AS anyone who follows The Buteman’s shinty coverage will know very well by now, the local headlines in 2011 were dominated by Bute Shinty Club’s first team, who romped to the South Division One championship, and promotion back to the Premier League, without dropping a point - and landed the Balliemore Cup along the way.
But as anyone who’s ever been involved in any kind of team sport will tell you, the achievements of the grown-ups won’t mean a thing in the long run if you don’t keep the grass roots well fed and watered.
Happily, the future for shinty on Bute looks decidedly promising thanks to the club’s very active, and increasingly popular, youth set-up, which has seen children as young as three and four trying out the game for the first time.
Each Friday afternoon at Rothesay Joint Campus, away from the photographers’ cameras and the reporters’ notebooks, the next generation of shinty stars have been learning the game’s basic skills from coach David MacDonald.
As well as turning out regularly for many years for the club’s first team – and, since March, for the second team as well – David has worked tirelessly for many years passing on his knowledge to the island’s youngsters. As a result, they have attended many six-a-side tournaments over the years, and have done well representing both their school and the club in the process.
In addition, several wet and windy Friday nights were spent training at the campus, and then going over to Glendaruel to team up with some of that area’s junior players for a session elsewhere in Argyll.
One of the Bute youth section’s most memorable days this year was the inaugural Robert McAlister Memorial tournament, organised through Active Schools and held at the Pavilion at the beginning of March.
Robert, who died in a tragic accident in May 2010, had been an enthusiastic young shinty player, and teams from Glasgow and all around Argyll travelled to Rothesay to do battle for the Robert McAlister Memorial Trophy; it was fitting that the first team to win the trophy was Bute’s own P5 and under team, underlining their determination and teamwork even at this early stage of their shinty development.
In addition, a strong Bute team headed north to compete in the national shinty finals, and once again acquitted themselves well against competition from all over Scotland.
During the summer, David was joined by the club’s second team coach, David Kilpatrick, as a helper at the weekly Friday afternoon sessions.
This was a move which allowed the two Davids to take even younger children under their wing; you can now join in shinty training from primary one upwards, and there are now more than 30 young players taking part in the campus sessions,
Towards the end of the summer, the sessions changed from Friday to Sunday afternoon, from 2-3pm, a move which seems to have helped parents manage their time a bit better and allowed more children to attend.
The famous Camanachd Cup spent a week on Bute in May, and was taken on a tour of all the island’s schools; in September, for the third year running, Apple Tree Nursery held their own ‘Camanachd Cup’ tournament.
Organised with the help of the junior coaches, five teams battled it out for the trophy, with good support from the club and from the players’ parents making for another worthwhile addition to Bute’s shinty calendar.
Bute’s youth set-up had produced some outstanding young players, several of whom are now regulars in the club’s second team, and at least two or three are now knocking on the door of a regular first team slot – which really does go to show that you can’t get children interested in a sport too young.
Three more young players will hopefully play for the second team in 2012, with many more to follow in years to come, while there are also plans to erect a set of full-time shinty goals at Rothesay Joint Campus, with the help of a £250 donation from the Rotary Club of Rothesay.
If you think your child might enjoy the chance to try his (or her!) hand at shinty, you can bring them along to Rothesay Joint Campus on Sunday afternoons from 2-3pm during the school term, or ask one of the two Davids for more information.
* There’s much more shinty to come in The Buteman over the next few weeks, as we look at the achievements of Bute Shinty Club’s first and second teams during 2011 - don’t miss it!