The shinty round up – Saturday November 6

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Stephen Sloss steps down as Oban Camanachd boss

Stephen Sloss has informed the Oban Camanachd committee of his decision to step down as team manager.

Stephen took charge at the end of the 2018 season, replacing Iain Hay, before retaining the Scottish Seas Farms Glasgow Celtic Society Cup as well as finishing runners-up in the Mowi Premiership, the Tulloch Homes Camanachd Cup and the Artemis Macaulay Cup in his first season.

He said: ‘I’ve enjoyed my time as manager and will always look back on the 2019 season as one where we could have done something special. However, it is a good time for the club to make a change and I’ll always be interested in the goings-on at the club.

Oban Camanachd vice president Gareth Evans said: ‘Everyone at the club would like to thank Stephen for all his hard work. It is not an easy job and everyone has an opinion but Stephen has shown massive commitment, always at training twice a week and at games on a Saturday, tying it all in with his work commitments.’

Thoughts will now turn to finding a replacement. Gareth added: ‘We have a committee meeting this week when we will set a date for our annual general meeting which should take place by the beginning of December.’

Stephen Sloss will reflect on the 2021 shinty season in next week’s Oban Times and Lochaber Times.

Kilmallie manager Martin Stewart watches his side play Kingussie in the 2021 Tulloch Homes Camanachd Cup quarter final, played at The Dell. Photograph: Neil Paterson.

Kilmallie manager Martin Stewart reflects on 2021 shinty campaign

‘We showed at times this season just how good we can be, competing with top sides in certain games whilst at the same time boosting the size of our first team squad.’

That was the positive message from Kilmallie manager Martin Stewart when reflecting on the 2021 shinty season.

2019 ended with former manager John Stewart keeping Kilmallie in the Mowi Premiership, securing an eighth-place finish to beat the drop by three points. However, he stepped down before the start of the following season to be replaced by his brother Martin Stewart.

2020 began with a 6-0 humbling at Lovat with Greg Matheson scoring four times. It didn’t count though as less than a week later, covid concerns led to a suspension of all shinty activity until further notice.

When shinty eventually restarted in June 2021, Kilmallie got off to a false start, as Martin Stewart recalls. ‘Five of our players had covid and opposing teams called games off too, meaning we missed the first month of the season.’

A season low-point followed as Kilmallie’s first game was a 6-1 defeat to fierce rivals Fort William.

‘Our first half against Fort William was a nightmare. It was such a hard first half for us, played at a quick pace and we just weren’t at the races. We came back into it in the second half, but the damage was done by then. You never want to lose to your local rivals but we just didn’t apply ourselves. It was pre-season for us and a bit of a lesson.

‘It is difficult to get all the boys on board at the start and to get them to trust me and back me, but we all worked hard to turn things around.’

Kilmallie bounced back with a much-improved performance the following week, twice taking the lead before eventually going down 4-2 at Kinlochshiel. ‘We showed with that performance just what we can do on our day. We pushed Kinlochshiel all the way and they went on to lift the Camanachd Cup and the MacTavish Cup. Their equalising goal was fortunate to say the least and we were 3-2 down at the point Stevie [Stewart] was sent off.’

With two tough encounters out of the way, Kilmallie went on to play six more matches with a heavy defeat at Kingussie in the Tulloch Homes quarter-finals puncturing a winning run against Bute, Glenurquhart, Skye twice and Lochaber.

‘Kingussie exploited our lack of pace at the back. We just have to hold our hands up as far as that game goes. What a squad they have though. They were just so good and they seem to have cover for every position, whether on the bench or in their second team. Even their substitutes would start for just about every other team.’

The victories are proof there is plenty to build on. ‘Winning is a great feeling,’ said Martin. ‘We beat Skye home and away and they won the Balliemore. We have rarely had a full squad to choose from and the away game in Skye was particularly testing in that respect. We played really well in the first half against Glenurquhart and in the derby against Lochaber. It was also nice to win the Thomas Ferguson Memorial Cup on Skye and the BSW Cup against Lochaber. These days help bring everyone together.’

During the season Kilmallie introduced no fewer than 11 new players into their first team with Dylan Monk, Martyn Cameron, Shane O’Rua, Stuart Ross, Kale Lacey, Aidan Love, Finlay Ireland, Jordan Campbell, Cam Ross and Phil Fyfe and new signing Stuart Callison from Lochaber all making their debuts.

‘It’s a boost for next season. These boys might not all feature but they have boosted our squad size. We also have a lot of good youngsters who just need game time to make the next step.

