Scotland retained the Marine Harvest Quaich with an 18-15 victory over Ireland in their shinty/hurling international at The Bught Park, Inverness.
Scotland had won the three previous cross-codes encounters in the Highland capital and whilst the Irish are often slow starters in this fixture, points from John McGrath, Conor Lehane and Andy O’Brien gave them an early 3-1 lead.
Scotland settled and they turned things around as Kevin Bartlett, who had missed a couple of earlier opportunities, found his range. Bartlett added a goal and three points to a Steven MacDonald two-pointer to leave the Scots 8-5 up at the break. Bartlett’s goal saw him stretch to flick home a rebound after a shot from substitute John MacRae from the Scotland left was saved by Irish keeper Enda Rowland.
Ireland made a powerful start to the second half, taking the initiative to lead 11-8 with their big guns McGrath, Lehane and Lee Chin scoring points and exerting their influence on the game.
To the delight of the large, partisan support, Scotland came roaring back and with Bartlett twice converting two-pointers; the contest was tied at 12-12.
The game’s defining moment came when good play from substitute Ryan Borthwick saw him cut in from the left. Irish keeper Rowland blocked Borthwick’s initial shot but as he tried to clear, Roddy MacDonald was bravely in to force the rebound over the line to make it 15-12.
Scotland had pushed captain Finlay MacRae from defence into midfield and the switch paid dividends when he added another point.Bartlett went on to take his personal tally to 12 points cancelling out David Reidy’s point and a Ben Conroy two-pointer to make it 18-15.
There was the inevitable late Irish onslaught and it took a magnificent Stuart MacDonald save, with the keeper diving to his left, to tip away a Chris Bonus drive which was heading for the top corner of the net, to deny the Irish a late three points.
Ireland will rue being wasteful in front of goal at times but the Scotland camp can point to strikes from both Glen MacKintosh and Bartlett which came back off the post with the keeper beaten.
Scotland’s MacRae, fresh from helping his club side Kinlochshiel win a first Marine Harvest Premiership title, was presented with the Marine Harvest Quaich by Steve Bracken from the game’s long-term sponsors.
Scotland head coach Ronald Ross couldn’t hide his delight after the final whistle. “It was nerve-racking at times,” he said. But we dug in. At half-time, we talked about how Ireland would come out strongly for the second half and they really tested us.
“But we hit the post a couple of times and we got over the line in the end. I must say that the boys have put a big commitment into this. They’ve given up so much of their time to attend the five preparation sessions.
“It was a great effort and there wasn’t a failure in our squad. We used the substitutes cleverly to give us fresh legs at important times in the game so everyone played their part.”
Scotland skipper MacRae said, “It was a hard game, just as we knew it would be.
“The Irish battered us at the start of the second half but the boys showed real character to turn things around.”
Scotland’s top scorer Bartlett added: “The Irish came at us strongly in the second half, as they always do, but we put in a good performance today.
“I missed a couple of chances in the first half but I converted some good opportunities in the second half. I though Roddy’s goal gave us some breathing space and it was a good goal too as he charged the keeper down.”
A dominating second half display gave Ireland some consolation as they won 19-15 in the under-21 meeting between the two countries.