Island sports-star couple reflect on Skye highs and lows

Sarah Corrigall and Ben Yoxon enjoyed highs and endured lows during what was a memorable sporting year for them both in 2019. All photos by Willie Urquhart – WHFP – unless specified.

In 2019, Sarah Corrigall enjoyed the high of lifting the Valerie Fraser Camanachd Cup as part of the Skye Camanachd Ladies shinty team after a memorable 8-6 victory over rivals Badenoch. She also experienced the low of being pipped in the crucial league decider as Badenoch exacted revenge to take the title in a play-off.

Ben Yoxon’s sporting year was also punctuated by success, as his football team Sleat and Strath claimed a hat-trick of domestic cups and impressed by reaching the Highland Amateur Cup quarterfinals. However, he also endured a sore loss as Mallaig upstaged Sleat on their home turf on the final day of the season to deprive them of the Skye and Lochalsh Football League championship.

Free Press reporter Adam Gordon recently caught up with the Skye sporting couple to discuss their memorable year, to ask how they feel watching each other play and to quiz them on what advice they’d give if they had to swap sports.

Now that the dust has settled, what are your thoughts on your teams’ respective seasons?

Ben Yoxon: “Looking back we can only really have one complaint in an otherwise great season with a great set of boys. I really enjoyed being a part of it and, hopefully, we can continue to play the football we did. I always feel that we’re capable of winning every game, but the other teams in the league are really good, too, and they rightfully think the same as I do for their respective teams. To win three cups, and lose only three of 29 games, despite playing against some really good opposition across the area, can only be seen as a success.”

Sarah Corrigall: “Last year was another successful season for the ladies teams. The Skye ladies team has grown from strength to strength every year since the club was formed in 2011. Last year was no exception. We won the Valerie Fraser Cup, beating Badenoch 8-6, which is an incredible score for any final! It was a fantastic game that will be talked about for years to come. We lost the league in a play-off after winning all but one game during the league campaign. We had two representatives in the Scotland under-18 team; one in the Scotland development team and four in the Scotland national team – which I was honoured to captain. So, overall, for the club, I would say it was a very successful season.”

Sarah was a pivotal player for the Skye Ladies side which defeated Badenoch to claim the Valerie Fraser Camanachd Cup last season. Photo credit Neil G Paterson.

Ben, as a coach of the Broadford under-18s football team, how do you find the challenge compared with playing – and does it make you view your own manager differently?

BY: “I’ve been a coach of Broadford for a long time, so I know what is needed on both sides. When you play, you have ideas about what needs to be changed, what the team needs to do; and at the side, you may have an entirely different view. In many ways, everyone is a manager and has their own ideas of what the team should do, who should play where, and the formation, but at the end of the day it’s down to the manager and his ‘staff’ to decide what the best team is on each occasion.

“It takes a lot of hard work, and a lot of thinking, to get to the point of kickoff for a match — something that you maybe don’t understand if you are just playing. And I have nothing but respect and admiration for DL (MacKinnon, the Sleat coach) for continuing to do it. “

Sarah, last year, Skye Ladies captain Ilana Paterson said you were someone she looked up to. Are you happy being thought of as a role model, and is coaching something that interests you going forward?

SC: “I have always had an interest in coaching — not just in shinty, but in all sports. Being involved in sport is so much more than just winning and losing. As a youngster, I had one of the best coaches for shinty – Alasdair Morrison. Ally taught us much more than how to play shinty. He taught us the principles of being a good person – respecting our teammates, our opposition, and the officials; taking responsibility for our actions; playing fair and being honest, and playing with integrity.

“I would love to follow in Ally’s footsteps in the future. Shinty is a passion of mine, it is a great sport, and I would love to continue the style of coaching Ally taught me.”

Ben was a key part of the treble-winning Sleat team which captured three cups in 2019.

As members of successful teams, winning is something you are both accustomed to. But how do you react to a defeat?

BY: “I can comfortably say that I am a bad loser, at pretty much anything, mainly cause I’m stupidly competitive. As Martin (MacKinnon, the Sleat captain) so eloquently put it during the season last year, he cries for days after we lose. It’s not that I am annoyed with the opposition, or teammates, more annoyed with myself in what I could have done to help — a pass, a shot, a tackle or something like that. It’s because I want to learn from a mistake and make sure I don’t do it next time.

“Sarah would back that I’m a bad loser at pretty much anything — table tennis, cards, any game really — but so is she!”

