Ireland…..4 goals 12 points 24
Scotland…..2 goals 12 points 18
Scotland’s shinty players recovered from a nightmare start at Croke Park to leave themselves with a fighting chance of victory when the annual cross-code series against Ireland concludes this Saturday at Bught Park.
The Irish will go in as strong favourites on the back of Saturday’s six-point victory in Dublin, but Drew McNeil’s side will be entitled to feel some satisfaction of their own after a battling display at the famed home of Gaelic sport.
In the end, it was a horror opening five minutes — during which the Irish raced into a 7-0 lead with two goals and a point — that ultimately proved the difference as the Scots fought back to ensure they were far from disgraced. Notably, the Scots countered with two goals to earn themselves what they hope could be a crucial point in the final standings. The series is determined not in the first instance by aggregate scores, but by a system where two points are awarded for a win, and one additional bonus point is given for netting two or more goals.
As things stand the Irish are 3-1 ahead, though if the Scots are to harbour any hopes of overturning the deficit they will need to avoid the sort of start they made last Saturday.
Hesitant Scotland defending was punished by two goals from Cahir Healy and Graeme Mulachy and a point from Neil McManus as the Irish flew out of the traps.
Scotland’s response was impressive as Liam Macdonald, who looked lively on his first appearance at senior level, grabbed a goal, and then Kevin Bartlett added a two-point free hit to pull the Scots to within two points.
Kinlochshiel’s Finlay MacRae, by now a veteran of these cross-code clashes, was a prominent figure in the early Scottish attacks. Twice he will feel he might have done better when through on goal, but the Shiel man was not to be denied a third time. On 22 minutes MacRae pounced to sweep the ball home after Liam Macdonald had two shots blocked to fire Scotland 8-7 ahead.
That lead lasted barely a minute as Ireland’s captain McManus fired over the crossbar for a point to level matters.
An uncharacteristic mistake from Scottish skipper Norman Campbell then gifted the Irish the lead, as the Newtonmore stopper saw his attempted clearance ricochet off McManus and past helpless keeper Stuart Macdonald.
As Scotland found themselves under the cosh Macdonald made a tremendous stop to deny McManus and then defender John Barr was yellow-carded for a desperate trip as an Irish forward was poised to score. Barr then used more legitimate means to block the resulting free hit with his body, but Scotland’s defence could do nothing as Jack Kavanagh latched on to the loose ball to hammer in a fourth goal for the hosts.
Eoin Price, Brendan Maher and Kavanagh all kept the scoreboard ticking over as Ireland extended their advantage to nine points, but Liam Macdonald responded with the final point of the half and the sides turned around with Ireland 17-9 in front.
The Scots may also have felt relieved to go in with all 15 players on the park, as Barr escaped a second yellow card for a rash swipe at Patrick Maher in the dying moments of the half.
Shortly after the interval Liam Macdonald’s eventful debut continued when he was yellow-carded for a late swing. But as the Scots pressed, Irish keeper Rochford made a fine save to swat away an early effort from Lee Bain.
Bartlett struck a two-point free to bring the Scots to within six points, but an immediate counter from Ireland’s Patrick Maher extended the hosts’ advantage to seven. Shaun Nicolson fired over the bar for a two-pointer to make it 18-13, with Ireland’s Eoin Price adding a point to take their tally to 19.
More heroics from Stuart Macdonald denied Ireland further goals, though he was powerless to stop the hulking efforts over the crossbar as Dara O’ Connell and McManus brought the Irish score to 21.
In a proud day for one household in Kintail, Keith and John MacRae joined their elder brother Finlay in the action, and debutant John fired a point over the bar to make it 14 points for the Scots.
Gareth Johnson and Mulachy once more took the Irish lead to nine, but in keeping with the flow of the game the Scots response was swift. Finlay MacRae added two points from a free hit to reduce the arrears to seven, and as the Scots continued to push for more goals Liam Macdonald, and then Norman Campbell, were unlucky to see free hits cannon off the crossbar.
Amid a flurry of substitutions the Scots looked to finish with a flourish and Glen MacKintosh was denied a goal by a fantastic save from Ireland’s replacement keeper Reilly before the Newtonmore forward did add a point over the bar.
A point from Danny Cullen made it 24 for Ireland with a minute to play, but the final word would be Scotland’s as Steven Macdonald fired over the bar to bring the tally to 18.
“I felt it was as good a performance from us as we’ve had for a long time,” said Drew McNeil afterwards.
“I am still frustrated because the Irish are always able to get their arms across us. We lost some soft and costly goals and we had a poor spell just before half time when they were able to score too many points.
“In saying that, we dominated for some spells and we played a lot of good shinty, which was really pleasing. There was some really nice stuff out there.
“That will be the key for us again next weekend and, yes, there is still an awful lot to play for at Bught Park.”