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Fort William is looking forward to a return to top flight shinty at An Aird.
After a three-year absence, they will stride into the Mowi Premiership with confidence following a season which saw the seniors secure the Mowi National Division with a 100 per cent record as well as winning the Liberty British Aluminium Balliemore Cup.
National recognition followed as the club won five prizes at the Mowi National Shinty Awards.
They were named Mowi club of the year and were the first recipients of the Gary Innes award for youth club of the year. The manager of the year accolade went to co-bosses Victor Smith and Adam Robertson and the player of the year in the same division was given to Arran MacPhee who was impressive throughout. The Mowi North Division 1 player of the year prize went to outstanding Fort William second team keeper Stuart Disher.
Fort William’s second team also made their mark, winning the Strathdearn Cup and finishing runners-up in Mowi North Division 1.
There is also a rich vein of youth talent at primary, U14 and U17 level, whilst Fort William Ladies continue to make their mark in the women’s game.
This has been no overnight success though and there’s continuity at the top as Victor Smith and Addie Robertson continue as co-managers, with coach Henry Milne also providing a valuable insight from the touchline on a Saturday.
Victor Smith and Adam Robertson both shone for Fort William on the field and their formula works well on the touchline. There’s a commonly held view the shinty manager’s role is no longer a one-man operation and Victor Smith agreed saying: ‘Addie and I both work long hours but we obviously know each other well and it just comes together, whether it’s working with the boys during the week or on a match day. Henry plays his part too. He was a fantastic local league footballer and it’s great to get a different perspective from him during matches.’
The saying ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ certainly doesn’t apply to Fort William as they have been training twice a week since early January.
There’s running and stick work on the astro on Mondays, whilst indoor Wednesday sessions are dominated by circuits and small-sided games.
Four pre-season friendlies have been arranged. The first is against Kyles Athletic at An Aird on Saturday February 1 when the sides contest the Drew Ferguson Memorial Cup. Kinlochshiel provide the opposition on Saturday 8 February 8, with the venue to be decided, and there’s a free day a week later.
The final two pre-season matches are against Beauly on Saturday February 22 – the venue will be confirmed nearer the time – and against Newtonmore at the Eilan the week after as part of the home club’s open day.
Fort William’s success last season required a team effort. However, there are some individuals who have made major contributions.
Victor Smith said: ‘First off, what you want in a captain is a leader on and off the park and James Tangney was that man.
‘When we lost James after his accident, Arran MacPhee took over as team captain and did an excellent job, skippering the side and scoring 29 goals in the process. James remains club captain though and he’s very much involved in things at Fort William. He’s a great lad who is making a fantastic recovery and he’s an inspiration to us all.
‘We also had the luxury last season of being able to move Lachie Shaw from midfield to attack. That helped the forward line as Lachie is a cracking player and we’re looking forward to seeing what he can do in the premiership. Lewis Clark was a revelation at wing centre and had a really good season. Ruairidh Shaw and Ryan Boyle were also very good, as was Sean Cruickshank. However, family commitments mean he won’t be available this season and that’s a huge loss. He’s only 30 though so hopefully we’ll see him back in the future.
‘What we also had last season was a great bench which is always a good indication of the strength of any squad. Padraig McNeil is a great example. He couldn’t get a start but came off the bench to good effect on many occasions. He has a great knack of finding space in a crowded defence and he scored some important goals.’
So at what point did Victor feel the title was won? ‘I didn’t feel we had it in the bag until it was confirmed,’he said. ‘Glasgow Mid Argyll always had games in hand and we knew they were capable of going on a winning run.
‘There were a couple of early indicators the season could be good. We hadn’t won at Beauly for a while but we beat them 5-4 at their place on the opening day of the season with Lewis Morrison getting the winner with just 11 minutes to go. Then, three weeks later, we were losing 2-1 to Skye at An Aird before Lachie Shaw and Padraig McNeil gave us a 3-2 victory. It continued from there and it’s credit to the players that they won the league with a 100 per cent record.’
It’s been a long road back to the top flight for Fort William. After the halcyon days which saw five Camanachd Cup successes between 2005 and 2010, they dropped into the National Division at the end of the 2013 season.
‘Things started to fall apart.’ reflected Victor. ‘The club were relegated in 2013, then secured promotion in 2014 but were relegated again in 2016. Everyone at the club needed to work harder. On the field, we went with the young boys and Alexander MacMillan and Calum Shepherd were two of the first of the current crop to come in.’
It was no overnight success though, as Victor acknowledged. ‘We went close to promotion a couple of times recently but maybe we weren’t ready for it at that time.’
Victor Smith knows exactly how difficulty the premiership will be. ‘Standards are different these days,’ he said. ‘In my day, our forwards would look for a weak link in the opposing defence and work on that. But these weak links aren’t there any more. Defences are strong and you’ll find most players can play in a number of positions.