SC: “I definitely dwell on it — more on my own performance than anything. For days after I will think ‘what if I did that, or what if I did this?’  I can’t help it. I think all driven sportspeople do — you can’t help it. You want to learn; you want to know what more you could have done to help your team win. Both Ben and I ask the same questions as soon as we see each other after a game, win or lose – ‘Did I play well?’ ‘What could I have done better?’  I don’t think it’s possible to have the perfect game — even if you are in a successful and winning team, there is always something to improve on.”

Your clubs both travel frequently and quite far in some instances to play matches – is that a bit of hassle or do you think it fosters camaraderie between the players?

BY: “I think for us it’s a bit of fun. We don’t actually travel too much so it’s less of a hassle than it is for Sarah. We only get a few long journeys through the year so we usually make a bit of an event of it and have a laugh.”

Ben challenges for the ball during an encounter with Mallaig.

SC: “When I was younger I did enjoy travelling to and from games. It was good for team spirit. I have been to places I probably would never go to if it wasn’t for shinty. However, the older I get, the more hassle the travelling is.

“I envy Ben that he gets to play locally. Our closest away league game is nearly a two-hour drive, whereas Ben’s is only 15 minutes. Getting home close to midnight on a Sunday when you have work at 8 am on Monday morning is tough – dealing with a cranky me on a Monday morning is tougher for Ben.”

Sarah Corrigall in action for Skye Ladies against fierce rivals Badenoch

If you could change one thing about your respective sports as it stands – what would that be?

BY: “There is no better game about – Sarah might argue with that, though. But as for the sport here in this area, the main thing I would change is the chances for young players. I’m delighted to see Katherine (Dibble) and Jennifer (Macleod) getting a chance to play with Inverness Caley Thistle and I know a couple of others are through or have been through at Ross County and ICT, too. But over the years there have been countless kids that have been good enough to at least be given the opportunity. It is a massive commitment for the children, given the travelling etc, but it’s a commitment that very capable footballers should at least be given the opportunity to take.

“I would love to see the return of the Skye Select adult side, too, so the league can showcase the ability it has. I would also like to see more teams from around Skye and Lochalsh (returning to the league). No criticisms from myself to the teams but it would be great to see more teams coming back. As we mentioned with DL, the commitment to keep a team running is massive and it’s really hard for people to commit but it’s something I’d love to see.”

SC: “That’s a difficult question. I would like to see women’s shinty being played on Saturdays and played as 12-a-side. I know the sport is growing and these changes are unlikely, but for the future, this is what I would like to see. I think having a men’s and women’s game on the same day at the same venue could help promote the game and bring in larger crowds to both matches – I know the weather can be a big factor for pitches in some areas.

“Shinty is a 12-a-side game, and I think all ladies teams should be aiming to have a least one team that can play 12-a-side for the future.”

What are your respective goals for the 2020 season?

BY: “I guess the big aim for us as a team is to take that extra step and win the league. It’s always good to win and I guess that’s why we all do it. We have a fairly young team so as long as we keep working hard and trying to improve then we will get better.

“On a personal level, I’ve always just loved playing the game, training, kicking a ball in the garden – anything, so to just keep enjoying it is my aim!”

SG: “The goals for the team never change. They are to continue to improve on the previous year. We will aim to bring home silverware; develop all players, and have fun.”

As a spectator, how do you feel when the other person is playing – do you get nervous, animated, defensive of them?

BY: “I get really nervous watching Sarah as I’m desperate for her to win. Shinty is a fairly new thing to me so I quite often watch with my football head on when it’s a completely different sport. But watching Sarah is a joy as she plays with poise, elegance and composure and with a smile on her face — and the odd grimace. I don’t really need to do much for her cause she is really good and certainly doesn’t need any of my help!”

SC: “I have always loved watching Ben play football. Even before we were a couple, I always thought Ben was an incredible footballer. I will sound biased, but Ben is unbelievably good. It is a joy to watch him. I try to shout at times to help him as I know spectators tend to see more from the sidelines. During a physical game, I get nervous that he doesn’t get an injury as I know how much he would hate to miss even just one game.”

If you had to swap teams for one match, what advice would you give to help each other adjust/fit in with your teammates?

BY: “Sarah knows most of the team and the strengths and weaknesses of each player as she watches most games. I guess if she was playing in one game I’d say, ignore Josh’s sassy-ness, make sure to run for Lachlan and admire Connaire. In all seriousness, I had the pleasure of playing in the same football team as Sarah when we were younger, and she is more than capable without my assistance.”

SC: “If you don’t know what to do with the ball, just hit it anywhere near Lorna (MacRae) and she will get it. Haha.”