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Some anniversaries will forever stand the test of time and as the current Oban Camanachd squad prepares for the new truncated shinty season, they can take inspiration from events 25 years ago when, on Saturday June 1 1996, the club claimed the Camanachd Cup for the first time in 58 years.
It was the Centennial Final coming 100 years after Kingussie defeated Glasgow Cowal – also in Inverness – to lift the inaugural trophy. This time, however, Oban Camanachd would leave the Highland Capital with shinty’s greatest prize for only the third time in their history.
Their campaign opened with a 3-2 triumph at Glasgow Mid Argyll courtesy of Fraser Inglis’ winning penalty, followed by a 3-0 quarter-final success over Ballachulish. It took extra-time to see off Fort William 2-1 in a thrilling semi-final at Taynuilt with Stephen Campbell’s late 30-yard strike winning the day.
National Premier League and Macaulay Cup winners Kingussie went into the final as favourites, seeing off Kyles Athletic, Kilmallie and Newtonmore along the way. Indeed Kingussie had won six of the last nine finals including twice against Oban Camanachd. The previous year they came from two goals down to beat Oban Camanachd 3-2 at Mossfield.
However, there was a quiet confidence amongst the Oban Camanachd players, officials and supporters who travelled north on the Friday. A Saturday morning game of ten-pin bowling eased the nerves and left the squad relaxed ahead of their bid for a Scottish Cup upset.
From the first shrill of referee Ron Mullican’s whistle, the final was pulsating and there were chances at both ends before Ronald Ross gave Kingussie an early lead. It looked ominous for the Oban side when Ally Borthwick added a second just after the half-hour.
However Oban Camanachd showed their mettle as Dougie MacIntyre first ran onto a bouncing ball before firing home and just minutes later, MacIntyre got his second from the left of the ‘D’ to address the deficit and make it 2-2 at the interval.
You couldn’t take your eyes off the pitch as Oban keeper John MacGregor’s flying save thwarted Ronald Ross before Kingussie custodian Ian Anderson stretched high to turn away Fraser Inglis’ goal-bound effort and then Dougie MacIntyre hit the post.
The winning goal was a thing of beauty. John MacGregor’s hit-out was picked up in midfield by Dougie MacIntyre whose forward pass was collected by David MacCuish. Gavin Blainey instantly controlled MacCuish’s lay-off before knocking the ball to Gordon MacIntyre 20 yards from goal. MacIntyre’s touch was perfect before he blasted the ball home to the delight of the Oban support. It was a terrific finish from a player who had defied the odds, returning to the shinty field just seven weeks after losing an eye in a match against Kingussie earlier in the season.
The final 20 minutes were tense as Kingussie searched for an equaliser but Oban Camanachd held firm to secure a famous 3-2 victory.
Kingussie’s Rory Fraser was awarded the Albert Smith medal as man-of-the-match, although several Oban Camanachd players must have run him very close.
Oban Camanachd skipper Neil ‘Nonnie’ MacInnes received shinty’s most coveted prize from Peter Cullen from sponsors Glenmorangie ahead of delivering a tremendous captain’s speech at the post-final reception at Inverness Town House.
The celebrations were under way as the team bus left Inverness with David MacCuish’s renditions of ‘American Pie’ keeping the party going. The squad was welcomed home just before midnight by Oban Pipe Band and a delighted group of supporters and the celebrations continued long into the night, the next day and the following week.
For team manager Colin MacDonald, it was to be a last game in charge and the culmination of a successful tenure at all levels.
Player, manager and lifelong supporter Nigel Evans said: ‘Although 25 years ago, the memory of that day will never leave us and let there be no doubt, it was a deserved victory. The team’s strength on the day was teamwork, especially the midfield of David Devine, Duncan Morrison and Fraser Inglis. They were ably assisted by a defence of Alex MacVicar, Ally MacInnes, Andrew Inglis and inspirational team captain, the late Neil ‘Nonnie’ MacInnes.
‘We also remember committee members including Duncan MacIntyre, Angus Brown and John MacInnes who are sadly no longer with us. It was the day a dream became a reality.’
1996 was a good year for the Oban club with the seniors also reaching the Macaulay and Celtic Society finals, although a series of injuries and suspensions culminated in a sixth place league finish. Lochside Rovers won South Division 3 for the third successive season as well as the Colintraive Cup and the Munro Shield. The U14s lifted the MacMaster Cup and the U17s won through to the MacQuiston Cup Final. There was senior Scotland recognition for Dougie MacIntyre and Nonnie MacInnes, whilst Fraser Inglis and David Devine represented the Scotland U21s. 1996 was also the year the Oban Camanacheroes Ladies team was formed. However, it was success in the Scottish Cup that would be remembered for years to come.
The team that day was: John MacGregor; Alex MacVicar; Neil MacInnes, captain; Ally MacInnes; Andrew Inglis; Fraser Inglis; Duncan Morrison; David Devine; Dougie MacIntyre; David MacCuish; Gavin Blainey and Gordon MacIntyre. Substitutes: Stephen Campbell, Gareth Evans, Stephen Sloss and Lorne Robertson.
Andrew Pearson would have been in the squad but was on his honeymoon in Thailand.