BUTE Shinty Club’s second team finished 2010 at the bottom of South Division Two - making them, statistically at least, the worst team in the south of Scotland.
Fast forward 12 months and, with more or less the same squad of players, the team had climbed from last in the table to third when the curtain fell on their 2011 campaign.
Only Strachur and Tayforth, who spent the entire season locked in a neck-and-neck battle for the one promotion place, finished ahead of the men in red. So what was the secret?
“Determination and teamwork were the important things,” according to second team coach David Kilpatrick.
“Throughout the season everybody in the team played for each other. If one of the boys was having a bad day the rest of the team rallied round and raised both their game and his.”
Bute ended 2011 the proud possessors of an unbeaten home league record - their only loss at the Meadows came during an unseasonal May downpour, when eventual league champions Strachur won 4-0 in the first round of the Bullough Cup.
In the league itself, though, Bute proved a tough nut to crack both at home and away. Both Tayforth and Strachur - whose fight for promotion went down to the last game of the season, with the Cowal side eventually winning out - had to settle for a point from their respective visits to Rothesay, and all three of the islanders’ league defeats on the park, against Strachur, Col Glen and Ballachulish, were by the odd goal.
The first indication that 2011 might be a better year for the Bute second team than 2010 came in the very first game, back on March 5, when a strong Tayforth side were held to a 1-1 draw at the Meadows.
Other high points for the team’s home supporters included a 9-0 win over eventual Bullough Cup finalists Aberdour, a 5-3 derby defeat of friends and rivals Col Glen, a 3-3 draw against Strachur in a game Bute were slightly unlucky not to win, and a 5-0 win over Glasgow Mid Argyll at the end of August which ended a successful season on a winning note.
“I think the mix we had of youth and experience was instrumental in what we achieved over the year,” David continued.
“Take Ali Carmichael, for instance - he joined us after years with the first team, and his influence up front really brought on the game of some of the younger boys.
“They watched him, saw how he did things and tried it for themselves, and Ali’s experience really brought the best out of those around him.
“A lot of our success is down to training as a team, as well as playing together. A lot of the younger players didn’t miss a single training session all season, and in 2012 it might well be that if you don’t go to training your name doesn’t make it on to the team sheet on the Saturday.”
Carmichael’s influence wasn’t limited to passing on his skills to those around him, either: he topped the Bute scoring charts with 14 goals during the course of the season, followed by Stuart Stirling with nine and Neil McKirdy on seven.
“Ali was the top scorer,” David continued, “but to my mind big Neil doesn’t get enough credit for what he does.
“He works really hard in every game and he’ll get all the plaudits going from me.
“But for me the star performer this season was Ruairidh Soane. He was superb for the second team all through the year, and got his reward through a Balliemore Cup medal and a South Division One medal with the first team, as well as scoring two first team goals late in the season.
“For me Ruairidh’s progress is exactly what the second team is about. It’s a continuation of what happens at school level, taking young players on to the next stage of their game and getting them to a point where they’re ready to play for the first team.
“We’ve got to keep doing that every year to make sure the club as a whole progresses in the long run.”
* We’ll conclude our review of Bute’s shinty year very soon with a look back at a record-breaking year for the club’s first team.