This weekend sees the beginning of the new Shinty season as teams up and down the country once again grip their camans in preparation for more on field fire.
For the first time in eight years, a two-tier set-up will consist of eight teams rather than 10, and the powers that be at the Camanachd Association will be looking for more competition.
At the top table, Newtonmore will be favourites once again to be in the running for honours as the likes of Lovat, winners of last season’s MacTavish Cup, will rightly fancy their chances of challenging the Champions in the Orion Premiership.
Fort William, outside the sport’s top league for the first time since the mide-1990’s, will want a quick return to where they will believe they belong but with teams such as Kilmallie and Oban Camanachd helping make up the Marine Harvest National Division, the An Aird side will not find it easy.
At the other end of the Premiership, Kinlochshiel’s main objective will be to preserve their Premiership status but that won’t be an easy task given the reduction in numbers. The Kirkton team hope that last season’s early season promise will show again this year, but equally, Shiel will be keen to fend off any prospect of debilitating downturns in form which somewhat derailed their efforts in 2013.
Skye are one of a number of sides that welcome new management teams on board and John “Spod” MacLeod has already stamped his authority on proceedings at Pairc nan Laoch. After 14 years away from shinty’s Premier competition, the Islanders start this term in an all too lowly, North Division One. MacLeod has set a “no train, no play” policy which is designed to reinforce the importance of practice, which the Sgitheaneichs will hope lead to a promotion push.
In fact, experienced player Gilleasbuig MacDonald recently showed precisely the type of attitude that could be vital in determining Skye’s fortunes in the weeks and months ahead. MacDonald, working in Stornoway, boarded a flight to Inverness at his own expense in order to captain his team in a pre-season loss at Glenurquhart – dedication that will surely prove a positive as MacLeod gets to work in Portree.
As well as the league campaign, sides will get the opportunity to lift silverware with the Scottish Hydro Camanachd Cup again at the forefront of minds, the final of shinty’s showpiece competition taking place at the Bught Park in Inverness on September 13. Some of the lower lights will fancy their chances in this year’s MacTavish Cup as well as the Balliemore Cup with the latter omitting teams from the national leagues.
Given the new format and most leagues having 14 teams, the Camanachd Association have introduced a new competition in which they have dubbed “plate competitions” to address the issue of teams that are eliminated early from cup competitions from being out of action.
So, as teams from Bute to Beauly, Skye to Glasgow prepare to face up in a new, revamp of shinty, it remains to be seen whether the new look can prove a success. What can be guaranteed though is that fierce, on field blood and thunder will resume – shinty is back.