NATIONAL DIVISION PLAY-OFF
Skye 5, Ballachulish 0
Skye powered their way into the National Division with a convincing victory over South first-division winners Ballachulish in Saturday’s promotion play-off at Drumnadrochit.
A five-star display — in which Jordan Murchison scored twice, along with strikes from Shockie MacLennan, Danny Morrison and Will Cowie — capped a fine season for the islanders, who can now make the step up to national shinty in confident mood.
These same two teams had met once earlier in the season, contesting a tightly-fought Balliemore Cup Final which Skye eventually edged by the odd goal in five after extra time.
Saturday’s clash was altogether more one-sided — with the outcome never in serious doubt from the moment Murchison put Skye ahead after 12 minutes.
The signs hadn’t looked good for Ballachulish, it must be said, from the moment they arrived in Drumnadrochit to discover the team kit had been left behind at Jubilee Park. Host club Glenurquhart came to the rescue, meaning Balla took to the field in the unfamiliar red and black hoops.
The delay in staging the match meant both sides went into it on the back of a three- or four-week lay-off, but there were few signs of lethargy during a frantic opening spell.
Skye fashioned the first clear opening after eight minutes when Murchison was foiled by a good stop from young Ballachulish keeper Cameron Sutherland. The teenager — still eligible for under-14 shinty — would go on to produce a string of excellent saves during a busy afternoon.
Skye’s bright start brought its reward in 12 minutes. Murchison foraged deep to start the move, spreading the ball wide to Allan ‘Ginger’ MacKinnon on the right wing. MacKinnon’s low effort was saved by Sutherland, but Balla were unable to clear the resultant loose ball, and Murchison pounced to put Skye ahead.
Moments later and more good goalkeeping from Sutherland denied Will Cowie, with MacLennan just off-target with the rebound.
Up at the other end Ballachulish were struggling to make an impact in attack, but it took a well-timed tackle from Neil MacVicar to thwart Lorne Brown during a rare foray forward. But while Skye goalkeeper Iain MacLeod — in as a late replacement for the injured Jamie Gannon — was a virtual spectator, the game was eagerly contested outfield.
Steven Morrison was the first player in the book after he clashed with David Campbell. A couple of free hits for Ballachulish then came to nothing, before two goals in the space of a minute put Skye firmly in control.
On 26 minutes a pass from Danny Morrison found MacLennan 25 yards from goal, and the Skye full forward gave his marker the slip before fizzing a waist-high shot beyond a helpless Sutherland.
The celebrations had barely died down when Danny Morrison hammered home Skye’s third — and with that the outcome seemed assured.
Still, Balla were in no mood for meek surrender. Shortly before half time the Skye supporters were enraged when Will Cowie was floored by a crude off-the-ball lunge
from midfielder Elliot Wilson. The Ballachulish player was fortunate to escape punishment after referee Evan MacRae missed the incident altogether.
The half time whistle helped defuse tensions, but the second half followed a similar pattern to the first, with Skye bossing proceedings and always looking the likelier to score.
In midfield Balla missed the strong running of the injured Scott Rodger, while in defence the experienced internationalist John MacDonald wasn’t allowed to dictate the game to the extent he had for long spells of the Balliemore Cup Final. With Gilleasbuig MacDonald and Iain Murray keeping the Skye forwards supplied with plenty possession, more goals always seemed on the cards.
Skye’s attacking quartet looked lively throughout, and after 57 minutes another sweeping move down the right brought a fourth goal. After good work involving Allan MacKinnon, Will Cowie applied the finish to cap a fine individual display.
The fifth goal arrived three minutes later when Murchison — in confident mood, and full of fine stickwork — was upended just inside the area. The in-form forward dusted himself down to hammer home the spot hit, and with that Skye were content to see out the rest of the game in comfort.
An at-times towsy match produced two more bookings in the closing stages — Balla’s John MacDonald and Skye’s Kenny Campbell both having their name taken.
But while some of the decisions were disputed there could be little debate about the result as Skye can now set their sights on a crack at the National Division next year. The irony could be that they may yet be joined by Ballachulish, should proposed league reconstruction get the go-ahead at the end of this month.