By KEITH MACKENZIE
For the second year in a row Newtonmore will face Lovat to contest shinty’s biggest prize, the Tulloch Homes Camanachd Cup, which takes place in Oban this Saturday.
Cup holders Newtonmore, who last year edged the Kiltarlity side 3-2 to lift the trophy for the 32nd time, are chasing a treble of senior honours in 2018 against a Lovat team who’ll be hoping history repeats at the club’s happy hunting ground of Mossfield Park.
Only twice has the sport’s most famous prize headed for Balgate – and Lovat’s most recent triumph in 2015 came 62 years after their first. But as it did on both those previous occasions, it is the Argyllshire venue which will offer Lovat‘s players the chance to cement their place in club folklore.
Skipper Lewis Tawse believes his team are finding form at a good time, and they go into Saturdays’s match second in the league, and on the back of a run of just one defeat in their past ten matches in all competitions.
He said: “Apart from a small blip in the middle of the season we’ve been pretty consistent all year. The league has gone for us, but we’re still second and have been finding a bit of form now we have a fully fit squad.
“Last year’s final won’t play on our minds, other than to act as a motivator. Most of the finals we’ve played in recent years we’ve won, so that was a sore one for us to take. We don’t want to feel like that again. Last year we didn’t play as well as we could – especially in the first half we didn’t get going. “Hopefully we’ll see a different story on Saturday.”
Tawse, a 25-year old joiner who made his debut at 16, netted a brace last Saturday as Lovat warmed up for the weekend’s showpiece with a 7-2 thumping of Caberfeidh.
Scotland cap Greg Matheson has been the club’s main source of goals in recent years, but Tawse hopes Newtonmore’s defence – which boasts the best record in shinty – will have more than one forward to worry about.
He added: “The potential match-up between Greg Matheson and (Newtonmore defender) Rory Kennedy could be important for us, as Rory has the ability to dictate the game from the back.
“But we have goals in our side – it’s not just Greg. Marc MacLachlan, Graeme Macmillan, Duncan Davidson and others can all chip in. We got a boost with a big win on Saturday when we played some great shinty.
“We’ve had some injury problems, but have players coming back at the right time. Drew Howie has returned to our defence and is a nightmare to play against. He can make life really hard for opposing forwards.
“Oban has been a good venue for us. We don’t look at this year’s final as a score to settle from last year, just a chance to win the cup again. It’s what every player wants to do, and we’ll go there believing we can win.
“With our new clubhouse taking shape the club feels like it’s in a good place just now – so hopefully we’ll go and put on a show.”
Newtonmore skipper Andy MacKintosh was a frustrated spectator last year as injury ruled him out of his team’s victory in Inverness.
This year he’ll lead out a team high on confidence on the back of a 16-game unbeaten run which has brought them to the brink of another league title, as well as to the Camanachd final for a third year in a row.
“The club’s history speaks for itself, but all we can do is just try and add to it,” said the 27-year old joiner whose father Iain and uncles Ken and Alan won titles galore as The Eilan side dominated shinty in the late 70s and early 1980s.
Newtonmore moved just win away from the premier league title with victory against Kinlochshiel last weekend, and with the MacTavish Cup already in the cabinet a treble is now the target – although MacKintosh didn’t take long to identify the one player his team fear.
“First and foremost we have to find a way past their goalkeeper,” he added, praising Lovat’s inspirational international stopper Stuart MacDonald, who was man of the match when his side beat Kyles to win the cup three years ago.
“Never was an Albert Smith medal more deserved than it was that day, so we might need to be patient in trying to find a way past him. Our recent meetings have been tight and low scoring, and I expect it to be close on Saturday – although an early goal always changes things.
“Last year won’t play a part – it’s different circumstances, and a different venue.
“After a slow start to the season our team has clicked, and we’ll try and approach the final in the same way as we’d approach any other, even though we know what is at stake. It’s a dream for any Newtonmore youngster growing up – to lift the cup and follow all those who have done it in the past.”
A broken collarbone sustained against Shiel last week rules out veteran midfielder Fraser MacKintosh, but otherwise Newtonmore will be at full strength, with former Lochcarron player Kenny Ross poised to start his first final as goalkeeper at the ripe old age of 48.
Throw-up is at 2pm and the match is broadcast live on BBC 2 Scotland.