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Stephen Sloss looks back on his time managing Oban Camanachd
Stephen Sloss is brutally honest as he looks back on Oban Camanachd’s 2021 shinty campaign.
‘I won’t dress this up,’ he says in typical forthright fashion. ‘This season was just a disaster for us. We lacked commitment and our failure to score goals in the big games cost us dearly meaning we weren’t able to build on the 2019 season.’
Having recently announced his decision to step down as Oban Camanachd manager, Stephen Sloss can now take time to wind the clock back and reflect on a period of definite progress prior to the 2020 covid lockdown when his side earned the tag of ‘top team in the south’.
Stephen Sloss stepped into the Oban Camanachd hot-seat at the end of the 2018 season, replacing Iain Hay who had just won the Scottish Seas Farms Glasgow Celtic Society Cup.
In his first season in charge, Stephen continued the upward trajectory, building on Iain’s good work, as his side retained the Celtic Society Cup and finished runners-up in the Mowi Premiership. They also got to the finals of the Tulloch Homes Camanachd Cup and Artemis Macaulay Cup, but didn’t lift the silverware. There was a real feeling the club could make the next step up to national success.
‘I will always look back on the 2019 season as one where we could have done something special,’ said Stephen. ‘We proved ourselves to be the top team in the south and took the Celtic Society Cup again, whilst also finishing second in the league and runners-up in the Camanachd Cup and Macaulay Cup. It is a year where we could have won everything.
‘I don’t think the Camanachd Cup Final being abandoned helped us. All the boys built themselves up for the first game, but seemed deflated when the second game came around and we just didn’t get that same high back again.
‘We missed a chance to go 3-1 up in the Macaulay final before going down 3-2 to Kingussie and these are the margins that make the difference.’
The 2020 shinty season was just less than a fortnight old before covid brought it to a premature end with Oban Camanachd’s opening day trip to Glasgow Mid Argyll postponed because of an unplayable field.
Fast forward to June 2021 with interim regionalised leagues and a definite focus on cup competitions.
Oban Camanachd began the abridged season with the loss of Scottish internationals Andrew MacCuish and Lorne Dickie as well as Gary McKerracher and Willie Neilson whilst Scott MacMillan wasn’t always available because of work commitments.
‘They were big players for us,’ said Stephen, ‘but that should have been an opportunity for others to step up and make their own mark but it just didn’t happen. We needed more commitment.’
Oban Camanachd started with a goalless league draw at Glasgow Mid Argyll, perhaps an early indication of frustrations in front of goal that would repeat and repeat again, before comfortable victories over lower league sides Aberdour, Inveraray and Bute.
Fort William, newly promoted to the Mowi Premiership at the end of the 2019 season, provided stiff opposition in the Tulloch Homes Camanachd Cup second round with Daniel MacVicar’s early goal separating the sides. A 6-1 win against Oban Celtic in the Artemis Macaulay Cup quarter finals followed soon after.
Stephen said: ‘It was good to get back playing again but it was frustrating as well. We said to the boys at the start of the season that if we score two goals in each game against the big teams, then we will win the match as we have one of the best defences in the game.’
The statistics support this. Oban Camanachd kept a clean sheet in seven of their 11 matches and only lost one goal in three of the other four matches.
“We are certainly lacking a goalscorer though and that’s an issue. With the exception of Papa [Andrew MacCuish], this has been an issue for Oban Camanachd for a while. I don’t know what effect covid had or whether there was a mind-set that because this was an interim season and we were in a poor league, that in turn led to an overall drop in commitment but although we took a couple of steps forward in 2019, we fell four steps backwards this year.’
The Artemis Macaulay Cup semi-final against Kyles Athletic was Oban Camanachd’s first reverse of 2021 as Robbie Macleod’s effort five minutes into the second half sent Kyles through to the final. It was a disappointment given Oban Camanachd’s dominance over their south rivals in 2019. ‘We were against a weaker Kyles team than in 2019 but still couldn’t get these games over the line this year after being on top of them before. It was one of these seasons.’
The Tulloch Homes Camanachd Cup quarter-final against Lovat was played at Taynuilt in heavy rain which didn’t suit Oban Camanachd’s style of play but they had more than enough chances to win. The 3-1 loss was the only time an opposing team had scored more than once against Oban Camanachd throughout the season. ‘The Lovat tie is another match we should have won. We didn’t have the necessary commitment though and some didn’t treat the season as they should, so it was a chance missed.
‘The interim league structure didn’t help and didn’t suit us. It became apparent early on that there were clubs who were desperate to play shinty and others less so. You had Fort William, just up the road, who were looking for matches just as we were so why not allow these teams to play each other? The difference between this season and seasons before is that you get no easy games in the premiership. It is a tough match every single Saturday. I appreciate covid had an impact, but we didn’t get that same standard of challenge in the interim league. We didn’t even play Kyles in our league.’
Ballachulish and Inveraray were swept aside before the disappointment of a penalty shoot-out defeat to Kyles Athletic in the Scottish Sea Farms Glasgow Celtic Society Final – the Oban side’s final game of the season – which meant the trophy they held since 2018 had been surrendered.
