Shinty: Inveraray and Kyles ready to do battle for ultimate prize
IN NO other sport are epic tales of joy and loss intertwined around events in a domestic cup competition.
Consider SPL footballers, for example, eschewing the championship to dance on a podium with the Scottish Cup in their hands – it’s just simply not done. This is where the stick sport of shinty plays a different tune.
“Twenty years of your career rolled together into one day”, that is how Inveraray’s David Robertson described the occasion which is the Scottish Hydro Camanachd Cup final, in the build-up to today’s BBC-televised clash with Kyles Athletic at Mossfield Park, Oban.
For a player, this is as good a summary as you will muster. Grown men; hard men in their daily lives have wept at either winning or losing this beautifully sculpted trophy.
The sport’s ruling body The Camanachd Association did their bit this week to describe its importance by emphasising that this fixture is “more than a game”.
Basically, if you were raised with a caman in your hand or shinty in your heart, it quite simply means everything. For Inveraray, you only need to go back to 2004 to understand that. On an ugly day at this same venue, the Argyll players – many of whom will play again today – edged an ugly match against Fort William 1-0. There was very little panache in the manner of victory but the sum total of all the ugliness was something precious and beautiful; quite literally a day that will go down in the history of Inveraray as a Scottish village.
That win, the first for 74 years, transcended sport. A community came together. The cup was at the local church the next morning. A few of the players took a celebratory dip in Loch Fyne. Inveraray woke up on Sunday (around tea-time) and, suddenly, it was on the map for more than its rows of white houses, its castle and its jail.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about it is that the bedrock of that team – a great Inveraray team – will do battle again today, eight years on. For one, certainly, it will be the last hurrah. Scott Robertson, a steadfast servant to the Winterton cause, will retire after today. His brother David, who will take his customary place pulling strings in the centre line, is hopeful his elder sibling enjoys a fitting denouement.
“What a way to go that would be for 20-25 years of great service,” he said.
“There are still quite a number of us from the 2004 team. If you’d said then we’d be playing another final eight years later, we’d have grabbed it.
“That day really made us as a team. Everyone pulled together. We had two or three days together as a team. I think most of the boys went back to work on the Wednesday. Still, if we won it this time, I reckon it will be even better.”
Down the years, students of shinty have been as frustrated by Inveraray as they are themselves. A formidable cup side with a unique style, they have struggled over the distance of a league championship. Their ability is without question. On their day, they are like a well-aged malt. However, with 20 games stretching out before them and their squad thin, they can be like sprinters asked to tackle marathons.
None of that will come into play today, though. It is a battle to the end on one afternoon and, although Kyles must start as favourites, it will be a fool that writes off Inveraray. Down the west coast in Tighnabruaich, the backroom team at Kyles have been doing their utmost to keep a lid on the Camanachd Cup razzmatazz.
Mossfield Park in Oban is one of their happy hunting grounds. Its surface and width suits Kyles’ young pacey forwards who like to explore the wide areas. They break like lightning and can hurt in the same way.
Yet it was here in 2009 that they took a hard lesson in dealing with major occasions. Against an experienced Fort William side at a high point in their arc of success, Kyles found themselves 3-0 down. The day had got the better of them and the neutrals who wanted to see what all the fuss surrounding Kyles’ youngsters was about, were in risk of dismissing them altogether.
Fortunately, with only ten minutes to go, Kyles suddenly realised they could play and brought the final back to 3-3.
Ultimately, they lost 4-3 and went away wondering what could have been had they decided to turn up earlier.
Since then, Kyles have lifted the Glasgow Celtic Society Cup and the Macaulay and pushed Newtonmore to the death for two titles.
“We’re more equipped for these games now,” says coach James Perlich.
His assertion is correct, which just makes this 105th Camanachd Cup final more intriguing.
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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