‘Fitness, attitude and hitting will all be important to us next season. If you aren’t fit in the premier league, then you are at a big disadvantage. We aren’t the biggest side, but we are fast and we’ll keep the ball moving.
‘The players showed good attitude last season. They were never complacent when we kept winning in the league and it’s equally important this season that they don’t let their heads drop should things go against us.
‘Hitting also plays a big part as one clean hit forward from a defender can turn defence into attack. Scoring goals and avoiding silly will be key. Don’t try to be the hero. We don’t want players making silly mistakes as they will be punished so we want to work, learn and improve.
‘We are looking forward to the fixture list coming out and are looking to get some early points, something we struggled to do last time we were in the premiership, so we have something to build on for the rest of the season.
‘Having the Kilmallie game back will be a crowd pleaser and it will be good to play Kingussie and Newtonmore again. And I’m looking forward to playing Caberfeidh who have been building a good team.
‘A cup run would be nice too. The cups give you a break from the league. They keep you buoyant and give you something to look forward to during the season.’
Fort William are already a young team but are there others on the conveyor belt we can expect to see in the coming seasons? ‘I hope we’ll see more of young Victor Smith. He’s getting back to full fitness and he’s a natural goalscorer,’ said Victor. Hamish Shaw is a great prospect, as are Rhys Kennedy and Cameron Stephen.’
There is clearly a lot of hard work going on in a number of areas behind the scenes at Fort William. Victor said: ‘Youth coaches Bobby MacMillan, John MacLeod, Willie MacDonald and Richard Shaw deserve great credit as there are a healthy number of youngsters playing shinty at the moment.
‘I’ve seen us come down to An Aird last summer for training and the youngsters are out there on the pitch, playing 15-a-side, just like the old days. You feel guilty moving them on so we can train but we won’t have to do so for long as our new field will be ready in July. It’s floodlit and it’s an unbelievable facility. This is where guys like Duncan MacPhee and Richard Gall come into their own. They had the notion and they stuck at it until they raised the money before seeing the project through.
‘Treasurer Margaret Robertson and secretary Anne McIntyre also play key roles on the board.
‘Margaret French has the An Aird clubhouse back up and running so well again and the club took over responsibility for the An Aird pitch four years ago.
‘Tommy ‘Hotpoint’ and Dondy Robertson have important roles there as does George MacKay who cuts the grass. What a difference they make and we now have a pitch which suits our style of play as we can pass the ball around with ease.
‘I remember a time a couple of seasons ago when George asked me what team we’d have available on Saturday. I said it was a young side but we had very good stick players. So, after cutting the grass during the week, George cut it again on Saturday morning so it would suit the players. It’s that level of commitment that makes the difference.’
So, after all these years, is five-time Fort William Camanachd Cup winner Victor Smith, who has become a shinty quiz answer having scored in both Fort William’s junior Sutherland and senior Camanachd Cup winning sides in 2009, still enjoying it?
‘I’m just shinty daft,’ he laughed. ‘What else would I do? I love the craic and the banter on the sidelines, especially at places like Skye, and trying to help the players, which is the most important thing.’
Victor Smith’s rapport with the players triggers many a tale such as a gem from a game at Kinlochshiel a couple of years ago when, as the squad gathered ahead of the pre-match warm up, he was approached by one of his players who asked: ‘Where am I playing today Victor? If it’s defence, I’ll practice my hitting and if it’s in the centre line, I’ll practice my hit-ins.’
‘If you play like you did last week, you should practice your excuses,’ was his manager’s curt response which sparked hilarity all round.
The premiership can look forward to similar exchanges next season as the shinty world looks forward to finding out how Fort William’s young guns handle the challenges ahead.
Skye win Johnstone tournament
Skye Camanachd Ladies won the Johnstone trophy at Glengarry’s excellent annual indoor tournament at the Nevis Centre, Fort William on Saturday January 25.
There was a full house for this popular five-a-side competition as Badenoch defended the trophy they won last year.
Badenoch topped their group unbeaten before defeating Glengarry A 8-1 in the semi-finals to reach the final.
Skye, with new boss John Angus MacInnes in charge, qualified from the same group as runners-up and defeated Inverness 9-1 at the last-four stage.
Skye came from behind to beat Badenoch 5-4 after extra-time in the final to take the honours.
Goals from Rona Stewart and a Mairi Stewart double had Badenoch leading 3-1 at half-time but the match was tied at 4-4 at the final whistle with Kirsty Deans adding another for the holders and Jenna Beaton’s double and efforts from Caitlin MacLean and Rhianna Kirk counting for Skye.
The final went to extra time and, with seconds to spare, Jenna Beaton got the winner to complete her hat-trick and give Skye, who won the event in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018, a fifth tournament success.
Jenna Beaton’s contribution throughout the afternoon earned her the player of the tournament accolade.
The Johnstone Trophy was donated to Glengarry Girls Shinty Club in 1998 – a year after the team was formed – by Mrs Ailsa Johnstone of DA Johnstone & Son Contractors, Invergarry, which have been loyal sponsors since.
