie added caution, saying: ‘We first had to steady the ship though as we’d lost Daniel Madej, Andy Hunt, Fulton Ronald and Iain MacKechnie and they had to be replaced. We brought in some younger players who did well so I think we managed that situation without going off course.’

The start to the season was difficult as the inclement weather continued into March. Oban Celtic’s opening league fixture against Bute started but was abandoned because of the conditions. ‘We lost Neil Carmichael with a broken thumb that day,’ said Les. ‘That was a big blow.’

Next up was a defeat against an all-conquering Fort William side who would go on to win the division at a canter with a 100 per cent record. ‘Even at that stage in the season, you could see that Fort William were a team on the way up and they went on to prove that over the season,’ said Les Kinvig.

The home meeting with Beauly also fell foul of the weather before a depleted squad lost heavily at Glenurquhart, who were relegated from the Premiership at the end of the previous season.

Dougie and Les were the Oban side’s only substitutes that day and the starting twelve included five second team players. ‘We didn’t dwell on that result too much,’ said Les. ‘The circumstances meant it was just too big a challenge for us with such a thin squad.

‘A second team should mainly be a mixture of young ones with a couple of older heads. That’s how you keep the conveyor belt going and I think we have that.

‘However, we would prefer to introduce the younger players as and when they are ready rather than through necessity but we were forced into it that day as we were so short because of play unavailability.

‘We introduced a number of younger players over the season and they didn’t always play in their usual positions so these boys deserve great credit for the jobs they did.’

The rescheduled home fixture with Bute provided the opportunity to put the first points of the season on the board and Oban Celtic took that chance, winning 5-4 at Mossfield. Les said: ‘We should have won that game by more but some defensive frailties, which were to haunt us at times during the season, made for a closer final score. Our second team defence was very young so we couldn’t just chuck them in, although some of them were used for the seniors at times, but that was an area we knew we needed to work on as the season went on.’

A defeat to Skye followed which was closer than the 5-2 reverse suggested and the loss of Ross MacMillan to a red card came at a crucial stage in the game.

Three successive cup exits on successive Saturdays came next. Dougie wasn’t too concerned about that though. He said: ‘Our focus was always on the league, especially because of the change-over in the squad.’

New signings Lennon Campbell (former Lochside Rovers) and Peter Currie (former Kyles Athletic) came in to supplement the squad. Campbell’s addition compensated for Ally McKerracher’s limited availability. After being a key player during the first part of the season, a change of job meant McKerracher would hardly feature during the latter part of the campaign. Currie proved a valuable addition to the Celtic defence.

A good performance secured a 6-3 Tulloch Homes Camanachd Cup victory over Strathglass with some younger players blooded during the tie when the scoreline allowed.

However, there was a lot of frustration following the 1-1 draw with Beauly. ‘We lost an equaliser on 90 minutes,’ rued Les. ‘It was a day where we had so much pressure but couldn’t score the vital second goal and we just lacked that bit of experience at the end of the match to see it out.’

Oban Celtic’s best performance of the season arguably came on Skye when a sparkling display earned a 4-1 league victory over the islanders who were playing Premiership shinty only a season earlier. ‘We took our chances that day,’ said Les. ‘The scoreline was perhaps a bit harsh on Skye but we showed what we could do. I know we lost to Skye in the Scottish the week after but, given the choice, we’d have taken the league points any day.’

A Camanachd Cup exit to Skye, again with a several absentees, and a league defeat at Beauly came next. Les said: ‘There were times during the season where we felt we’d taken two steps forward followed by two steps back but whenever we didn’t get the result we wanted, it was often down to player availability. It was games where we’d have had better outcomes had it not been for players being unavailable or out through injury.

‘The season also started to become a bit stop-start as we hardly ever seemed to have two matches on the trot.’

MacIntyre and Kinvig are pleased that the Camanachd Association are planning to look at fixturing ahead of the 2020 season. Les said: ‘The 2-3 week lay-offs are hard. If you come off the back of a defeat, you want to knuckle down at training and put it right the following week but it’s then awkward when there is a delay before your next game. It’s the same when you win – you don’t want any delay so as to keep the momentum going but it is definitely more difficult if there is no match the following week after you’ve suffered a loss.’

Oban Celtic finished the Mowi National Division season strongly. Les agreed: ‘We really felt we were on the right track after beating Bute 4-1 before more than earning a creditable 1-1 draw with Glasgow Mid Argyll who eventually claimed the division’s second promotion spot.’

However, it would be a further three weeks before the meeting with Fort William and it showed as Oban Celtic lost three goals in the opening five minutes. ‘We made such a sluggish start which is maybe understandable after not having a game for so long but we showed up better in the second half.’ said Les. ‘However, the damage was done by then.’

