Skye and Lochalsh Football season review 2019

Mallaig upset the odds to defeat Sleat at home on the final day of the season to secure their second league title in a row.

The Skye and Lochalsh 2018 season produced a four-horse race for the title. culminating in Mallaig clinching the championship by virtue of a playoff in their debut season.

While the drama of the previous campaign was always going to be tough to match there was certainly no shortage of excitement, incidents and memorable moments in the 2019 season — not least Mallaig’s dramatic 5-2 victory over Sleat in Broadford which saw Neil Cameron’s side defend their title in sensational fashion.

While Mallaig triumphed once more in the league, it was Sleat who dominated the cup competitions as they captured all three of the league association trophies available to them. The south Skye side recorded emphatic victories against Kyleakin on two occasions — winning  7-0 in the GF MacRae Cup and 7-2 in the Ross Cup. They also gained revenge for their defeat in the decisive league encounter against Mallaig with a thumping 7-2 win against the newly-crowned champions in the Ewen MacRae Cup.

Sleat and Strath celebrate winning the Ewen MacRae Cup, which completed a hat-trick of successes in the league’s cup competitions.

DL MacKinnon’s Sleat and Strath side also proudly flew the flag for the Skye and Lochalsh Amateur Football Association with an impressive run in the Highland Amateur Cup. Sleat’s memorable campaign was halted in the quarter-finals by six-times winners Avoch who won 2-1 on home turf despite a gutsy performance by the islanders.

Glenelg ended their season on a high with a well-deserved victory against Gairloch/Aultbea United in the final of the Clan Donald Cup. The Glen’s wait of more than 30 years to reach a cup final brought a day to cherish for the players and for the whole peninsula as Robin Harvey’s double was enough to secure the trophy.

Glenelg reach their first final in more than 30 years and proved they were up for the occasion by defeating Gairloch/Aultbea United to clinch the Clan Donald Cup.

In the league, North West Skye impressed with a much-improved campaign which saw the Light Blues finish just a point outside the top three. They also took Sleat all the way in an epic semi-final clash in the Ross Cup which finished 4-4 after extra-time, with Sleat progressing on penalties.

Another difficult season for Kyle’s dedicated young side finished with a flourish as James Matheson’s charges secured their sole win of the campaign in their penultimate match, beating Portree Juniors 4-3.

While there is much to look forward to ahead of the 2020 campaign, rumours persist concerning the future of a few of the clubs in the league. We can only hope that all nine teams will be there come the start of the new campaign.

West Highland Free Press Player of the Season 2019

Connaire Yoxon, Sleat and Strath

Connaire Yoxon finished as runner-up in the Free Press’ Player of the Season award last year but was unparalleled in 2019.

Having finished as runner-up to Mallaig’s Andy Cunningham in our end-of-season player accolades last year, there was no one to rival Sleat’s star player in 2019.

Fast, dynamic and fearless going forward, Connaire Yoxon is a nightmare come to life for opposition defenders. He is equally comfortable driving infield towards goal from the wing or shooting on sight from distance – correctly anticipating what the Sleat forward is going to do is one thing, stopping him from carrying it out is even tougher.

Even when Yoxon’s exceptional performances tailed off in the final part of the season due to injuries, he still provided important moments such as the equaliser in the Ewen MacRae Cup Final which brought his team level at a pivotal juncture in the match.

A few years off 30, Yoxon is likely to be a key component in Sleat’s team for some time to come.

Notable mentions: David Currie (Mallaig), Gordy McCarroll (Kyleakin), Robbie Cameron (North West Skye).

West Highland Free Press Young Player of the Season 2019

John Gillies, Sleat and Strath

John Gillies has now scooped the Free Press Young Player of the Season Award two years in succession.

Another key member of Sleat’s treble-winning side, John Gillies fitted seamlessly into the south Skye side in his debut season for the club after moving from Portree Juniors.

Dominant in the air and clever with his feet, Gillies formed part of a formidable trident with Ben Yoxon and Lachlan Gillies in the centre of the Sleat midfield.

As comfortable in the thick of a physical midfield battle against the likes of Norman Gillies and Iain Beaton as he is supplying the ammunition for teammates Connaire Yoxon and Ruairidh ‘Spod’ MacLeod, Gillies has many facets to his game and is only likely to improve with more experience.

The award marks back-to-back wins in this category for Gillies, who was also successful in 2018.

Notable mentions: Cameron Campbell (North West Skye); Fraser Gillies (Sleat and Strath); Aaron MacBeth (Kyleakin); and Marc Maclean (Mallaig).

West Highland Free Press Manager of the Season 2019

DL MacKinnon, Sleat and Strath

DL MacKinnon led his side to success in three domestic cup competitions, the quarter-finals of the Highland Amateur Cup and second place in the league.

Nicknamed D-L-O-L in some quarters due to his penchant for using the popular acronym, Sleat manager DL MacKinnon has plenty to smile about after overseeing his team’s hat-trick of domestic cup successes.

