Shinty neighbours all set for big derby final

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Whatever happens in shinty’s Co-operative MacTavish Cup final this afternoon in Inverness, one thing is guaranteed: history will be made.

In fact, merely by being there for this derby final, near neighbours and rivals Lovat and Glenurquhart are scribing a fresh page in sporting and village annals.

This is the first time in 125 years that the two clubs, separated by less than ten scenic miles of Inverness-shire, have contested a senior final.

Alan MacRae’s Lovat pups – the oldest player being 25 – are starring in their first showcase since the 1970s. In fact, you have to drag the finger all the way down to 1953 to find the last listing of a Lovat cup win. It’s fair to say there’s been little need of Brasso in Kiltarlity.

Glen, from Drumnadrochit, were at this same venue and final back in 2008 but came away chastened and sore.

The king, Ronald Ross, tore them into strips to his, and Kingussie’s, satisfaction. That 6-1 defeat, on a day lynchpin John Barr was ordered off, was forgotten last year, however, when red and black ribbons adorned a (still intact) Macaulay Cup.

Just because the players managed to snap the trophy 36 hours afterwards was not a sign of disrespect for the first trinket in their 127-year history.

Rather it was the desire to have it close to them at all stages of their celebrations that led to the mishap which was quickly rectified with a bit of timely soldering and a few well meant apologies. And so our stage is set for today and rarely has there been so much novelty.

If Lovat were to emerge victors today, given the lesson of history, it would almost seem, well, wrong. Then again, when Lovat win, they tend to win a lot, even if their fans have to wait a few decades to witness it. One man who will be in attendance at today’s final is 84-year-old Alan McLaren. He was the youngest Lovat player in the 1953 side that won everything in the sport – even the Glasgow Celtic Society Cup, a trophy indelibly linked with the south. He knows how much a victory would mean to the club, the supporters and the village of less than 1,000 inhabitants.

“We won everything that season including the Camanachd Cup and there was always a party in the hall and crowds of people very proud to see us come back to the village with the trophies,” he recalls. “I think it would mean everything now if this young team can do it on Saturday.”

In 1953, Lovat went through the entire season without losing, dropping only a point. This term so far, Alan MacRae’s men have only tasted one defeat – a 3-0 reverse by Kingussie in the Camanachd Cup.

According to long-standing club president Ian Ferguson, the Lovat babes are defying expectation. No one had really anticipated finals days and live TV quite so early. “To be honest, this group is probably two years ahead of what we thought. We didn’t really expect them to do anything until about 2015. Four or five years ago we got into the Premier League and went straight back down with a bump. The fortunate thing was that the players stuck together.”

Glenurquhart hugely enjoyed their day in the sun last term. They know that today’s final is not just good for the outlying areas of the Highland capital, it is great for shinty.

“I think you’d have to go back a long time since there was a club outside of Badenoch or Lochaber winning this trophy,” said co-boss Fraser MacKenzie. “That is what is good about this final and I think it will attract a big crowd, with neutrals wanting to see it, too.”

There is genuine mileage in the observation that live TV coverage can affect the takings at the gate. For this one, that may not apply. If you are a Lovat or Glen fan, you will simply want to be there – just so you can say you were.