Shinty’s authorities were faced with a tricky decision this week as the club that has won the Camanachd Cup more than any other sought to improve its chances of a successful defence by re-scheduling an outstanding league fixture.
With one of their most valued defenders, club captain Rory Kennedy, having been out for several weeks, they have been presented with a major dilemma following the yellow card received by his fellow international player Steven MacDonald during last week’s league match with Kinlochshiel, his sixth of the season taking him over the disciplinary threshold and earning him an automatic ban.
While PJ Mackintosh, their manager, said after the match that he was unsure as to whether it meant last year’s Camanachd Association player of the year would be ruled out of the final, the player himself had seemed in no doubt as referee Deek Cameron consulted with goal judge Roddy Gillies over the incident that earned the caution, his vehement protests ahead of the card being shown including several reminders to the match officials of the implications beyond Saturday’s match.
An argument can be made that if MacDonald, a player who very obviously relies upon an intense competitiveness to be at his most effective, was aware that he was on dangerous terrain he should not have played in that fixture or this weekend’s against Kyles Athletic. However had the perfect sequence of results for Newtonmore occurred on Saturday they would have rekindled genuine hope of claiming a record eighth successive title and with leaders Kyles losing at Lovat, had they managed to hold onto the lead they twice held against then second placed Kinlochshiel, that is what would have happened.
In short they had to give it their all which is arithmetically still the case, it is inconceivable that even if they won their four remaining matches, both Kinlochshiel, who are six points clear of them and Kyles, who remain five ahead of Newtonmore will drop the necessary points in the three remaining matches they both have to play, not least because they are yet to face one another.
Put another way they are now able to give their full attention to the Camanachd Cup final which in turn means that even with the best will in the world, they are hardly likely to be as committed as would normally be expected in any matches in between times, not least because they already have a number of injury problems so must now protect their remaining squad members.
When, then, they sought to bring forward to next midweek their meeting with Lochaber that is scheduled to take place in October, so allowing MacDonald to work off his suspension ahead of the Camanachd Cup final, it was wholly understandable, but fraught with difficulty.
Clearly members of the Lovat club which meets Newtonmore in the final, would have had to be saintly to be other than unhappy had that been allowed to happen.
However the much bigger issue is the matter of the impact it could have had on the bottom of the table since Lochaber are currently involved in a relegation battle and, because they made earlier exits from cup competitions so have played more of their league matches, their meeting with the reigning champions is their only remaining opportunity to improve upon their current tally of nine points.
They are currently eighth in the table, two points ahead of Kilmallie and three clear of Glasgow Mid-Argyll, both of whom have three matches left, with two teams to be relegated.
It could be argued that Newtonmore’s players are no more likely to be motivated for what will be confirmed as a meaningless league encounter after the Camanachd Cup final but even if that is so those currently on their injured list will have a better chance of having recovered, while there will be no further need for players to be protected or to hold back.
It was possible that with shinty’s fixture lists being much more fluid than most sports, a case could have been made that a switch would not have been terribly unusual but any changes must be ratified by the Camanachd Association and they have to look after the interests of all their clubs.
There has been much discussion in Scottish sports in recent years about the integrity of competition and in making the decision they have the Camanachd Association have protected theirs.