Scotland seniors set benchmark
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NOW THE dust has settled on this year’s Marine Harvest shinty/ hurling/camogie internationals, the three Scotland head coaches have given The
Oban Times their perspective on their respective matches.
In the previous three senior internationals between the Scots and the Irish, the losing team scored 14 points each time. This year, however, although the Scots reached the 14 point mark, a defiant, defensive display helped them to a 14-5 victory at the Bught Park on Saturday October 22.
Scotland head coach Ronald Ross knows that his squad had to work hard to lift the Marine Harvest Quaich.
‘ We dug it out,’ he said. ‘To win the match is always the most important thing and we put a lot of effort into our preparations. Fitness levels are so important and we were pushing forward right until the end of the game. Our fitness didn’t tail off towards the end of the match as it has sometimes done in the past. We based a lot of our preparation on fitness and drills so that we were best prepared for what was coming. We had 90 minutes of hard training at the Wednesday sessions in the four weeks ahead of the game plus, of course, Sunday sessions. That’s a big commitment for guys who are also playing and training with their club sides. It shows the players’ motivation and their keenness to bridge the gap from before.’
That old Scottish stereotype for being miserly may or may not be deserved but it certainly applied to the home defence who gave nothing away. There was a tactical battle on the touchline and the Scotland defenders were given specific jobs to do and they stuck to their tasks without exception. Ireland forward Shane Dooley was identified as a danger-man given his previous displays in this fixture. He scored three goals and three points when the Irish beat Scotland 51-23 in Ennis in 2012. He also scored three times in Inverness in 2010 and he netted the year before too.
One of shinty’s classiest players, Newtonmore’s Rory Kennedy, was given the responsibility of marking the Offaly hitman and other than one point over the bar from a ridiculously wide attempt on the Irish left, Dooley’s threat was nullified. Ronald said: ‘Rory was asked to ensure Shane Dooley wasn’t allowed to be as effective as he had been in previous games and he stuck to that task superbly. We were solid defensively overall. Steven MacDonald, Finlay MacRae, Lee Bain and Andy MacKintosh all did their jobs. They closed the space down to allow Ireland very few chances and when they did get a couple of shots at goal, our keeper Stuart MacDonald was in great form.’
With four new caps all playing their part in the triumph, Ross believes the continuous evolution of the squad as an important factor. ‘There is always a need to freshen up the team each year. The door is always open for any player to break through into the squad. The four debutants are all young and they all did well. Andy MacKintosh was sound defensively and he has lots of pace. Thomas Borthwick also adapted well. He didn’t get as much time on the ball as he’s used to but he will be better for this experience. Lorne Dickie and Greg Matheson both came off the bench and offered something different. Lorne is completely new to shinty/ hurling but he competed well at wing centre. Greg has played before and, even although he’s not fully fit, he almost scored near the end. It may have been a first game for the seniors for these guys but I’m sure it won’t be their last.”
Once the dust had settled on the game, some murmurings of discontent from the Irish camp started to reach these shores.
Ireland boss Jeffrey Lynskey accepted his players had failed to convert a number of opportunities. The number of Irish wides reached double figures whilst they were also wasteful from frees.
He was also quoted as saying that the Irish had conceded too much ground to Scotland under the agreed cross- code rules, particularly in relation to deadballs. He highlighted Scotland’s ability to score two points from a free on the ground, whilst his side picks up just a point from the traditional lifting the ball and hitting it over the bar. He also questioned the rule which forces the Irish keeper to play a goal-hit - or puck- out - from a golf tee on the ground rather than the lift and hit motion.
The Irish hurlers have a proud tradition and they don’t like losing. Fair play to them for that, but some of the complaints raised are dubious. The dead ball rules were introduced with Irish support as they wished to develop their players’ ground hurling skills. Ireland also get two points for a free played from the ground and some of their players have mastered this skill. The goal-hits seemed to pose little difficulty with keeper Eoin Reilly regularly striking the ball into the Scotland half.
Ireland were also unhappy about David Reidy’s disallowed goal although television replays supported referee Innes Wood’s decision to rule out the effort for offside.
These complaints are all signs of Scotland’s progression in this fixture as they seemed much less relevant when our Celtic cousins were securing success on the pitch.
The Irish pre-match plans were disrupted when Tipperary icons John McGrath and Noel McGrath were late call- offs. They were announced in the original squad but their Gaelic football commitments for their club side went on longer than expected. Irish boss Lynskey went after a number of high profile replacements – including Richie Horgan and Seamus Callanan – but although they were keen, they were unable to make the trip at such short notice. Clare duo Cian Dillon and David Reidy answered the call but this last-minute change of personnel was far from ideal.
