Winning league titles and cup competitions and playing for your country is often the stuff of dreams for most sportspeople, but not for Lorna MacRae who has achieved all that and more – and at just 22, she is far from finished.
In 2017, in her first season as captain of the Skye Camanachd Ladies shinty team, Lorna led her side to glory in the national division and in the Valerie Fraser Camanachd Cup – which was the first time Skye Ladies had lifted the latter trophy in their history.
In addition to her unprecedented success with Skye Ladies, Lorna also made history on a personal level last year when she became the first woman to be presented with the Skye shinty club’s prestigious Caman DR youth award.
For the third interview in our series celebrating the ‘Year of Young People 2018’, bliadhna na h òigridh, the Free Press spoke to Lorna MacRae about her personal achievements, the development of the women’s game, and how it feels to represent her country.
Adam Gordon: Last season you were a key member of the Skye Ladies league and cup winning team. How did it feel to part of such a successful side?
Lorna MacRae: “Winning the league and the Valerie Fraser was a tremendous and long sought-after achievement for Skye Ladies. I have played for the team for seven years now, and with every year we keep getting stronger and more skilled. To see our progression amount to winning the two highest titles in the women’s game felt like the hard work and dedication had paid off. It was a truly rewarding season last year, and it’s an honour to be part of such a close-knit, dedicated team.
AG: As well as the team’s achievements, you enjoyed a fantastic season personally in 2017 – with awards for national division player of the year and player of the tournament in the Valerie Fraser Camanachd Cup Final, as well as finishing as the top scorer in the league with 25 goals. What did those awards mean to you?
LM: “Thank you! I didn’t really think I had done anything any differently this season to any other I had been a part of – I just played the game the way I always play. I tried to keep my fitness up to perform as best I could and with more experience of the game, in general, I suppose I may have had a more mature mindset on the pitch.”
“I still feel very privileged to have picked up the awards last season, especially winning national division player of the year – there are so, so many talented players out there, so this one felt brilliant. Player of the tournament for the Valerie Fraser was the icing on the cake that day, it just completed everything for me.
“As for the goals I scored throughout the season, all of them wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for working alongside such a talented forward line for the set-ups and assists.”
AG: You have also represented Scotland and were the top scorer for your country. How has that experience been?
LM: “Playing in the Scotland squad is an amazing experience, which I have been able to enjoy five times now. Even being picked to play alongside the best in the game is exciting and rewarding. You learn so much from the other girls, the coaching squads and the away sides – each year has been fantastic. Coming home as the top scorer last year was great. I would look to achieve the same again in the future if selection goes well.”
AG: This season the Skye Ladies side has shown no signs of complacency, with seven wins from seven in the league and will contest this year’s Valerie Fraser Camanachd Cup Final. Is there still a strong desire to win within the team, despite having already won both competitions last season?
LM: “Most definitely there is! We did it once and we want to do it again, and we will certainly be trying our hardest to do that.
“Seven out of seven (in the league) is a great start but we have to remember there are other teams out there getting better all the time too. Badenoch are hot on our tails, so we need to keep on top of our game.
“Being in the Valerie Fraser Cup Final again this year is great. Unfortunately, we did not get to play a game as the other sides were unable to field a team meaning we have a walkover into the final. In some way that takes away from the glory of reaching the final, as there is no sense of achievement. However, the final against Badenoch and Strathspey will be a great game for both teams and promises plenty of action for the spectators.”
AG: Skye Ladies now have teams in North Division Two and the development league as well as the first team in the National Division. As a former North Division Two Player of the Year, what are your thoughts on the development of the women’s game in the last few years?
LM: “When I first started playing with the Skye Ladies we played very few games and never many home games as they were played on a Sunday. We asked for our home games to be played on a Saturday which enabled us to play more. Then we had the help of my mum doing all the paperwork side of things and Robbie Gordon joining us as the coach, and things just went from strength to strength for us.
“We have been very lucky that most of the girls who played in the very beginning are still with us, which has helped as the older ones are able to encourage the younger girls and it gives them a bit more confidence.
“Looking back on our division, the game was a lot slower; but teams have become much fitter and the eagerness to play shinty is greater. Last year we had our national division team and our development league team which was fed into by the high school team. This year we have the three teams, with more and more girls joining the school team in the hope of progressing up into the ladies’ teams.
“It’s great to see so many girls still wanting to play, as the ladies’ game is just getting better and better with more teams coming through.”
AG: And how encouraging is it to see the emergence of new teams and youngsters coming through?”
LM: “It’s crucial to the continuing success of women’s’ shinty to spike interest and dedication in younger players, so it is fantastic to see so many girls playing shinty. Now, there are so many girls playing in some teams at U14 and U17 level and even some in their clubs’ second teams. This is exciting as it will hopefully allow the women’s game to grow and will, in turn, provide new challenges for our Skye Ladies.”
AG: During a radio interview on Cuillin FM earlier this year, your teammate and vice-captain Llana Paterson talked about the social side of the game and the camaraderie among those playing. Is that an important aspect of the sport?
LM: “The social side of the sport is very important, I think it helps a team bond better. We also see the social side of things as playing a role in the community, we have a very strong support base here and we like to try and keep involved in what is happening in the community and are often helping out at shows, junior shinty tournaments and even the odd wedding.
“I personally feel that to gain the support we do, that we have to give something back as well.”
As captain of the team, how would you describe your leadership style?
LM: “For Robbie to have chosen me to be captain was a great start to my season last year and I knew I had to work hard, as I wanted to prove to him that I was worthy of being his captain.
“I think it’s very important to lead by example for the younger players coming up into the team and I always aim to show good sportsmanship and promote respect to the younger players.
“I think it is also crucial to have good friendships within the team so that everyone can get along well with one another both on and off the pitch.”
AG: Who has been your biggest influence in the game?
LM: “Sarah Corrigall. She has been a great friend to me throughout playing shinty as well as a great teacher.”
AG: If you had to pick a favourite moment from your playing career so far, what would it be, and why?
LM: “Favourite moment is a tough one as there have been so many. To win the league and cup in my first year being captain was amazing. This meant I picked up the coveted black caman – anyone who knows me well will tell you that it has been a dream of mine since I was very young and had only just begun playing the game!
“Another highlight was being awarded the Caman DR at the annual Skye Camanachd awards ceremony last year. This is a youth award given to players who show skill, commitment and enthusiasm for the game. Up until last year, it had been awarded to a player from the boys’ sides. It was a great honour to have been respected enough by my home club to pick up that particular trophy and I hope it inspires some more of the talented women from our club to aim high and play with the qualities the Caman DR recognises.”
AG: And if you could give any advice to youngsters interested in playing shinty, what would it be?
LM: “Pick up a Caman and come along to training.”
For more information on the Year of Young People visit: http://yoyp2018.scot/
Article written and interview conducted by Adam Gordon.