There was another gap before losing at Glasgow Mid Argyll but Oban Celtic went on to take five out of six points from their final three matches of the season. Home and away wins over Strathglass were followed by a 3-3 draw with Glenurquhart. Celtic actually led 3-0 midway through the first half in that match before two late goals earned the Glen a share of the spoils. However, it was a marked improvement to the heavy defeat suffered to the same opponents earlier in the season. Like most teams, Oban Celtic can also look to the points that got away. Les said: ‘I think when you look back, the draws with Beauly, Glasgow Mid Argyll and Glenurquhart are games we could definitely have won. Late goals cost us in all three matches.

‘We led Beauly 1-0 until the final minute whilst we had the majority of the match against GMA but, again, we just lacked that bit of experience to see it over the line and they equalised three minutes from time.

‘It was the same story against Glenurquhart with their second and third goals coming on 80 and 89 minutes so that’s something we will work on.’

Representative recognition is something that is important to the club with Ross MacMillan top of the pile as he was again selected for the Scotland U21s for their shinty / hurling meeting with Ireland U21 in Dublin. Les Kinvig said: ‘The whole club was delighted that Ross was included again. As a club, we expect all players to want to reach as high a level as they can and Ross is a great example of what can be achieved. Lewis Mcphee is another who could definitely have made the step up to the Scotland U21s but he picked up an injury at an unfortunate time and I’m sure that affected his chances.

‘This year we had players representing the South at U14, U17 and the U21 level and indeed the Scotland U21 trials. There are a lot of youth players at the club and we want to see them all follow that pathway. It’s good for their development and it’s good for the club.’

Les was also keen to highlight the unsung heroes and heroines who all play their part over the season. ‘There are a lot of people behind the scenes who do so much work to run the club so well. The ladies who do the teas and coffees at matches do a great job whilst there is a strong committee in place behind the scenes and they make it all happen.

‘And don’t forget our sponsors. Running two teams and playing national shinty is expensive and we look forward to their continued support next year.

‘They are all so important and they all know who they are.’

Boss Dougie MacIntyre had the final word: ‘I’m looking forward to working with the boys again next season and we’ll get back on the training field at the turn of the year and get a good pre-season in place so we’re ready from the off.’

Five wins and three draws from sixteen matches earned thirteen points and a fifth placed finish. In next week’s Oban Times, we’ll look at what Oban Celtic need to do to improve on that and perhaps break into the top four in the Mowi National Division in 2020.

The new Oban Camanachd management team Stephen Sloss, left, and Kenny Wotherspoon.
Stephen Sloss and Kenny Wotherspoon remain in charge of Oban Camanachd.
Sloss and Wotherspoon remain in charge following Oban Camanachd AGM

Manager Stephen Sloss and his assistant Kenny Wotherspoon will again lead the Oban Camanachd first team for the 2020 shinty season following the club’s annual general meeting at the Rockfield School huts on Wednesday 4 December.

Sloss and Wotherspoon led the side to three cup finals in their inaugural season in charge, collecting a Scottish Sea Farms Glasgow Celtic Society Cup along the way as well as finishing runners-up in the Mowi Premiership, the club’s best finish for a number of years.

Lochside Rovers lifted both the Highland Industrial Supplies Sutherland Cup and Bullough Cup as well as finishing third in Mowi South Division 1.

There was a good turnout for the agm, including pretty much the whole first team squad, as Oban Camanachd and Lochside Rovers reflected on the 2019 shinty season. There were 38 people present, the highest attendance for some time, with a voting strength of 26 and manager Stephen Sloss had the support of the voting membership.

Pat Steeman steps in as Oban Camanachd’s new president. Steeman, who fulfilled a role in relation to fundraising and sponsorship, succeeds club stalwart Chris Eccleston who takes a well-deserved break. Gareth Evans remains as vice-president whilst Katy Cameron continues as treasurer but the club is on the look-out for a club secretary.

More crucially, the Oban side are looking to fill the role of Lochside Rovers manager. Whilst Brian MacCallum stepped down towards the end of last season, George Easton and Andrew Pearson have also intimated that they will no longer be involved.

The youths continue to be looked after by Alan MacKechnie at U17 level and Stephen Campbell and Andrew Pearson at U14 level.

Iain MacIntyre continues as club chieftain whilst Nigel Evans remains as honorary president.

Chris Eccleston’s contribution was recognised as he was added to the list of honorary vice-presidents.

There is also a place for David MacLennan as superball convener, an important fund raiser for the club.

Malcolm Clark stays on as social media convener whilst Claire Jackson has stepped down from her role as child protection officer.

Oban Camanachd have also begun the process of putting together a list of pre-season friendly fixtures to take place in February 2020.

Lochaber look to bring back seconds

Lochaber are looking at the possibility of resurrecting their second team for the 2020 shinty season.

