THE new competitive shinty season gets under way this weekend – and both Bute teams can’t wait for the action to begin.
The club’s first and second teams were both in pre-season friendly action at the Meadows last Saturday, when the senior side lost 4-2 to Kilmallie and the second string fought out a 4-4 draw with local rivals Col Glen.
And coaches Barry Martin and David Kilpatrick were both heartened by what they saw ahead of the beginning of the league season this Saturday.
“I was quite happy with the way the boys played,” first team coach Barry told us.
“Okay, the result went against us, but I felt that given the long time we’d gone without a game, the standard of our play was encouraging.
“We were rusty at the start of the game, but by the time we got to the second half we’d found our touch and put some good moves together.”
The close season has seen a few personnel changes in the Bute ranks, with young Leighton Reid stepping up to the senior squad and veterans David MacDonald and Ali Carmichael moving in the other direction to lend their years of experience to the second team.
And while some may look at the teams in South Division One and install Bute as hot favourites to win promotion straight back to the Premier League, their coach has warned there is no guarantee of success.
“You don’t get something for nothing at any level,” Barry continued. “It’ll be every bit as hard as it has been over the last few seasons and we’ll need to scrap for everything, every week.
“It might be nice to get back into the way of winning again – every Saturday has been a cup final for us in the last couple of years, and this season might give us a chance to get some new blood in and get things going again for next year.
“But we’ll prepare in the same way, we’ll play at the same tempo and we’ll just try to put the level we’re playing at into the back of our minds.”
There’s optimism, too, in the Bute second team squad, which numbered 16 players for Saturday’s friendly – and, with several players injured or otherwise unavailable last weekend, hopes are high that 2011 will see a significant improvement on last season, when the team finished at the bottom of South Division Two. “Saturday went very well,” David Kilpatrick told us.
“I was really over the moon with the application, the determination, the hunger and the willingness to challenge for the ball.”
Neil McKirdy scored two of Bute’s goals on Saturday, while Craig MacFarlane and Calum Hatton also made it on to the score sheet – but they weren’t the only ones to earn their coach’s praise.
“Craig and Neil both showed the benefits of training regularly,” David continued, “while I was very pleased with Calum and with Antony Sweet.
“We also had Adam Stirling playing for the first time, and he did exceptionally well – he was good on the ball and looked as if he’d been part of the team for ages.
“Overall, Saturday showed the virtues of training regularly with your team-mates. We have a squad of 25 players for this season and, if we play like that every week, I’ll be happy.”
David also paid tribute to first team coach Barry Martin for refereeing the second team’s game, and to Ted McDonald for officiating at the first team fixture later in the day – and singled out Joe McCabe and Argyll and Bute Council’s parks department for their work on the playing surface during this week.
* Last Saturday’s action was preceded by a minute’s silence in memory of club president Willie Hunter, who died on February 1.
* Looking ahead, the club has arranged a return visit by folk band North Sea Gas for Saturday, April 30 at 8.30pm.
Tickets, priced £10, will be available shortly from W. & J. Duncan and The Bike Shed – watch this space for an advert and preview nearer the time.
* This Saturday, March 5, Bute’s first team are away to newly-promoted Aberdour in their opening fixture in South Division One.
Throw-up is at 2.30pm and first team players should meet in time for the 10.10am ferry – anyone unavailable should contact Barry Martin ASAP.
* Also on Saturday, Bute’s second team begin their South Division Two campaign with a home match against Tayforth.
Throw-up is at 2.30pm and players should meet at the changing rooms at 1pm.
* There’s more shinty action on Bute this Sunday, March 6, in the form of a junior tournament at the Pavilion for primary age players.
There will be two age groups – P6/7, and P5 and under – and the organisers are hoping to attract teams from Kyles Athletic, Col Glen, Inveraray, Dunoon, Lochgoilhead and Strachur to compete with their Bute counterparts.
The doors open at the Pavilion at 12 noon.