A LOWLANDER being introduced to shinty is aware of the need to avoid certain pitfalls.
For example, the urge to do the ethnic bit and go on about Whisky Galore and great hulking Highlanders must be resisted.
As it turned out, the Glenmorangie Camanachd Cup final between Newtonmore and Kingussie at Mossfield Park, Oban, on Saturday afforded no encouragement to indulge in such fancies.
There was, in truth, surprisingly little to be folksy about once you got beyond the dog belonging to Derek Young (his son, Dallas, scored Kingussie’s fourth) which ran, in the team colours, up and down the touchline, while advice was relayed to all and sundry by its owner.
That and the strategical attendance of Winnie Ewing, the SNP MEP (a lot of initials for one woman to carry) for a little, subtle politicking. Her opponent in the European elections on 14 June, the Liberal MP Russell Johnston, was there in full highland dress, you see, and it did no harm to be seen in high profile about Oban on the day of Gaeldom’s biggest sporting event.
There was, too, the half serious, half jocular observation of another who was undergoing initiation that, in the light of the ferocity of the physical exchanges on the field, the match verdict would have to be one of not proven.
But in spite of all that, there was an underlying current of seriousness about this game, and not just because the Spey Valley had experienced an excited shift of population while rival teams from places a few miles apart met for the first time in the 86th Camanachd final.
The game of shinty itself is experiencing bad times. It is not even played in some Highland schools these days – generally due to a lack of interest on the part of teachers who give priority to more modern sporting pursuits. The lack of movement at this level leads to situations such as Saturday’s when two of the Kingussie side had played in the town’s last cup-winning team 23 years ago.
There is, consequently, a drive on to promote the centuries-old game of hitting a hand-made leather ball with a hickory stick, or caman, as a vibrant and excitingly skilful pastime. Saturday’s final did much to promote the cause. In the end, too, a case for a more progressive looking shinty was made by Kingussie’s belated success. Their tactical awareness was greater, as might have been expected from a side tutored by one of their players, Donnie Grant, who is a member of the Camanachd Association’s coaching committee.
Other striking features of the match were the speed and accuracy with which the ball was moved around and brought under control, as well as the sheer physical strength of those who were caman and going as it were.
Newtonmore wasted no time in attempting to wrest at least one title from their neighbours (who have won more trophies this season than you can shake a stick at) and took the lead in three minutes through Ken Mackintosh.
An ineffectual attempt at a clearance by the Newtonmore goalkeeper, Chisholm, saw Dave Anderson sweep in an equaliser but it was not until 20 minutes from the end that Kingussie’s superiority was converted into cup-winning goals.
Even then they first had to survive a missed penalty when Ken Mackintosh could not score from the regulation 20 yards to restore Newtonmore’s lead.
He will doubtless now join the lobby at present trying to have the Camanachd Association move the penalty spot nearer a goal only 10 feet wide and 12 feet high.
That target presented no such problem to Dallas, Anderson and Young, however, and three goals in 14 minutes moved Kingussie nearer to the chance of becoming the first side to win every trophy possible to them in a single season.
How much longer the spectators, committed or merely curious, turn up in their thousands to watch this spectacle depends on the advances the game can make on its own behalf to compete against a changing sporting background at local level.
“God looks after the Gaels,” mused one official describing how a fire engine, on hand to irrigate a parched Mossfield Park, had been turned away when the first rain for some time fell on the eve of the game.
Influences more temporal will have to be relied upon, however, to restore the temporarily ailing game of shinty to its former, traditional relevance.