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The Camanachd Association is among those having to adjust its operations during these unrecognisable times as the consequences of the spread of COVID-19 continue to dominate everyday lives.
The game’s governing body has followed all government guidance, advising all its staff to work from home at this time. Whilst the association’s preference would have course been a short intermission, the likelihood is shinty will not return for some time and some competitions may be unable to run fully this year.
Staff, committees and the board of directors are working together on plans covering all potential outcomes, depending on the longevity of the COVID-19 sanctions.
The situation remains fluid through what has been a rapidly changing position but the association hopes to share these plans with clubs when there is greater clarity around the likely period of isolation.
As part of this, it is considering options that may or may not be used to ensure shinty is played again when it is safe to do so.
Any attempt to lay a clear plan at this stage is impossible but these options could include local midweek fixtures and/or Sunday fixtures and finals or shorter league programmes.
However, it is impossible to be specific or predict what may be practical at this time.
The Camanachd Association recognises some sports have said when they expect to return to competitive action but it believed to do so at this present time is simply guess work as no one can predict the volatility of the current situation.
However, that will not stop it planning for a number of eventualities.
During the intervening period, work will continue to pursue the best for shinty and the association has pledged to work closely with member clubs to ensure everyone is best prepared to come through this situation ready to return to sporting action once normality returns.
Pitches will benefit from rest
If there is a sporting benefit to come from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s that pitches all over the country could benefit greatly from the rest.
In Oban, head groundsman Iain Hay’s responsibilities include pitches at Mossfield, Ganavan, North Connel, three at Glencruitten as well as a new pitch where the former blaze pitch was situated behind the Mossfield stand.
Like many at present, Iain’s involvement is limited by the current restrictions but he feels pitches will be the better from the break. The former Oban Camanachd manager and player said: ‘The rest will definitely benefit the pitches and they will come in stronger. There is a wee bit of growth at present but when it really comes through, the rest means the grass will stiffen as the roots continue to grow. It must be said we’ve also just had what was a poor winter for pitches so there is a bit of catching up to do.
‘I’m limited in what I can do just now in that I have to stay away from the pitches. That will be reviewed in a couple of weeks though and I definitely have plans if, say, I’m allowed to do lone working.
‘I would like to do maintenance work such as verti-draining, spreading sand and gravel, drainage work and taking out any dips on the surface.
‘As well as the usual maintenance, I would also normally carry out a programme of works at grounds like Mossfield during the season but I’ll have to re-adjust my plans for that, maybe bringing them forward, as I imagine there will be a lot of games to fit in when the shinty season eventually does get under way.
‘Not having any games at present certainly provides the opportunity to do a bit extra but it all depends on me being allowed onto the pitch in at least some capacity when it’s right and proper to do so.
‘It’s similar with the rugby pitches. If I was to get confirmation their season was over, I could make an early start there as soon as I’m allowed to.’
Shinty pitch dimensions range from 128m to 155m wide and between and 64m to 73m wide which led to recent work to bring the North Connel venue into the equation.
Iain Hay explained: ‘There has been a lot of work already carried out at North Connel. The pitch has been extended and it has good drying. The pitch extension takes it to around 133m by 65m which means shinty could be played there but it does need nets behind the goals to stop any stray balls.’
There is no doubting Iain Hay’s keenness and enthusiasm to get going as soon as he gets the green light.
Making the best use of time
The suspension of the shinty season doesn’t necessarily mean work at all shinty clubs should grind to a halt as there are still opportunities for clubs to progress off the field during this interim period.
The Camanachd Association has highlighted the benefits of its Clubmark accreditation scheme which its develop-ment team has run for the past four years, suggesting this would be a perfect time for clubs to engage with its development officer. It only requires one or two volunteers from each club to get matters moving.
A Camanachd Association spokesman said: ‘We are delighted to announce 37 clubs across shinty have already started their journey toward enhanced governance, planning and provision of good practice through Clubmark accreditation. We need to continue moving forward and would encourage all clubs to arrange a suitable date with their regional development officer to continue progression or, in some cases, to overcome some current challenges.
‘One of the primary purposes of development staff is to support the development of increased membership and improved participation opportunities in clubs to enhance member retention. One of the tools to start this process is the Clubmark accreditation which contributes as one of our key outcomes of a well-organised club. The Strategy for Shinty provides further information.’
Funding streams are almost all still fully operational making this the perfect opportunity for clubs to use time that would have been used preparing for matches to apply for funds to help sow the seeds of success for years to come.
The Camanachd Association has made it clear it is determined to work in partnership with its members, clubs and sponsors to try and find solutions to the unique issues facing the game.
Consultant appointed for short-term working groups
The Camanachd Association has appointed independent consultant Neil MacDonald to lead the consultation phase of a new working group which has the specific remit of evaluating current provision of the sport in Argyll and Bute.
The group will gather feedback from members to identify opportunities for enhanced working in future.
New Camanachd Association director Roddy McCuish will lead the group, with development officer Euan McMurdo also playing a key role.
Anyone wishing to be part of the group should make direct contact with Euan McMurdo.
