Shinty: Eilan skipper aims high against Kyles

Newtonmore captain Jamie Robinson, right, holds the Camanachd Cup with Robbie MacLeod of Kyles Athletic. Picture: Jeff Holmes
Newtonmore captain Jamie Robinson, right, holds the Camanachd Cup with Robbie MacLeod of Kyles Athletic. Picture: Jeff Holmes
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For decades the history of entire Highland families has been interwoven with the history of shinty’s Camanachd Cup.

You only need to look at the Newtonmore starting line-up for today’s 106th final of the Scottish Hydro-sponsored competition, against Kyles Athletic, for a perfect illustration.

For those in shinty-playing communities, the idea of footballer Gareth Bale switching not just clubs but countries at a cost equivalent to a small nation’s GDP is absurd.

In the stick sport, the ties that bind are community ties. No one is paid. You turn out for the club in the area where you live or work. Loyalty and pride are forged, not by the prospect of a pay increase but by the true love of the game and, of course, the dream of one day lifting the Camanachd Cup.

Today’s Newtonmore captain, Jamie Robinson, may not have so much shinty in the family bloodline as many of his Eilan team-mates but, having been raised in the village, he knows how much the sport’s premier trophy means.

Unlike striker Danny MacRae, Norman Campbell, Michael Ritchie, Andy MacKintosh, Fraser MacKintosh, Glen MacKintosh, Paul MacArthur and others, whose fathers, granddads or uncles wore the blue and white hoops, Jamie can only boast a relative who once played for Kingussie and a few who tinkered at the edges of the game.

Today, he hopes to start a Robinson family connection with the ancient 
trophy that will last beyond himself and cap a season which has already brought the Orion Group Premiership trophy.

“I am lucky enough to have won a Camanachd Cup in 2011 but, this time, I am privileged to be captaining the club.

“I was born and bred here and I was the first member of my family to play for the Newtonmore first team.

I had an uncle who played for Kingussie and some relatives who didn’t play at a high level. Hopefully I can start a family connection. Getting to the Camanachd Cup final as captain is storybook stuff. To grow up in a community where there is a club with such a passionate following as ours, and to have this chance, is a dream.

“In saying that, it will only be capped off if I get my hands on the big fella on Saturday.”

Despite being first and joint-second when it comes to the amount of Camanachd Cup final victories recorded, today’s finalists have had to slog their way through the lean years.

When ’More defeated Kingussie in Inverness two years ago, it was their first win in a quarter of a century – remarkable for an outfit who have won it 29 times.

Similarly, Kyles’ win against Inveraray last year was their first victory in 18 years, making it trophy No 21.

Builder Robinson, 27, recalls the relief amongst the hundreds of villagers who waited for the bus to return to the community. Winning for a second time, he feels, would carry a different momentum.

“The thing about 2011 was that it had been so long. Maybe we had been expected to do better than we had done in the years beforehand so, certainly, to bring the cup back was a big weight off our shoulders.”

Newtonmore secretary Ian Gibson can remember trying to get into the Balavil Hotel that night.

“There was no way I was going to get in there. When the team came back, there were 500-plus people on the street.

“It was like Celtic or Rangers in miniature. In fact, proportionate to the size of the village (1000 inhabitants), it was bigger. The players took the trophy to some of the former players, some who weren’t keeping quite so well. That was important because it showed that there was continuity and that these days weren’t passed.”

Last year, Kyles must have registered the same emotions. The people of Tighnabruaich were once bloated with success but then had to endure hunger pains.

Manager Norman MacDonald, a local beef and sheep farmer, won a Camanachd Cup as a player.

He admits he was fearful the trophy might never return, something he hopes motivates his men again today at An Aird below Ben Nevis.

“Winning meant an awful lot because I think the feeling was that maybe these days wouldn’t come back.

“It’s not just the community that supports the club, it’s people who have moved away and people coming into the village, too.

“There is a buzz about the whole place again and the good thing, after last year, is that they (the young players) know what needs to be done.”

Ask the managers, the players who will win today: no one knows.

They are all in agreement about one thing, though. This will be a ‘big’ final.