Inverness 0 Kinlochshiel 3
Kinlochshiel beat Inverness 3-0 at the Bught Park outside pitch as pre-season friendlies got under way on Saturday January 25.
The match was a 10.30am throw-up. Inverness were missing Michael MacMillan, the former Lochcarron player having joined the club, whilst Kinlochshiel were without Keith MacRae and Paul MacRae.
Kinlochshiel gave a debut to former Glengarry player Rhuairaidh MacDonald who started at wing centre. The game was played at a low tempo with John MacRae scoring twice for Kinlochshiel and Duncan ‘DA’ MacRae sending the other past Kenneth Loades in the Inverness goal.
The teams swapped players midway through the first half with Kinlochshiel trio Finlay MacRae, Mark MacDonald and Ali Nixon taking Inverness shirts.
Bullough Cup draw
The draw for the 2020 Bullough Cup competition was made at the Camanachd Association offices, Inverness, on Monday January 27.
First round – May 9
Glenorchy v Inveraray
Glasgow Mid Argyll v Bute
Kilmory v English SA
Second round – June 6
SCOTS Camanachd v
Kilmory/English SA Shinty v
Glasgow Mid Argyll / Bute v Lochside Rovers
Oban Celtic v Glenorchy / Inveraray
Strathdearn Cup draw
The draw for the Strathdearn Cup was made at the Camanachd Association offices, Inverness, on Monday January 27.
Preliminary round – March 28
Lewis v Glenurquhart
First round – April 18
Kingussie v Boleskine
Skye v Kilmallie
Fort William v Lochaber
Newtonmore v Strathspey
Kinlochshiel v Aberdeen University
Caberfeidh v Lovat
Inverness v Lewis/Glenurquhart
Beauly v Strathglass
Second round – May 9
Beauly/Strathglass v Caberfeidh / Lovat
Kingussie / Boleskine v Kinlochshiel / Aberdeen Uni
Inverness / Lewis / Glenurquhart v Newtonmore / Strathspey
Fort William / Lochaber v
Skye / Kilmallie
Lochaber seconds re-join league
Lochaber will field a second team in Mowi North Division 2 this season.
This is a return to league shinty for the Lochaber seconds after they took a year out in 2019.
The club has confirmed a number of pre-season friendlies.
The Lochaber first team take on Oban Celtic at Mossfield this Saturday with a 1pm throw-up.
And Michael Delaney’s side will play Kilmallie for the BSW Cup on Saturday February 29, again with a 1pm throw-up.
The Lochaber second team will be tested against their Newtonmore counterparts on Saturday February 8. Throw-up 1.30pm.
The Lochaber Ladies first team travel to play Ardnamurchan Ladies on Sunday February 2 with a noon start.
The Lochaber Ladies host a double-header on Sunday February 9 as the seconds challenge Dunadd at 12.30pm whilst the first team take on Lovat at 2.30pm.
Next weekend’s pre-season fixtures
A number of pre-season friendlies are scheduled for Saturday February 1, including Oban Camanachd and Inveraray’s meeting at Ganavan. Throw-up is at 1pm.
Oban Celtic and Lochaber have a Mowi National Division match at Mossfield. Throw-up is at 1pm and Alex MacVicar will be the match referee.
Oban Camanachd and Lochside Rovers will play a mixed match at Ganavan. Throw-up 1pm.
Fort William and Kyles Athletic contest the Drew Ferguson Memorial Trophy at An Aird.
New Newtonmore first team manager Orsten Gardner gets the first chance to see his squad in action as they travel to Blairbeg to face Mowi National Division side Glenurquhart.
The Newtonmore will play Inverness at the Bught Park, whilst Col Glen travel north to play Strathglass.
Col Glen host Strathglass, whilst Taynuilt will travel to the Winterton to play the Inveraray second team.
If the Winterton is unplayable, the match will be switched to Taynuilt Sports Field.
Donald Clark, Inveraray
Inveraray Shinty Club has paid tribute to one of their greatest supporters following the passing of Donald Clark senior on Sunday 19 January.
Donald Clark, known as ‘Big D’, was proprietor of the George Hotel and a great supporter of Inveraray having held various positions in the club throughout the years.
Donald did not play shinty, but was an accomplished rugby player, representing the West of Scotland in his younger years, and he used these skills to help coach the Inveraray team of the 1960s.
Donald Clark went on to become Inveraray chairman, a position his father held before him, and the George Hotel provided meals for visiting teams as far back as can be remembered.
His passion for shinty always lay with Inveraray and in 2002 he arrived at the Bught Park, Inverness, by helicopter to ensure he saw all of Inveraray’s Camanachd Cup Final meeting against Kingussie which Kingussie won 3-2.
An Inveraray spokesman said: ‘Donald will be sorely missed by everyone at Inveraray Shinty Club and we can only hope it is of some comfort to his sons Kris and Donald that he has provided us with great memories over the years.’