Kinlochshiel are today (Saturday) aiming to go where no team in the club’s 63-year history has gone before as they bid to reach the final of shinty’s showpiece event, the Tulloch Homes Camanachd Cup, for the very first time.
The Balmacara side face Kyles Athletic in a last-four tie this afternoon at Taynuilt which will be broadcast live by BBC Alba.
Shiel skipper Keith MacRae, who made his debut 19 years ago as a 15-year-old, admits that Camanachd Cup glory would represent the crowning achievement for the club’s most successful generation of players who in recent years have won the premier league title and lifted two MacAulay Cups.
However, he knows that if they are to get a chance to sample the occasion of shinty’s big day out in September, they will first have to overcome a Kyles Athletic team intent on adding to the haul of 21 Camanachd Cups won by the club across the decades.
34-year-old MacRae, who has returned for a second stint as captain this year after three years interrupted by injury, said: “It sounds a cliché but it is true that every shinty player has the ambition to play in a Camanachd Cup final.
“For the club and players who have been together a long time, it would mean a lot.
“But Saturday will be a tough game. We’ve had some good tussles with Kyles over the years – some good victories but also a few big defeats too.
“They have lost one or two important players in recent years – the likes of Dunkie Kerr and Grant Irvine aren’t playing now, but we know they still have plenty quality and they have a knack of raising their game for the big cup games. We’re expecting a tough battle, but we look it good shape for it.”
Defender Conor Cormack, who has been out for several weeks with a broken hand, took part in a practice match with Shiel’s second team last weekend, and a decision on whether he will be fit enough to start the semi-final will be made later in the week.
Cormack’s fellow international Mark Macdonald remains sidelined with a knee problem, so Duncan Matheson is poised to continue in defence, having impressed since swapping roles earlier in the campaign.
Both Keith MacRae and David Falconer have been nursing injuries but should start the clash against Kyles.
The Tighnabruaich team will go into the clash disappointed but not despondent at having lost the MacAulay Cup final 4-1 against Kingussie in Oban last weekend.
The Badenoch team have been flying, but they were made to work hard to retain the trophy they won in 2019.
James Falconer pounced to give Kingussie an early lead, but Kyles rallied and pressed for a leveller either side of halftime before Kiearan MacPherson popped up from midfield to force in the crucial second and settle nerves with 20 minutes left.
Falconer fired in the third soon after, and though Innes Macdonald reduced the arrears for Kyles, substitute Lee Bain rounded off the victory late on.
Kyles have a squad that lacks depth, and defender Neil MacVicar limped off last Saturday – though there is still plenty of quality in their ranks to trouble Shiel.
Meanwhile, in the semi-final of the Cottages.com MacTavish Cup Kinlochshiel will be away to either Caberfeidh or Strathglass.
The other last-four tie will pit Kingussie at either Fort William, Lovat, or Glenurquhart.
The ties are likely to take place on the 2nd October.
For the full match report, photos and reaction, pick up your copy of the Free Press – out in your local shop on Thursday or subscribe here.
Article by Keith MacKenzie, and images by Willie Urquhart.