Title up for grabs as top four prepare for Showdown Saturday

Mallaig’s Angus MacNaughton and Ben Yoxon of Sleat challenge for the ball during this season’s Ross Cup final.

What has been an enthralling campaign in the Skye and Lochalsh Football League will come to a close this weekend (well, maybe?) with the top four teams all still in with a chance of claiming the title. With Sleat and Strath set to take on Mallaig, and Kyleakin welcoming the challenge of Portree Juniors, the FreePress decided gauge the thoughts of the clubs ahead of their mouthwatering final fixtures, as well as breaking down exactly what each needs to become champions on Showdown Saturday…

Sleat and Strath – (4th – 35 pts)  v Mallaig – (2nd – 36 pts) – 2.30 pm kick-off at Broadford

DL MacKinnon’s side takes on new boys Mallaig in the first of two meetings between the top four teams in a final round of fixtures which could decide the title.

Sleat suffered a setback to their championship hopes in midweek when they went down 4-2 to Portree Juniors. However, the Broadford-based side can still take the title but will have to do it through unconventional means –  as a win against the Blues coupled with a draw in the later game between Kyleakin and Portree Juniors would take the title race to a playoff between Sleat and Juniors.

They might go into the day as the outsiders but after such a good season so far, in which they have already tasted success in a crunch game in the Ross Cup Final – the south Skye side will be confident that they can get a win –  and with a bit of luck in the other match – set up a winner takes all rematch with Phil McCaherty’s side.

Mallaig, meanwhile, will look to complete their debut campaign in the Skye and Lochalsh League with what would be a fantastic yet unexpected success.

The Lochaber-based club has been roundly welcomed by the established league sides as a fine addition to the association, not only in a footballing sense but for their hospitality, and positive attitude when it came to integrating into the league set-up.

Having reached two cup finals already this season, Jamie MacGregor’s team will back themselves to make it third time lucky.

Pre-match thoughts:

DL MacKinnon, Sleat, and Strath Manager: “Personally, I’m a bit gutted after our good season to have the result out of our hands. We have to win and hope for a miracle!

“Out of the four teams, we are the outsiders to win. Saying that – our pride will make us more determined to win on Saturday and then we can just hope for a miracle to happen down the road!”

David Buick Jnr, Mallaig player: “The team is feeling very positive heading into Saturday’s game. To be in with a chance of winning the league title with a game to go in our debut season in this league is something we are all immensely proud of.

“The boys are all excited at the prospect of what could be a great day on Saturday, we are aware that winning the league is out of our hands and we are totally focused on our job which is to pick up three points against Sleat in what will be a very tough game. The aim for Saturday is to finish our game knowing we all gave absolutely everything for the cause and have no regrets and hopefully then the result will take care of itself.

“It’s been a great first season in the league and regardless of the outcome on Saturday the efforts shown both on and off the field by everyone connected with the football club are something we can all be proud of.”

What Sleat need to win the title: Sleat need to win and hope the other match ends in a draw, which would result in a playoff between DL MacKinnon’s team and Juniors.

What Mallaig need to win the title: A win for David Buick Jnr and his teammates, coupled with a draw in the Kyleakin – Juniors game would see the league trophy travel back over to Mallaig on the ferry. Alternatively, if Mallaig and Kyleakin were both to win, then Mallaig would have to defeat Kyleakin in a playoff to claim the title.

Chris Macnab of Juniors looks to get the better of Ally Brown of Kyleakin’s during the sides’ clash earlier this season.

Kyleakin (joint-second – 36 pts) v Portree Juniors (1st – 37pts) – 5.00 pm kick-off at Kyleakin.

With Mallaig making such a marked impressive in their debut season, and Sleat and Juniors sharing the spotlight of late following their enthralling six-goal thriller on Wednesday, it’s perhaps been easy to overlook the fact that the reigning league champions still have a fighting chance of retaining their title.

Indeed, with the GF MacRae Cup in their trophy cabinet and with just one defeat in the league so far this season, David Butcher will be quietly confident that his side has what it takes to rise to the challenge when it counts.

With their opponents one-nil up, and their title hopes hanging by a thread, it is fair to say the second half of Wednesday’s encounter against Sleat and Strath was somewhat of a do-or-die situation for Phil McCaherty’s Juniors side.

The performance of his team, especially after the break, and the psychological boost that the win against one of their title rivals would have brought, will no doubt give Juniors the belief that this is their year as they prepare for Showdown Saturday.

Pre-match thoughts

David Butcher, Kyleakin Manager: “After the dropped points in Glenelg we knew we couldn’t have any more slip-ups or we would be out of the race, but since I’ve taken over at Kyleakin that seems to be when we are at our best when the pressure is really on.  We’ve had some massive games with big players missing including away to Sleat in the must-win or the league was over, and what a performance the boys put in.

“Then we had to take on Mallaig with Gordy (Mccarroll) suspended and a difficult trip to Northwest Skye midweek without Mike T,  – we have worked very hard to put ourselves in this position but still needed Sleat to drop points which has happened now, so it seems for the third season in a row we are involved in a title shoot-out game. The boys are all really up for it and last year’s game is still fresh in the mind.

“Now we hope for Sleat to win or draw against Mallaig, and we need to do our job against Juniors. We have all said whoever ends up winning the league will certainly deserve it. I just hope it’s us, but it’s certainly going to be an entertaining day on Saturday.”

Phil McCaherty, Portree Juniors Manager: “I’m looking forward to the challenge in our game against Kyleakin who are a big strong team with Gordy and Innis (Thompson) who are very dangerous and we acknowledge they are unbeaten at home in the league this season.

“Our league record isn’t the best at that venue but when we do win it’s very worthwhile! I’ve got a couple of player concerns following Wednesday’s game against Sleat – which was a great advert for the league.

“I’m delighted with how we played there. Also good luck to Mallaig and Sleat – it’s great for the league that the games have so much meaning at the end of a long hard season, and I agree that all of the top four teams (and possibly all the teams) has been disadvantaged at some point or three during the season. No sleep for me tonight!”

What Kyleakin need to win the title: Kyleakin need to beat Juniors and hope that Mallaig does not beat Sleat in the earlier match. If both teams win their matches, then they will face each other in a title playoff.

What Juniors need to win the title: With a one-point advantage over their rivals going into the final match, the Portree side knows that a win will secure the title irrespective of the result between Sleat and Mallaig in the earlier match. A draw against Kyleakin coupled with a Sleat win would see DL MacKinnon and Phil McCaherty’s side playoff for the title.

The Free Press will be reporting live from both Broadford and Kyleakin as the final day drama unfolds. To keep up to date with the action on Showdown Saturday stayed tuned to the Free Press Facebook page.

Article by Adam Gordon and images by Willie Urquhart.