The Ireland squad were convincing winners against their U21s counterparts when they met in preparation to face the Scots which emphasises the step up required to reach senior level.
It must be said the Ireland camp acknowledged that Scotland deserved to win the game. However there is no doubt Ireland will come back stronger in 2017.
There was already talk after the final whistle of which Ireland U21 players could make the step up to the senior side next year and the three or four top tier players will be carefully selected to ensure they can quickly adapt to the rigours of this contest.
Ronald Ross accepted this is an area where the Irish have some difficulty. ‘Ireland have to identify players who are suited to the shinty/ hurling rules. You will get some hurlers who use their hands a lot; this will be a big part of their game. Well, these players clearly aren’t going to be suited to what we have where the use of the hand isn’t allowed. Ireland are getting very good at doing this as although catching the ball and kicking the ball comes very naturally to the hurlers, it never happened in the game this year. They have cut out such silly mistakes. They have taken several strides forward, making our task all the more difficult.’
There was criticism that the absence of any goals scored in the game made for a lesser spectacle than in recent years. ‘It’s not as if both sides weren’t trying to score, said Ronald.
‘They closed us down at every opportunity when we broke forward and we did the same to them. In the end it came down to who took the one and two-point opportunities and you have to take your chances. We did that. For me, this is new a benchmark. We’ve always set out to continue to take our performances to a new level and I believe we’ve done that.’
The backdrop to the clash, which was broadcast live on BBC2 Scotland, was a crowd of just under 2,000, shinty’s biggest attendance bar the Camanachd Cup Final, whilst there was a bulging sponsors’ hospitality tent which emphasised the support there is for this fixture. The Bught Park pitch was in really good condition and the short grass aided the home team’s chances.
Ronald had little to say on his own future as Scotland boss. ‘I’ll take my time to reflect as I do every year,’ he said. ‘It’s far too early to think about next year and there’s still a number of arrangements to be put in place such as where the game will be played.
‘The Camanachd Association has a representative committee which deals with such matters and I’ll speak to them first before anyone else regarding my own position as that is the right thing to do.’
With Scotland’s recent success setting a high benchmark – three successive wins at the Bught Park - and a wounded Irish squad now seeking revenge, the 2017 encounter is sure to be as keenly contested as ever.
More to come from under 21s
SCOTLAND U21 head coach Allan MacRae believes there is more to come from his young squad following their 30-17 defeat to Ireland U21 at the Bught Park, Inverness.
The Irish have mainly had the upper-hand in this fixture with Garry Reid’s win in Ireland a couple of years ago a rare Scottish success. This year’s visiting squad was strong and included Tipperary trio Andrew Coffey, Tom Fox and Barry Heffernan.
Allan MacRae was pleased with his squad’s display, commenting, ‘I was delighted with the commitment and effort given by all our players. Our young team competed well against a talented and skilful Irish squad who were boosted by their three top flight Tipperary players.’
Ireland had built up a 19-9 lead in the game before Scotland staged a second half fightback which took them back to 19-17. Allan said: ‘The way in which we fought back to within two points in the second half showed character and, at that stage, the result hinged on a couple of missed frees from us.’
The Scotland squad was one of the youngest in recent years which augers well for forthcoming international meetings.
Allan added: ‘ We included six players aged 18 years or under so the future looks bright and everything bodes well for the game next year.’
Women stay on learning curve
A 12-2 reverse against Dublin meant Scotland women’s head coach Stuart Reid tasted international defeat for the first time in four years and it’s not an experience he enjoyed.
The Scots have measured their progress by playing against stronger Irish opposition each year but this year’s Dublin squad was to prove to be their stiffest test for a number of years.
Stuart said: ‘ We are disappointed to have lost as the ladies put in a tremendous amount of work, both technically and physically, in the lead up to the game. This was the first time any of our players had been exposed to the top level of camogie and it took us a while to adjust to the speed and physicality of the Dublin players. Once we did that, we acquitted ourselves very well and I couldn’t fault any of them for effort or desire and I thought our defence, in particular was, outstanding under serious pressure.
‘We only scored two points though which is nowhere near enough to win a game so we can have no complaints about being beaten as Dublin thoroughly deserved their win.’
Stuart sees the game as being part of a progression which will help the development the ladies game in the long run and his side will be better for the experience. Our performances over the past few years, and the progression of women’s shinty, shows this is the level we need to be operating at regularly to progress as a sport. The more we can test ourselves against the best, the better we will be and we will be using everything we have learnt this year to help progress the women’s game in general and to prepare ourselves better for next year’s return match in Dublin.’
Action from the recent shinty/hurling international hled at Bught Park, Inverness. Ireland’s Danny Cullen and Scotland’s Roddy Macdonald.
Scotland head coach Ronald Ross.