Shinty's teen sensation in contention for BBC award

A SHINTY revolution is underway in the Highland town of Ullapool, home to Scotland's most northerly team, and the man behind it is barely a man at all. He is Ruaridh Hughes, and he is 16.

He was 15 when he took over as coach, in January, of Lochbroom Shinty Club. But his impact has been so positive that he has earned the right to represent Scotland in London tomorrow evening at one of the most glamorous events on the sporting calendar.

It's the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, and Hughes will be there, sitting alongside Rooney, Mourinho, Dame Kelly et al, as one of the candidates to collect the award for Unsung Hero.

Hughes, though, will not be awe-struck. "I'm looking forward to it," the schoolboy reflected yesterday. "It'll be interesting to see these people, but they're not my heroes - not Rooney or Beckham or anyone like that. My heroes are in the shinty world - it'd be Kenny Ross, who plays for Lochcarron. He's a shinty god."

Young he may be, but Hughes certainly knows his own mind, and it is little wonder that when the previous coach at Lochbroom had to step down due to pressure of work, he was the one to step into the breach.

But what makes Hughes' story more remarkable is that he is a haemophiliac. Shinty, presumably, is not a game that would be endorsed by the medical profession. "There's a stubborn streak in me," admits Hughes, "I didn't really listen to what the doctors said. I was diagnosed aged two - they could tell from the amount of bruises I got on my legs through crawling. Then I split my head open when I was two and it wouldn't stop bleeding. I spent a lot of time in hospital from the age of ten - 22 weeks at one stage."

He was always interested in sport, especially football, and started playing shinty five years ago. Asked when he began to understand his condition, though, and he responds: "Never, I suppose, if I'm playing shinty."

He is able to play thanks to medication "which covers me for twelve hours. But I tend not to think about it when I'm playing. If you go in weak and scared, you'll get hurt. I go in with my stick in front of me like a shield."

He is a good player, too, having turned out for Lochcarron's top team this season against Fort William and Oban. But his main commitment is to Lochbroom, the club that was revived by Jono Morrison three years ago, the town having been without a shinty club for a decade or so. When Morrison relinquished the running of the club, Hughes stepped in, attending coaching courses in January and February and keeping the club thriving, over the summer.

Next year the club will have a senior team, playing in North Division three, but tomorrow night is the reward for his work so far - and it might even culminated with him being acclaimed as the UK's Unsung Hero. "Running the team has affected my own game," he says, "so it's a bit of a sacrifice. But someone had to do it or the team might have died."