Kinlochshiel put a new name on the Camanachd Cup – and capped a day that will go down in local folklore forever – by beating Lovat 3-1 in a thrilling final at Oban’s Mossfield on Saturday.
Keith MacRae struck a hat-trick to seal a deserved victory in front of a bumper crowd – the bulk of whom had made the journey from the west.
It might have been Shiel’s first Camanachd final in 63 years, but their players rose to the challenge in all areas of the pitch to edge out a Lovat team who were making their fourth appearance in the sport’s showcase in six years.
After a cagey opening the west-coasters seized the initiative in the 24th minute – MacRae lashing home on the backhand from 15 yards after his brother John had pounced on a shanked hit-in from Lovat’s Drew Howie.
Shiel grew in confidence after the opener and it took a magnificent diving save from goalkeeper Stuart Macdonald to deny John MacRae a second before Lovat rallied towards the end of the half.
And with the interval fast approaching Greg Matheson found space on the left to send a rasping finish high beyond Josh Grant, the Shiel keeper, to square the match.
The Kiltarlity side pressed hard in the early stages of the second period, but Shiel’s defence stood firm.
And on the hour mark they broke swiftly to restore the advantage. MacRae raced onto Jordan Fraser’s lofted pass and as MacDonald advanced the Shiel attacker kept a cool head to deftly clip the ball home and make it 2-1.
The goal knocked the stuffing out of Lovat, who struggled to create much in the way of clear chances thereafter. And deep into injury-time MacRae completed the fairy tale with another adroit finish for the hat-trick.
There were no shortage of contenders for the Albert Smith medal for man of the match – but the award, now in its 50th year, went to defensive lynchpin Conor Cormack.
After the match the 34-year-old hat-trick-hero, who previously feared he might have to quit the game after a succession of knee injuries, said: “It’s not really sunk it yet – at the final whistle we had people running to us and crying. It will take a while and maybe it will be a few days before it all hits home.
“It’s something we all hoped hadn’t passed us by – you need a good run of games, and fortunately it has worked out for us this year. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Kinlochshiel manager Johnston Gill, who has now led the club to the Premier League, MacAulay Cup and Camanachd Cup, added: “Lovat gave us a hard time of it, but we had Keith MacRae on fire today – the whole team were brilliant.
“It was nip and tuck after they came back to 1-1 but I think we shaded the game as a whole.
“We knew the threat they carried, but Fraser Heath was well marked by Finlay MacRae and Conor did a great job against Greg Matheson.
“We got our tactics right and used our subs well – they were all outstanding.
“It’s a fantastic day – most of the community is here with us in Oban – they are great for us, and give us fantastic backing. We will all enjoy it!”
Meanwhile, earlier in the day Skye Camanachd also had a victory to savour as their under-14 team lifted the Ken MacMaster Cup.
Goals from Seonaidh MacLeod and Alasdair Stewart sealed a 2-1 win over Fort William.
Article, Keith MacKenzie; Pictures, Willie Urquhart – More coverage, reaction and pictures in the next edition of the West Highland Free Press, out on Thursday