MEMORY MATCH May 2000: Camanachd Cup semi-final. Skye Camanachd v Kyles Athletic

Skye forwards Norman MacLeod and Willie Cowie press for a goal.

Penalty agony for Skye in epic tussle at Ballachulish

With live sport curtailed Keith MacKenzie dipped into the Free Press archives to recall a memorable clash from yesteryear.

It’s sometimes said that semi-finals tend to be forgettable affairs – but anyone playing in or watching this classic from the spring of 2000 would surely beg to differ. 

Ten years on from their famed Camanachd Cup triumph, and a younger generation of Skye players were striving to match the feats of the class of 1990.

Standing in their way were Kyles Athletic – a club with a rich cup pedigree but who were looking to reach their first final since 1994.

For Skye, it was the second season in succession they had reached the last four of the competition, but after disposing of Oban Camanachd – their conquerors 12 months previously – on penalties in a dramatic quarter final at Mossfield, hopes were high that the islanders could go one better.

Kyles were a premier league side at the time, but Skye were enjoying an encouraging season and on course to win the national division.

The form book suggested a contest too close to call, and so it proved in a game which the Free Press’s man on the touchline, Ian McCormack, described as a “thrilling semi-final, played in Ballachulish in warm sunshine and watched by a sizeable crowd.”

Skye made the early running, and their bright start got its reward – aided by a touch of good fortune after ten minutes.

As reported in the WHFP: “The opening came courtesy of a superb long clearance by Dougie Rankin, and when the ball broke to Willie Cowie he lashed towards goal. The shot was clearly going just wide of the upright before Fraser MacDonald inadvertently diverted it into his own net for a bizarre opener.”

Under the canny guidance of manager Angie Murchison, Skye’s useful blend of youth and experience continued to revel on the big stage. Youngsters like Somhairle Macdonald, Ewen MacSween, John MacLean and Allan MacLeod had established themselves along with several survivors of the 1990 team – Cowie, Willie MacRae, Peter Gordon, John ‘Bodach’ Mackenzie, Ally MacDonald and Ewen MacKinnon.

With 36 minutes played the islanders doubled their advantage. 

McCormack takes up the action: “John MacLean delivered a corner into the danger area, and with keeper Kenny MacDonald under pressure Cowie took two attempts before slipping the ball over the line as he tumbled face-forward onto the pitch”.

Skye’s fans were in dreamland but, as the reporter had noted: “Kyles are famous for their battling qualities”.

By half time the match was level.

From a powerful hit in from the right the ball broke to veteran Dan MacRae “who had time and space to place the shot beyond the reach of keeper MacKenzie.”

Then, calamity struck Skye in the closing moments of the half.

“Another massive hit in by Tom White caused panic in the Skye defence, and as MacKenzie lashed out in an attempted clearance the ball appeared to come back past him off team captain MacSween”.

Seconds later it took an outstanding save from MacKenzie to deny Dallas Turner and prevent Kyles from turning around in the lead.

Murchison’s men regrouped.

“The second half had been underway less than 60 seconds before Skye retook the initiative thanks to a corner which was turned in by Cowie, with Peter Gordon hovering to pick up on any mistake.”

For much of the second half Kyles were kept well away from the Skye danger area, but a fourth goal  proved elusive – thanks in large part to legendary goalkeeper Kenny MacDonald.

And with Skye just eight minutes away from sealing a place in the final the men in blue hauled themselves back from the brink.

Our reporter said that Dallas Turner “had looked the likeliest threat” and it was the youngster who “saw a glimmer of an opening and fired in a shot which took a deflection and flew past Bodach MacKenzie and into the net”.

“That was the signal for the islanders to lay siege to the Kyles goal and for the Tighnabruaich keeper to dig dep with a string of exceptional saves.”

MacLean, Somhairle MacDonald (twice), Gordon and Cowie were all denied before the whistle sounded to herald extra time.

In “energy-sapping heat” it was hardly surprising that the added half hour was more low-key, but five minutes into the second period came a “glorious chance” for Skye.

Referee Donne Fraser spotted an infringement in the area, and the islanders were awarded a penalty.

Rankin stepped up, but was unable to make clean contact and the “scuffed spot hit was easily turned away by MacDonald”.

And so to a penalty shoot-out. Both goalkeepers excelled themselves, MacDonald saving two, and MacKenzie doing likewise. With Kyles 3-2 ahead, Rankin had to score to force sudden death, but his shot sailed wide and it was Kyles who went through to the final.

Ian McCormack concluded: “Rankin was hero as well as villain. Once he got the measure of Ronnie MacVicar he dictated play from the centre, giving a hundred per cent in effort and running himself into the ground in the process. Up front Willie Cowie was immense – especially for a player just back from injury.

“And while the defence as a whole were tight, Willie MacRae at buckshee back gave another award-winning performance.

“If there was a man of the match award it would undoubtedly have gone to Kyles keeper Kenny MacDonald, who had excellent cover from full back Fraser MacDonald.

“Their most dangerous forward was Dallas Turner, while that veteran Dan MacRae showed he still has a few seasons left in him at the top level.”

In the final Kingussie, in the middle of a run of seven-successive Camanachd Cup triumphs, proved too strong, though Kyles gave a good account of themselves and had taken the lead before succumbing to a 3-1 defeat.

The redoubtable Kenny MacDonald was the final’s man of the match, but his remarkable career had still some way to run. Both he and namesake Fraser – the full back in the epic tussle of 2000 – would again pick up winners’ medals in 2012, by which time Kenny’s son Roddy had also emerged as a star of the sport. 

For Skye the wait for another shot at the big one goes on – with the club also missing out in semi finals in 2014 and 2017.

Allan MacLeod, the current Skye co-manager, reflected on that game at Ballachulish – recalling that he played much of the first half without a contact lens.

“I remember marking Dan MacRae – a fantastic player. But it was great chance for us.

“We were the better side for much of it, but not for the first time Kenny MacDonald was the saviour for Kyles.

“At the time Kingussie were virtually unstoppable and we’d have met them in their prime. Our chance of winning the cup may have been slim, but it would have been nice to have made the final.

“A lot of that Skye team would have deserved a shot on that stage.”

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