Skye 3 Ballachulish 2 (After Extra Time)
A Jordan Murchison goal three minutes from the end of extra time left Skye singing in the Taynuilt rain last Saturday as the islanders clinched the Balliemore Cup with a hard-earned victory over Ballachulish, reports KEITH MACKENZIE.
In a committed contest, a dogged Ballachulish twice fought back to level before, with penalties looming, Murchison struck the decisive winner.
Given the incessant rain, both teams can take credit from serving up an entertaining contest – with Ballachulish rising to the occasion against a Skye team in good form and poised for a Camanachd Cup semi-final.
The islanders — who had scored three times in the opening 26 minutes to dump Kilmallie out of the Camanachd Cup the previous weekend — did their best to start in a similar fashion, with Johnathan “Shockie” MacLennan flashing a shot over the bar inside 30 seconds.
But Ballachulish were keen to show they were going to be no pushovers, and after three minutes a speculative long-range effort from wing centre Scott Rodger cannoned back off Jamie Gannon’s post.
A minute later Skye were celebrating the opening goal. MacLennan — who has gone some way this year to ending Skye’s long quest for a regular goalscorer — turned quickly 25 yards from goal and sent in a low, skidding effort which squeezed beyond David MacPhee, the Ballachulish goalkeeper.
Buoyed by the early opener, Skye made most of the first half running and Murchison, MacLennan and Danny Morrison would all go close as the islanders sought to extend their advantage.
But that early pressure failed to yield more goals, and Ballachulish would pose greater threat as time wore on. Midway through the half they forced a couple of corners, and following a set piece the burly forward Lorne Brown drilled wide.
Still, the momentum was with Skye and twice in quick succession they were denied by saves from the veteran Ballachulish stopper MacPhee.
First he saved a grounder from Danny Morrison, with MacLennan volleying the rebound just wide. And then moments later Morrison fizzed in a rocket which MacPhee clipped over the crossbar.
Skye had the upper hand, though the feeling that they should have been further ahead might have nagged at the islanders when they went in at the break.
The start of the second period saw more traffic towards the Ballachulish goal, but Balla full back Darren Sutherland and the experienced international cap John MacDonald — playing at half back — were both putting in fine displays to stem the tide.
Will Cowie shaved the post and Murchison struck the crossbar in a bright opening spell for the islanders. But the closing half-hour would belong to the Argyllshire side — full centre David Campbell orchestrating proceedings in the middle of the park, with able back-up provided by non-stop running from Scott Rodger on the wing.
In a bid to stem the flow, Skye shifted MacLennan from full forward to full centre, with Iain Murray going into attack for a spell before being replaced by Kenny MacLeod.
Ballachulish had also shuffled their pack and Alan Clark, who had started the game in defence, had moved up to join the forward line. His presence would prove crucial as Ballachulish levelled with around 25 minutes to go.
The warnings had been there for Skye as minutes earlier Balla’s David Grant had fired over from a good position. But after exchanging a quick one-two 25 yards from goal Clark’s finish was unerring, and suddenly the match hung in the balance.
There were chances to snatch it at the death, but when the whistle sounded Skye — who earlier had seemed set for a comfortable victory — would have been the more relieved to have a pause before the extra half-hour.
The break allowed Skye to regroup, and in a further reshuffle Gilleasbuig MacDonald moved from wing centre to full centre, with Shockie MacLennan returning to the attack. Ally “Spod” MacLeod, on as a late sub for Allan “Ginger” MacKinnon, also dropped back to midfield, and in the opening period of extra time Skye resumed control.
With seven minutes played Danny Morrison latched on to a loose ball on the left, shrugged off a couple of challenges and squeezed a low shot in at the far corner to put Skye back in front.
It was some reward for Morrison — who had played on despite losing part of a front tooth in a collision early in the first half — and it looked as if that goal would be enough to clinch the silverware. But Ballachulish steeled themselves again, and hit back with 12 minutes to go.
The goal came out of the blue, and from an uncharacteristic mistake from Skye full back Steven Morrison. The wet conditions might have played a part, but Morrison’s goal hit dropped right at the feet of Clark 20 yards out. From there, the Balla forward they call “Pele” didn’t need a second invitation to shoot, and another clinical finish levelled matters at 2-2.
Having lost this competition on penalties twice before, spot hits were the last thing Skye wanted to settle the outcome. But efforts from Kenny MacLeod and Ally “Spod” MacLeod whistled just off target, and with conditions deteriorating amid constant rain the dreaded shoot-out loomed large.
If Skye were to find a winner, Murchison looked the most likely player to provide it. Earlier he had been denied by a fine MacPhee save following some brilliant keepy-uppy, but with time running out Skye were able to fashion one final chance.
MacLennan did the spade work, winning possession on the right and drawing his marker before flicking the ball inside for the onrushing Murchison. His final shot wasn’t the sweetest he’ll ever hit, but the grounder crept in at the keeper’s near post and with that the cup was headed for Skye.
On the balance of play the islanders merited their win – although Ballachulish put up a brave fight, and had they snatched victory it wouldn’t have been undeserved. Although there were good performances in the Skye ranks from Ally “Digg” MacDonald, from Chris Rose, MacLennan and others, the Jubilee Park side had the game’s two outstanding players in ex-Fort William man MacDonald and former Newtonmore defender David Campbell.
The islanders will know they can play better, but in some ways Saturday’s triumph should also act as a reality check for a team which is still a work in progress. The addition of silverware, though, is another welcome fillip for a club on a journey to re-establish itself in the sport’s upper tiers.