SCOTLAND’S shinty players bandaged their international reputation on Saturday, leaving them 80 minutes away from what would be a memorable series victory over Ireland.
Their fans had waited long enough – too long in fact for a first Scottish victory in this Marine Harvest shinty/hurling series since 2010.
On Saturday, at last, they were allowed to enjoy themselves as Ronald Ross’s men ran out deserved 23-14 winners at a sun-kissed Bught Park.
Not only was the performance eye-catching and vibrant, it also breathed new life into an annual series which was beginning to show signs of flagging.
When Ireland tore Scotland apart two years ago in a humiliating afternoon, analysts were reluctantly coming round to the same view. Hurling had eclipsed shinty, with the Irish players now operating at a level more akin to professional.
Those looking on that day could only stand aghast at the task facing the national side if it was to restore any form of reputation and keep the oxygen in this annual exchange.
On Saturday afternoon at Inverness, all of that was forgotten as the Scots not only deserved their win but showed enough to suggest victory is also not beyond them on Irish soil at Pairc Esler in Newry next Saturday.
“It brings a bit of pride back to the fixture because it has been one-sided. What we said to the players was that it was all about putting in a performance. That’s all we could ask for,” said Ross afterwards, the wind still gusting around the ground.
“We’ll watch the video and look at how we play things next week but there is no doubt, Ireland are going to come out strong.
“This puts the spice back in things, though, as they were beginning to run away with it [the series].”
With the exception of the unfortunate Gary Innes, who suffered a bout of pre-match food poisoning, every player in the Scottish squad had a significant role to follow.
Kyles striker Roddy MacDonald, enticed back into the squad by Ross, enjoyed two three-point goals and displayed the touch and finish that he is feared for.
Having that penalty box venom was vital for the dark blues, as was the luxury of Kevin Bartlett’s awesome hitting power.
Despite being exceptional for the past four years, the Lovat man has never felt the unadulterated joy that accompanies a win.
His smile was almost as wide as the Bught Park grandstand as he stood clutching the elegant man-of-the-match bowl, 16 points against his name.
Of those vital 16, three were from a goal in the 68th minute; a nice dispatch after sterling work on the wing by Lochaber’s Shaun Nicolson.
All the rest came from hits over the uprights; a points resource Scotland must treasure.
Indeed, they will hope the well remains full to the brim for the trip to Newry as points from dead ball situations could be telling.
“I felt we gave them problems all day,” said Roddy MacDonald afterwards.
“We went out to play ground shinty, to get the ball into wide areas, and it worked. It’s the best I’ve seen from us in a long while.”
Few could argue with the marksman’s assessment, but Ireland are far from dead.
They were served by points from Conor Lehane (5), Patrick Maher (3), Paul Divilly (1), Darragh O’Connell (1) and Patrick Horgan (4). Their two goals belonged more to wizardry than sport, with Lehane and Maher juggling the ball and weaving before almost ripping the net right off.
The series is far from over but it is refreshing to think that, at long last, Scotland have something to lose.