While the Sleat coach cuts an amiable figure, he wears his heart on his sleeve and there is no mistaking how serious and committed he is about making the club successful. Although Sleat’s haul of three trophies was an excellent achievement, his side’s showing in the Highland Amateur Cup was perhaps the most impressive aspect of their season. The only real blot on his and Sleat’s copybook was the collapse against Mallaig on the final day which saw their league hopes dashed after a fine campaign.

DL will nonetheless be confident his talented side can make it third time lucky in 2020.

Notable mention: Neil Cameron (Mallaig).

Goalkeeper: Fraser Gillies, Sleat and Strath – The youngster was the league’s breakthrough star this season with a string of superb displays, including those in high-profile matches against Avoch in the Highland Amateur Cup and Kyleakin in the GF MacRae Cup Final which belied his age and experience. Keeping the likes of Craig Wilson and Ally Lamont out of the team of the season is a sound endorsement of Gillies’s fine campaign.

Defence: Josh Knowles, Sleat and Strath – A player who is not considered a natural defender, Knowles has been converted into one of the league’s toughest opponents and the lynchpin of the Sleat back-line this year. He put in a number of superb displays, including in his side’s highest-profile match of the season in the Highland Amateur Cup quarter-final where he excelled against Avoch.

Defence: Marc Maclean, Mallaig – While not known as an out-and-out defender, Maclean has performed admirably when fielded in the centre of defence for Mallaig as well as in a variety of positions across defence and midfield. Described by his manager as a “7 out of 10” player at least every week he plays, Mallaig’s 2018 young player of the year was an invaluable cog in the title-winning Blues team.

Right-wing: Connaire Yoxon, Sleat and Strath – (See player of the season 2019)

Right-centre midfield: Ben Yoxon, Sleat and Strath (captain) – Skilful, tenacious and vitally important to his side, yet still somewhat understated, Ben Yoxon is one of the most talented and consistent players in the Skye and Lochalsh League. While not opposed to delivering the odd rallying cry to his side when the chips are down, Ben tends to let his football do the talking.

Centre-midfield: John Gillies, Sleat and Strath – (See young player of the season 2019)

Left-centre midfield: David Currie, Mallaig

David Currie scored twice in the league decider against Sleat and was Mallaig’s standout player this season.

From his brace against Sleat in the championship decider — including a goal of the season contender — to his propensity to play decisive passes against a loaded defence, the classy midfielder made the difference for the Blues on numerous occasions. He was the standout performer for Mallaig as they defended their title against the odds. A runner-up in the Free Press 2019 player of the season award.

Left-wing: Cameron Campbell, North West Skye – Lightning-fast on the break, and full of tricks, Campbell has thrived in an impressive and much-improved North West Skye team which looks equipped to mount a title challenge in 2020. The young winger has formed an excellent partnership with striker Robbie Cameron and is quickly becoming one of the league’s best attackers.

Playmaker: Andy Cunningham, Mallaig – While he didn’t quite hit the highs of his wonderful 2018 campaign, Andy Cunningham still enjoyed a great season and remains one of a few players in the league who can produce a moment of magic out of nothing – whether it be a 25-yard screamer or a sublime through ball. His penalty brace against North West Skye back in April was also indicative of his ability to help steer his side to victory from the jaws of defeat, even when Mallaig weren’t at their best.

Striker: Robbie Cameron, North West Skye

Robbie Cameron’s clinical finishing help elevate North West to a fourth-place finish in the league.

After being highlighted as one to watch by the Free Press in 2018, the former Portree forward certainly didn’t disappoint as he provided the clinical edge missing from a promising North West Skye. Strong on the ball, but quick on the turn, Cameron is deadly inside the box. He is also adept at dropping deep to play as the link man, enabling the likes of Cameron Campbell and Gus MacDonald in behind the opposition defence. A runner-up in the Free Press 2019 player of the season award.

Striker: Gordy McCarroll, Kyleakin

Despite 2019 proving to be a disappointing season for Kyleakin, Gordy McCarroll still lit up the league with some fantastic goals and impressive performances.

Also, a runner-up in the Free Press‘ player of the season award for 2019, McCarroll enjoyed a fine campaign in which he was undoubtedly  Kyleakin’s best performer. From instinctive finishes from close range to superb free-kicks from outside the box, the Reds, striker possesses the ability to score from almost anywhere in the opposition’s half – and occasionally from inside his own half of the field, as he proved against Mallaig. An unsettled starting line-up caused by injuries and absences hindered Kyleakin in seriously challenging, but their ambitions for silverware next season will doubtless rest in part on the continued form of their star striker.

Manager’s reflections

Highlights of the season

Neil Cameron, Mallaig: “Winning the league title on the last day, a brilliant team performance from start to finish and it topped off a very consistent league season for us. “

DL MacKinnon, Sleat and Strath: “Our cup wins.”

David Butcher, Kyleakin: “Didn’t really have any, to be honest, our poorest season since I’ve been in charge. “

Graham Campbell, North West Skye: “No particular game jumps out, but pleased we were competitive from start to finish, that we made good progress and the lads enjoyed their season.”

