History – and a spot at sporting redemption – beckons for either Kingussie or Lovat as they prepare to meet in shinty’s Tulloch Homes Camanachd Cup final this Saturday.
The Speysiders were many people’s favourites to lift the showpiece prize last season, only to come unstuck against the men from Kiltarlity in a semi-final classic.
For Lovat, however, that triumph would be followed by disappointment when they failed to rise to the occasion in the final against Kinlochshiel in Oban.
Kingussie skipper Savio Genini said this week that having gone eight years without lifting the cup – an age in Badenoch-terms – the village was abuzz at the prospect of seeing the local team shine again on home turf.
“It’s our first Camanachd cup final for eight years – which is too long for a club like Kingussie, and we’re all looking forward to it,” said Genini, whose father Martin and uncle Michael Clark were part of the side which lifted the trophy the last time The Dell played host in 1999.
“The whole town is buzzing about the Camanachd final being back after so long – it is without doubt the best surface in shinty so it makes for a great game.
“It’s a massive honour for everyone in our team to represent the club and to do it on our home ground is huge.”
Genini was just 17 when he scored twice in the 2014 final victory against Glenurquhart – a match also notable for the brace netted by the great Ronald Ross on his farewell appearance on the big stage.
But leaner years followed and as the club turned its focus to youth and rebuilt the squad, Kingussie needed a play off to avoid relegation in 2016.
Under the stewardship of manager John Gibson, the good times have returned and already this season Kingussie have lifted the MacTavish and MacAulay Cups, and are well placed to retain the league title.
Lifting the Camanachd Cup for a 24th time could crown a grand slam – but Lovat are out to spoil the big party, and banish some of their own painful memories of recent final defeats.
Since victory in 2015, the Kiltarlity side have been Camanachd Cup runners up on a further three occasions and skipper Craig Mainland hopes the occasion will bring out the best in a squad which has been hampered this season by injuries.
He said: “As a squad we have under achieved over the years – we feel we should have won more since 2015 but it’s time to rectify that and we’re itching to get out there on Saturday.
“We have had a very indifferent season with lot of injuries and a very inconsistent squad at times. But when we have our full squad we feel we are a match for anyone – including Kingussie on their own patch.
“We have players back and we’ve worked hard on our fitness – that squad in 2015 was the fittest I ever played in, but I believe we’re now up a level from that.”
Although livewire forward James Falconer has struggled with a knee injury, Kingussie have the most potent attack in the game right now with Genini, Ruaridh Anderson and top scorer Roddy Young all carrying a threat for any defences.
Mainland believes the key to victory lies in cutting off the supply at source.
He added: “If these forwards get enough of the ball, they will score goals – that’s inevitable. I think the game will be won or lost in midfield.
“If we can win that battle, we’ll always have a chance. Greg Matheson, Fraser Heath, Marc MacLachlan and Lewis Tawse all have goals in them.”
Saturday’s final – televised live on BBC Scotland – starts at 2pm, and all tickets have sold out with the capacity capped at 3,000.
The gala occasion will be followed by The Final Fling Concert featuring the likes of Keir Gibson, Manran and Peat & Diesel.
EARLIER IN THE DAY, MEANWHILE, a young shinty team from Skye will get a taste of the big occasion.
At 11am the Skye and Newtonmore under-14s will will be contesting the Ken MacMaster Cup – the top prize at the age group level.
Skye are the defending champions and are seeking to lift the trophy for a record eighth time.
TULLOCH HOMES CAMANACHD CUP FINAL SQUADS:
LOVAT (From): Stuart Macdonald, Bailey Mackay, Callum Cruden, Calum MacAulay, Chris Johnston, Craig Mainland (captain), Daniel Grieve, Danny Kelly, Drew Howie, Duncan Davidson, Fraser Heath, Graeme MacMillian, Greg Matheson, Lewis Tawse, Marc MacLachlan, Martin Mainland, Sam Stubbs.
KINGUSSIE (From): Rory (Bob) McGregor, Calum Grant, Cameron Bremner, Dylan Borthwick, Fraser Munro, George Taylor Ramsay, James Falconer, James Hutchison, Kieran MacPherson, Lee Bain, Liam Borthwick, Louis Munro, Robert Mabon, Roddy Young, Rory MacKeachan, Ruaridh Anderson, Ryan Borthwick, Savio Genini (captain).
Article by Keith MacKenzie