‘Ben MacKinnon can be great player and is still only 16. He can be one of the best at wing centre although we may use him at wing forward in the premiership until he gets some experience at that level. Dylan Monk and Aidan Love are also under 17 players and they too have great futures.

‘I thanked the players for their efforts at the end of the season. Take Robbie MacFadyen, for example. He stepped in as captain when Innes Blackhall was suspended and he has been solid in every game with his ‘never-say-die’ attitude. He’d be our player of the year if we had awards for the season.’

Martin has a keen interest in all things Kilmallie and has a clear desire for the whole club to do well.

‘I’m so impressed with the spirit within our second team. Their mentality and the banter within the squad is unbelievable and reminds me of the first team a few years back. It’s good to see them all get on so well and I believe they could win a cup next season.’

As far Martin Stewart’s own position as manager is concerned, Kilmallie usually have their annual general meeting in mid-January. ‘I’d love to keep doing it,’ he said, ‘but there are changes at my work and that has to come first so I will have to see how that works out. I’d also like to get some help on the touchline as I’d really like to get back playing next season and I must say Craig MacDougall has been a big help this year.’

There will be issues to address ahead of the 2022 shinty season.

Steven Stewart has relocated to London and is a significant loss. There are also the inevitable injuries. ‘We’ve had more than our fair share of injuries of late,’ said Martin. Callum MacDougall has been out long-term whilst Craig MacIsaac has a torn knee ligament. It’s a similar injury to Callum. He is to have a scan, so we’ll know more then. It’s a big blow as Craig is one of the most talented shinty players in our squad. Martyn Cameron has a crack on an ankle bone and keeps reminding me he scored against Skye with the injury!’

Suspensions are a particular bugbear with bans for Innes Blackhall and Stuart Callison stretching into next season.

Stewart said: ‘I’m not a fan of the current points system. We have only played eight matches this season so how do players serve their suspensions. Don’t get me wrong, I know players need to be more disciplined and some of our boys need to work on that. However Innes Blackhall was sent off last July and with three games still to serve, he probably won’t play again until April 2022. That’s an awful long time not to be playing, especially following a year with no shinty. There is a real danger guys will go off and find something else to do on a Saturday. The club is going to speak to the Camanachd Association about it so we’ll see what happens.’

To make matters worse, Michael Rodger has a suspension which carries forward from the end of the 2019 season.

Despite the loss of Blackhall, Callison, MacIsaac, Rodger and MacDougall for the start of next season, Martin Stewart prefers to focus on additions to his squad.

‘Kevin Toye has stepped down as second team manager so the club is looking to replace him. Kevin featured in the first team this season and is keen to try and win a place in the side permanently so he will compete with Shane Gillies. That’s great for me as we will have two quality keepers competing for a place in the first team. We haven’t had that for around 30 years.

‘It would also be great to get Jordan MacPhee back playing in midfield and I’m looking to play myself. I also think we have a forward line that will do well and score goals in the premiership with Michael Rodger, Daniel Stewart and Craig MacIsaac, whilst Stuart Callison will add pace.’

The season might be over but Stewart has lost none of his enthusiasm adding: ‘Our training takes place on the astro at Lochaber High School. It has been really competitive and the ball moves at pace. We have been getting 17 players at training each week and we’ll keep that going into December and then have a wee break. We’ll get back to training in the New Year, build on our fitness, play some friendlies in February and maybe organise an away trip where you can really build team spirit.

‘We will be ready to go by the time the new season comes around, there’s no doubt about that.’

Oban youngsters take Under 14 South League Final honours

Oban Camanachd’s Under 14s won the South League Final, beating Aberdour Under 14s 7-1 on Sunday November 7.

This final brought together West League winners Oban Camanachd and Central League winners Aberdour in a 2pm throw-up at Lochaber High School’s astro pitch.

The Aberdour defence, well marshalled by skipper Tom Shenfield, stood up well to a series of Oban attacks, keeping the final scoreless for the opening 25 minutes, before Scott Campbell and Matthew Sloss gave the Oban side a 2-0 lead at the break.

Matthew Sloss proved too hot to handle for the Aberdour defence, taking his tally to four goals, with Daniel Duffy and Fraser MacMillan getting the others.

Logan Adam, who made his first team debut this season, countered for Aberdour whose keeper John Henderson made a string of fine saves during this entertaining final.

Camanachd Association Youth Director Willie MacDonald presented the South League Shield to Oban Camanachd captain Alexander MacDonald.