Shinty: ‘PJ’ relishing Newtonmore return

This year's captains get ready for the new season. Picture: Iain Ferguson

This year's captains get ready for the new season. Picture: Iain Ferguson

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Change can be as hard as it is inevitable. However, as the 2013 shinty season gets under way today, Scotland’s champions hope to make it as seamless as possible.

Last year, when Newtonmore’s players clutched the 2012 Orion Group Premiership trophy, their joy was tinged with a palpable sense of sadness.

Manager Norman MacArthur, a popular local builder, had indicated his managerial reign at the club had come to an end. And as the champagne bottles emptied, who could deny the most successful Eilan manager of the modern era some respite and the chance to move down a gear, in shinty terms, and work with the committee and some of the club’s youths.

Today, then, the champions open their defence of shinty’s premier championship against Macaulay Cup winners Glenurquhart with a new man at the helm – well, not totally new.

PJ Mackintosh, a highly respected young player before joining the armed forces, returns to the fold, fittingly at the request of the first-team squad.

When MacArthur decided to step aside, the players went back to PJ; the man who took the club for three years before MacArthur was enlisted. It is a rejigging of positions, therefore, rather than a wholesale restructure.

“There isn’t a great deal that has changed in the last ten years,” says Mackintosh. “The shinty club is still the heart of the community, as it always was. Even though I wasn’t managing the club, Saturday is always about shinty so, when we were at home, I was often at the games. My brother Glen was still playing and my son is now, too, so I was never far away.”

As the blue and white hoops gear up for the throw-up, some things have changed since PJ – short for Paul John – was last roaming the touchline by the clubhouse.

The Newtonmore side he inherits this time are the biggest force in shinty. This is in direct contrast to his previous stint. In those days, neighbours Kingussie were still rampaging over everyone and Ronald Ross was scoring around 50 goals more than anyone else per season and sometimes more, individually, than entire clubs. Not so, now. With three titles in the cabinet, Newtonmore are the big boys of Badenoch. This carries additional pressure, not that Mackintosh is overly vexed.

“When you have won two or three championships, the danger is that things can get stale. The ability is still there but you need a new approach, you need to freshen things up at training. “I am not going to make huge changes. I’ll maybe move things about a bit but the squad is still there. We’ve not set targets for this many cups, or that many, because you are laying yourself up for disappointment if you don’t achieve it.

“We will be there to be shot at, no doubt about it, but good teams thrive under that kind of pressure.”

Few people were surprised when Mackintosh was announced as the manager at the club’s agm. Arguably, the most surprised was the new incumbent.

“I must admit, I didn’t envisage being back as manager. I thought I’d had enough last time around. But eight weeks in, getting everybody organised, I’m looking forward to getting started. It’s a bug. It draws you in.”

For today’s opponents, Glenurquhart, the events of last season will surely have given them hope and heart. Securing the first senior trophy of their history last year was a titanic feat; so much so that a trophy cabinet had to be built to house the Macaulay Cup.

With the close season always bringing rustiness, it may take teams until late March to find proper propulsion and Glen will line up in the shadow of Creag Dubh feeling they could take something tangible back to Drumnadrochit.

Change has been ubiquitous during the close season and Newtonmore’s rivals Kingussie welcome back one of its favourite sons, Davie Anderson, this time as co-manager with Russell Jones. Anderson was a giant of a player at the Dell and captained his country against the best Ireland could muster.

His return will act as a fillip after a rare barren season at Kingussie, who face a trip to Wester Ross to meet a Kinclochshiel side that had the upper hand over them last term. A further intriguing change is at An 
Aird where Fort William have gone back to the not-too-distant glory days to replace Peter McIntyre.

Victor Smith and Adam Robertson achieved so much as players at Fort that they could decorate the clubhouse with their medals.

Their presence alone will galvanise a Fort side that struggled to gain a foothold in a trophy-less year.

No one is making predictions below Ben Nevis but expect an exciting brand of fast moving stick-play.

Already 2013 has the ingredients to fascinate.

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