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Following an enforced 15-month break, the new shinty season gets under way on Saturday June 5.
Games will be played within current covid restrictions which include no group travel, no use of changing rooms and no spectators.
The game’s 18 senior sides have been split into three regionalised leagues for a year to minimise travel. The new format also throws up a number of exciting local derbies throughout the season.
Oban Camanachd compete in Mowi Senior League C and manager Stephen Sloss has a period of transition to deal with. ‘Andrew MacCuish, Lorne Dickie, Gary McKerracher and Willie Neilson have indicated they won’t be available this season, whilst Scott MacMillan’s work limits his availability,’ he said. ‘However Garry Lord is back in training which is a boost.
Blair MacFarlane, Evan MacLellan, Chrissie MacMillan and Ross Campbell were breaking into the first team before the enforced break so they are ready to step up. They are twice-over Sutherland Cup winners with Lochside so it is good for the club that they progress to the senior side. This year’s league season is an ideal time for that to happen.’
Oban Camanachd had an inter-club match against Lochside but have only managed one pre-season friendly – against Inveraray – due to reasons outwith their control.
Sloss said: ‘We won’t have the same run of consistently difficult games that we would have had in the Premiership so we will need to guard against getting caught cold in any big cup ties.’
Brian MacCallum takes over from Kenny Wotherspoon as Oban Camanachd assistant manager. ‘We are lucky to have Brian,’ added Sloss. ‘He played with the older players in the squad and has won the Sutherland Cup with Lochside, managing most of the younger ones, so he is a familiar face and will hit the ground running.’
Extra incentive, if it is needed, came with news that Oban will host two of shinty’s major finals with confirmation that the 2021 Tulloch Homes Camanachd Cup Final will take place at Mossfield which also hosts the Artemis Macaulay Cup Final.
Oban Camanachd are scheduled to open at Glasgow Mid Argyll on Saturday but that match is dependent on Glasgow dropping down from Level 3 in accordance with covid restrictions. Even if restrictions are lifted in time, GMA may argue they have not had the same opportunity to undertake contact training as other clubs so may ask for a period of grace to prepare for the new season.
Dougie MacIntyre stays on as Oban Celtic boss and assistant manager Les Kinvig knows his side will face some testing fixtures starting with Kyles Athletic’s trip to Oban this Saturday. Kinvig said: ‘The saving grace is there is no pressure on us but we will be tested against what would normally be higher league opposition. It is a chance for us to measure where we are and recognise what we need to do to get to the next level.
‘It’s been a short run up to the new season with only a couple of weeks of contact training but we had been gathering for twice weekly fitness training for some weeks. We’d have liked a longer pre-season, but it is the same for everyone. We have good youth numbers coming through but they have all missed a vital 18 months of development time. We will look to the league games to introduce them at the right time. That will set us up nicely for the 2022 season, but it would be nice to get a run in the cup competitions this year.’
Oban Celtic, who played a double-header against the Inveraray first and second teams last weekend, have former player Allan ‘Spider’ Duncan back in goal and Iain MacFarlane has put his knee injuries behind him and will play out-field. ‘To have a recognised keeper is a bonus,’ added Kinvig.
Robert Baxter has taken over from Dunkie Kerr as Kyles Athletic manager and Paul MacArthur has left, rejoining Newtonmore.
Mowi Senior League C is south based and includes Aberdour and Inveraray who meet at Silversands.
There is some doubt surrounding the Mowi Senior League A fixtures. Covid issues at Fort William and Kilmallie, with a small number of players testing positive and others self-isolating, mean their matches against Kinlochshiel and Skye Camanachd respectively may not go ahead. The Camanachd Association has been working on contingencies and Skye and Kinlochshiel could have a re-arranged meeting in Portree if their original fixtures do not go ahead.
Kinlochshiel have prepared well for the new season with friendly wins over Skye (4-0) and Lovat (3-0) and a 2-2 draw with Kingussie, whilst the islanders beat Lovat 1-0 last weekend with Iain MacLellan scoring.
Lochaber, with Danny Delaney now in charge, travel to Blairbeg to play Glenurquhart. Delaney stopped playing following an eye injury and he will be without promising young attacker Max Campbell who has joined Newtonmore.
Outwith the senior leagues, Lochside Rovers host Bute in Mowi South League A. Several younger Lochside players will be introduced to replace those moving up to the Oban Camanachd squad.
Taynuilt face Col Glen at Taynuilt Sports Field, whilst the Inveraray seconds take on Ballachulish at the Winterton.
Glengarry welcome the Skye seconds to Craigard in Mowi North League A. Glengarry are boosted by the news Rhuairaidh MacDonald will be available after initially leaving the club to join Kinlochshiel at the start of the short-lived 2020 season. Skye have veteran Somhairle MacDonald back in their ranks following a spell with Inverness. The Fort William seconds travel to the Kinlochshiel seconds, covid issues permitting.
In the Mowi Central League, Kilmallie and Oban Celtic second teams are scheduled to clash at the Canal Parks, covid issues permitting. Glenorchy meet Ardnamurchan at Mart Park whilst the Lochaber reserves play Kilmory at Spean Bridge.