Phil McCaherty, Portree Juniors: “One of the main highlights was the introduction of three U-15 players stepping up at the end of the season games – Ryan Grundy, Sam Grundy, and Ali Murphy all played and didn’t look out of place. I coach them at U-15 so it wasn’t really a risk, but it was particularly pleasing to see them out playing in the adult league and showing up really well.

James Matheson, Kyle: “Beating Juniors was our highlight.”

Biggest disappointment

Neil Cameron: “Losing to Balloan Compass in the Highland Amateur Cup. It was a home tie which we dominated but we didn’t take our chances in big moments in the game and they caught us on the counter-attack twice.”

DL MacKinnon: “Losing the league as we blew it! Was really our only poor performance of the season and I’m gutted we never won the league to be honest! It’s something to build on for next year. The average age of squad minus Ben (Yoxon) is about 20 so we’re not even close to our peak yet!”

David Butcher: “Not doing ourselves justice in the cup finals.”

Graham Campbell: “Finishing fourth, just one point behind Kyleakin but with a much superior goal difference, and losing the Ross Cup semi-final to Sleat on sudden death penalties.”

Phil McCaherty: “I suppose losing our Highland Amateur Cup tie to the Police was the main disappointment. They were top of the Inverness league at that time- we played really well at the Bught,  and were undone by two headed goals from corner kicks. Hugely disappointing to concede goals like that.”

James Matheson: “Not being as competitive in some games as I would have liked.”

Unsung player of the year

Neil Cameron:Marc Maclean – a very consistent performer who is there every week and is always a 7 out of 10 at least. Plays in different positions when needed and excels in all of them.”

(From the opposition) “This is hard since we managed to win the league with the group of boys we already have but if pushed we are short of a left-back that is naturally left-footed so we would take Mikey Taylor (Kyleakin) to fill that role. He already has had the pleasure of wearing the Mallaig top along time ago when working on the mainland.

DL MacKinnon: “Definitely Peter MacCusbic. He’s our only player to have started every game. I like him a lot and he’s still improving. I also thought Fraser Gilles did so well taking over from Finlay. Never thought that would be the case at the start of the year.”

(From the opposition) “I would definitely sign Ross Douglas from Mallaig – he’s been a pain in the a*** for us!

David Butcher:Ali Brown was pretty solid, Oliver Thompson played a lot of games with a knee injury as well so I was grateful for that.

(From the opposition) ” I really liked Marc Maclean, I thought he was very tidy in the middle of the park against us, did the simple things really well.”

Graham Campbell: Martin Shaw always does a great job for us as a defensive midfielder – tenaciously closing down, tackling and conscientiously filling gaps, allowing his teammates to push forward.

(From the opposition) “Jaimie Young, Mallaig. No longer lives up to his surname, but is an excellent captain, organiser, and leader on the pitch as well as a very decent player.”

Phil McCaherty: “Difficult to assess that however, I think Andrew Holt playing in every match for the Juniors was a fair achievement and says a lot for his commitment to the club. There would have been two others but a suspension each counted them out from making every game.”

From the opposition: “I think every club had someone in that category- Alex MacDonald (North West Skye), Ovidiu Bercea (Portree), Joe Russell (Kyle) and Angus MacNaughton (Mallaig) would be a few.”

Alan Elder, Gairloch/Aultbea United: “Roddy Bain – 56 years old and never missed a game. He didn’t play every game but always available and never let me down.”

James Matheson: “Unsung player for us is Mark Whear, who waited two years to get a proper chance of a game and since getting into the team has not put a foot wrong, making him one of the first picks now. His attitude is great and he will always listen to advice and is keen to improve as a player.”

From the opposition: “Lachlan Macinnes of Sleat, very technical footballer and pivotal to Sleat success.

Hopes for next season

Neil Cameron: “To have luck on our side with injuries. The past two seasons we have had at least two to three boys each year out for long spells with different types of injuries.”

DL MacKinnon: “Next year we should be even more mature so I expect the lot! Why would I not? Highland Amateur Cup should also hold no fears for us.”

David Butcher: “To get that league cup back on the island.”

Graham Campbell: “First of all hoping that we have all the teams from this year participating again, and to see all the clubs that bit stronger, particularly North West Skye.”

Phil McCaherty: “We’ll take our normal three months off October to December and use that time to take stock of what happened last season and take this three -month period to see how the future looks. We have the club AGM in January – so things should be clearer then.

“With Mallaig and GA United kick-offs almost exclusively – 2.30/3 pm kick-offs- I would say maybe introduce those kick-off times as the norm and allow 6 pm being the backup time if it happens to suit any particular club.  

“The league experimented with Friday evening kick-offs -sometimes to suit ref availability and if so, that was necessary – however, from my club perspective we didn’t think that was successful, of course, other clubs may have viewed this differently.”

James Matheson: “For next season I just hope the boys all stick together and being a year older we should start to see a bigger improvement as they grow physically and this should hopefully see us become more competitive.”

Review by Adam Gordon and images by Willie Urquhart – WHFP.