The Lochaber second team finished sixth in Mowi North Division 2 at the end of 2018 but a lack of numbers meant they were the only Premiership or National Division side not to have a second string in 2019.

However, following discussions at the club’s annual general meeting at the Station Restaurant on Friday 6 December 2019, the Spean Bridge side hope to their reserves can make a quick reappearance next season.

The club has a first team, U17s, U14s and women’s first and second teams and are looking to recruit new players at all levels.

Anyone wishing to get involved at senior level should contact Michael Delaney, who stays on as first team manager, on 07830 818261 and Aeleen Campbell on 07760 155313 in relation to joining the ladies or the youths.

Skye Camanachd Player of the Year awards

The 2019 Skye Camanachd player of the year awards were announced at an end of season awards night and dinner.

William MacKinnon was the recipient of the John the Caley Trophy for Skye Camanachd first team player of the year. As well has having a terrific season in the Skye Camanachd first team, MacKinnon was part of both the Scotland U17 and Scotland U21 squads which played in Ireland this year.

Skye second team skipper Sam MacPhee was given the second team player of the year accolade for his performances throughout the season.

Lorna MacRae was again a vital player for the Skye Camanachd Ladies during 2019 as the side won the Mowi Valerie Fraser Camanachd Cup and she once again represented Scotland against Irish opposition. Her efforts were recognised as she received the Lucille Nobile Trophy as overall ladies player of the year.

Martin Pringle collected the coveted Caman DR following a season during which he was a regular in the Skye Camanachd first team and was named in the Scotland U17 squad which beat Ireland U17 this year the and the North U21 squad which defeated their South U21 opponents.

The Angus Murchison Trophy, presented to the person who has done most for the club off the field of play, was awarded to Moreen Pringle. Organising the Skye Camanachd merchandise and the kitchen rota are only two of Moreen Pringle’s tasks and she is also the Skye Camanachd Social Club chair.

Kinlochshiel hold prize night

Kinlochshiel handed out a number of prizes at their awards night took place at Dornie Hall.

’Shiel midfielder Donald Nixon’s performances this season were recognised with a first call up to the Scotland senior squad and he was the evening’s big winner as he took the Duncan MacRae Cup as first team players’ player of the year.

The Kenny Wilson Cup for committee player of the year was Duncan ‘DA’ MacRae who once again fulfilled a number of roles for the first team during the season.

The Tommy Mackenzie Cup for second team players’ player of the year went to Corran Campbell who broke into the first team squad towards the end of the season.

Another promising youngster, Duncan ‘WD’ MacRae received the Ian ‘Dubh’ Memorial Shield as U21 player of the year after forcing his way into Johnston Gill’s first team squad.

The ’Shiel ladies players’ player of the year was Alaina MacLennan whilst the Ray Coghill Memorial Shield for the Ladies most improved player went to Amelia Sutherland.

The U17 player of the year winner was Callum Coghill.

It was a good season for Kinlochshiel U14 who won the MacMaster Cup and only lost out on the Mowi North Division 1 title to Beauly following a play-off. Archie MacRae was key during both campaigns and the Mowi national U14 player of the year also collected the CalMac Quaich as Kinlochshiel U14 player of the year.

The U14 most improved player prize went to Campbell Lamont. Fraser MacRae was the U12 player of the year whilst the U12 most improved player was Cameron Kennedy.

Bute awards dinner

Bute recently hosted their awards dinner at their clubhouse.

Craig Fisher was named first team players’ player of the year whilst Scotland U21 cap Ryan James Craig collected first team manager John MacCallum’s player of the year award

The second team players’ player of the year prize went to Robin McAlister and Bute second team boss James Craig selected Liam Ferguson as his second team player of the year.

Callum McMillan was Bute’s young player of the year.

Bute ladies players’ player of the year was Jillie McCabe whilst the manager’s player of the year winner was Anna Stanczyk.

Maja Stanczyk was named young player of the year.

Beauly prizes

Beauly presented their player of the year awards at their annual club night at the club’s awards dinner at the Priory Hotel.

Colin MacDonald collected the DJ Fraser Trophy as senior player of the year for the Mowi National Division side.

Colin MacDonald also picked up the Lymburn Trophy for players’ player of the year prize.

James Morrison was awarded the Ken Ross Trophy as second team player of the year whilst the youth awards went to Finlay MacLennan as U17 player of the year and Euan MacCormack who was both the U17 players’ player of the year and young player of the year, taking the Centenary Vase.

Louis Stewart

Inverness Shinty Club and the shinty community at large were saddened to hear of the passing of Louis Stewart, patron of the Camanachd Association and chieftain of Inverness Shinty Club, on Saturday 7 December.

In a club statement, Inverness said: ‘Louis Stewart was well known, loved and respected not just in Inverness but across the whole shinty community and our thoughts are with Louis’s wife Margaret and the family at this time.’