Meantime director and vice president Steven MacKenzie’s competitions review will likely cover the options available for the reminder of the 2020 season as well as taking a longer term view.
All clubs will be consulted as part of the process and anyone wishing to be part of this online working group should contact Camanachd Association operations manager Astie Cameron directly.
Kilmallie roll back the years
With no action on the field, shinty clubs and the Camanachd Association have taken to social media to give supporters a shinty fix.
Kilmallie Shinty Club has unveiled an interesting project where 14 former players recall their favourite on-the-field memories, including the best 12 players, in formation order, they have played with.
First up was club stalwart Trevor Jackson who selected Bochy MacNiven as keeper for his team. His defence was made up from James MacNicol at full back, wing backs David Neilson and Ian Robertson with the formidable Keith Blackhall at half back.
Wing centres Lachie Innes and Mark MacPherson flanked full centre Donald Lamont in the middle of the park.
Scott Rodger took up the half forward position with Liam MacDonald and John Stewart at wing forward and Totti MacNicol at full forward.
Trevor Jackson’s best goal scored was his 30 second volley against Kingussie in a MacTavish Cup Final which Kingussie eventually won.
Ian Robertson’s ‘screamer’ in a Sutherland Cup semi-final was the best goal seen, whilst winning the Sutherland Cup Final against Fort William in 2007 was his favourite shinty memory.
Totti MacNicol was given the honour of being nominated the best Kilmallie player in Trevor Jackson’s opinion.
Discover more great moments and best teams as named by former Kilmallie players on the club’s Facebook page.
Bute funding boost
Bute Shinty Club received a huge boost with the news it had been awarded £1,800 from CalMac’s Community Fund.
The islanders dropped down from the Mowi National Division to Mowi South Division 1 at the end of last season, whilst their second team play in Mowi South Division 2.
Its first team will be one of the championship favourites this term. The club is also regarded as having a number of promising players throughout the youth age groups.
A delighted Alan Liddell from the Bute club said: ‘The CalMac Community Fund is designed to help the under 25 age group who live on islands served by CalMac and we will use the money to support this group.’
The club pathway to first team shinty is evident as Alan Liddell explained: ‘More than half of our current first and second team player pools consist of players aged under 20, whilst our ladies team have much the same age mix. We also have a thriving youth system throughout primary and secondary schools and have supplemented that with around a dozen boys and girls of pre-school age playing shinty.
‘As a club, we support all the age groups and will continue to do so. The CalMac award will help enormously with these aims.’
The CalMac Community Fund supports community led activity by funding non-profit organisations to deliver great projects for children and young people living across their network.
Having made more than 30 awards in 2019, they are in the process of making a further 30 awards ranging between £500 and £2,000, split between six regional areas across west coast communities.
The fund is specifically aimed at supporting projects that will involve and benefit the lives of children and young people aged 25 years and under as well as events which take place in the islands and mainland port towns within which CalMac operate.
Youth shinty survey
The Camanachd Association is undertaking a youth shinty survey aimed at gathering views from clubs and schools.
The survey will gather opinions on shinty’s main focus at various age groups as well as exploring what changes could be introduced.
Views are also sought on last year’s Tulloch Cup, the Camanachd Association Cup and MacKay Cup competitions as well the revamped 2019 London Shield format.
One key area in the survey surrounds whether restructuring shinty’s U17 age group to become U16s would be a good thing for the game.
Other discussion points explore whether youth shinty should be played over the winter months, whether fixtures should take place on a Sunday to avoid clashes with exams and senior training and whether games should be scheduled during the Easter and summer school holidays.
Views are also sought on whether cups and medals should be awarded at all youth shinty levels.
The full survey can be found on the Camanachd Association’s website and social media pages.
Oban Camanachd Superball winner
Andrew ‘Papa’ MacCuish won the top prize in Oban Camanachd’s March Superball draw. Andrew receives the £500 top prize with Donald MacDonald collecting the £100 second prize.
Oban Camanachd’s Super-ball can continue as subscribers pay their £10 monthly contribution by standing order. New members are always welcome.
Like many other clubs, Oban Celtic has had to suspend its shinty lotto. This is an important fund raiser for many clubs but with shops closing and unnecessary travel prohibited, the continuation of such schemes is not practicable.
Kenny MacLeod, Strachur
Strachur and District Shinty Club was saddened to hear of the passing of one of the club’s most staunch supporters, Kenny MacLeod, who died just a few days short of his 79th birthday.
One of the game’s great characters and a man famous for his photographic memory of shinty matches dating back to the 1950s, Kenny played for Strachur and served in different voluntary roles including secretary and latterly honorary club vice president.
Failing health in later years failed to stop Kenny from attending home matches and he was regularly seen in his wheelchair watching games at Strachur thanks to the kindness and generosity of staff at Struan Lodge Care Home in Dunoon.
Always an enthusiast, Kenny in his heyday was first at the field on a Saturday morning to line and prepare the pitch and he played a hugely significant role in Strachur and District Shinty Club and within shinty in the south of Scotland.
Kenny’s sister Fiona said: ‘Kenny lived for shinty and he loved the club dearly.’
A memorial service will be held when the current situation allows.