The Artemis MacAulay Cup Final is an understated affair with the essential ingredients all in place; the luscious green pitch of Mossfield Stadium, 12 players in each team, 24 shinty sticks and one hard leather ball.
When I heard it was taking place in Oban, Argyll last weekend, I decided it was time to reconnect with the sport I had once embraced many years ago.
My own shinty career reached the dizzy heights of playing defense for the primary school C-team, so it’s safe to say it’s been a while since I’ve given much thought to the sport which is at the heart of many communities across the Highlands.
For those not familiar with the game, it is played with wooden sticks and a ball and has been compared with field hockey. There are some marked differences including the ball being played in the air, using both sides of the stick and, perhaps most notably, shoulder-to-shoulder tackles. All in all, shinty has a more rough-and-tumble feel, but it is not a game without skill.
It’s an ancient sport that is runs in the blood and often you’ll find different generations of the same family in teams; many participants are playing alongside brothers, fathers or cousins.
On this overcast August day, the crowd is a mixture of far-travelled fans, local enthusiasts and everyone else between, from grandparents with grandchildren to the curious visitor, taking in the game for the first time.
From the outset, it’s a full on battle between players from Kyles Athletic and Newtonmore and it is easy to see why the early origins of the sport are thought to be linked to training Highland warriors.
In the first half, skillful dribbles on both sides are thwarted by well executed tackles, and when the possession of the ball is taken by the opposition, the players become vocal, from shouts of , ‘C’mon boys, we’ve got sticks, let’s use them!!’, to primal, echoing roars. The second half is full of nail biting moments – wood clashes on wood and connects with the ball to create loud, thrilling smacking sounds. Occasionally sticks, also called camans, leave the hands of players and fly across the field.
The game stands at 3 – 3, before Kyles’ hero Roddy MacDonald sinks another goal. The adrenalin is now pumping as we reach the final part of the game. A few more attempts at goal are made before time is called on the 90 minutes of play, and Kyles have won the Artemis MacAulay Cup, 4 -3.
It won’t be too long before these champion teams come face to face again. Both the jubilant Kyles and Newtonmore are in the final of the Scottish Hydro Camanchd Cup, the Premier League of the shinty world, which will take place in Fort William on Saturday 14 September.
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