‘The Celtic Society Final was a case where I felt we were forced into not having extra-time because of the condition of the pitch and we then lose the final on penalties despite being the better team. Winning the Celtic Society and being in the Macaulay Final should be a minimum requirement at Oban Camanachd every season in my opinion.’
The introduction of some younger players was a boost for the future. ‘It was Blair MacFarlane’s first season and he did well. Ross Campbell and Louis MacFarlane also made positive contributions and they now need to play every week to continue their progression.
‘This is a critical period for the club and Oban Camanachd need more players of premiership standard in their squad. If you look at Kinlochshiel, who did so well this season, you’ll see they have several experienced players in the 35- to 40 years age bracket and we just don’t get that at Oban Camanachd; our players retire too soon. Kinlochshiel have won all competitions over the last few seasons so they have their rewards. I don’t think there is any doubt covid affected the standard this season but you have to say Kinlochshiel took their chances.
‘We tried things pre-season and throughout the season to get that extra edge. For example, Beth MacLellan did some terrific sports analysis work with the players where they were given information regarding their performances and asked to look in detail at themselves and the contribution they make, especially in the big games. You have to work hard to get your rewards.’
As for the future, Stephen added: ‘I’ll still be involved in shinty and I’m always happy to help out, especially with Lochside. I’ve not had much of a chance to watch our son Matthew playing for Lochside, and I feel guilty about that, so I’m looking forward to doing more of that. There are also several players at Lochside who I coached at primary school level and some now with the seniors, so it will be good to see how they are developing.
‘There are a number of promising youngsters at the club and it might be that Oban Camanachd will have to wait three to four years until Louis MacFarlane, Innes Jackson, Callum MacMillan, Matthew Sloss, Daniel Pearson and Alexander MacDonald are all a bit older before they make a serious challenge again.
‘I’ll always be interested in what is going on at the club. I hope to stay on the committee and I’m not saying I wouldn’t do the first team manager’s job again in the future if the opportunity arose. I always enjoyed the big games, especially the finals, but I never intended to be in the job for more than two years and this is the right time, a natural time, for the club to make a change.’
What that change means for Oban Camanachd remains to be seen but the tremendous contribution made by Stephen Sloss is to be admired. His determination and passion for Oban Camanachd to be the dominant team in the south before moving on to national success was very much on track at the end of 2019. However, covid came along to throw a spanner in the works, as it did with many facets of life.
Oban Camanachd has confirmed its annual general meeting will take place at the Rockfield Centre on Friday December 3 at 7pm. The new manager is expected to be appointed then.
Donella Crawford Sixes
Oban High School took part in the Donella Crawford Sixes at Ardnamurchan High School on Wednesday November 10.
This was the Oban side’s first outing for some time.
The teams were split into two sections and Oban, which has the core of a good team, finished in a creditable third place in their group, despite being hampered by a hand injury to forward Sasha MacCallum. Eventual winners Culloden and Plockton took the top places to reach the semis, with Culloden beating Ardnamurchan in the final.
Oban High School from: Lauren Muir, Hannah MacDonald, Nicola Duncan, Ellie MacInnes, Mairi Inglis, Sasha MacCallum, Bethan Neil and Alisa Spreadbury.
Saturday Morning Shinty Street League
There will be a Saturday Morning Street League at Oban High School’s 4G pitch on Saturday November 20.
Oban Camanachd, Oban Celtic and Lorn Ladies have collaborated to bring this project together and will share the coaching duties.
This event replaces the mini youth shinty and all primary school aged children are welcome. The sessions take place between 10am and 11am.
Shinty ambassadors put through their paces
Camanachd Association development officers Les Kinvig and Katie Drain put the latest batch of shinty ambassadors through their paces at Oban High School last week.
Ambassadors from Ardnamurchan, Dunoon, Lochaber, Lochgilphead, Oban and Uddingston carried out a desk exercise to plan ahead and list what they bring to the role. There followed an outdoor coaching session on the 4G pitch as well as group work to promote shinty, culminating in a session on leadership skills.
Camanachd Association director Roddy McCuish dropped by, whilst Alaina MacLellan led one of the sessions.
The group thanks Oban High School head teacher Peter Bain for accommodating them.
Les Kinvig will now accompany the Oban shinty ambassadors at shinty taster sessions at primary schools.
Oban Camanachd Club AGM
Oban Camanachd Club will hold its annual general meeting at the Rockfield Centre, Oban, on Friday December 3.
This will be an opportunity to review the 2021 shinty season and, along with confirmation of the usual office bearers, there will be the appointment of an Oban Camanachd manager to take over from Stephen Sloss who stood down at the end of the 2021 season.
The meeting starts at 7pm. Everyone welcome.
Camanachd Association annual general meeting
The 2021 Camanachd Association annual general meeting will take place on Friday November 26.
MacTavish Juvenile Cup Final
The MacTavish Juvenile Cup Final between Beauly Under 17s and Kingussie Under 17s, scheduled to take place on Saturday November 13 at Braeview Park, was called off because of covid restrictions.
The final has been re-scheduled for Saturday November 27 at the same venue.