Bute Shinty Club’s two teams are both in action this Saturday, March 1, as the sport’s 2014 league season gets under way.
Bute’s first team are listed with one firm of bookmakers as joint 25-1 outsiders to win the sport’s new National Division, which sees the top four finishers from last season’s North Division One and South Division One combined into a single eight-team league.
And when club chairman and former first-team coach Barry Martin lists the players no longer available to the club’s senior side, it’s not too hard to see why Bute aren’t regarded as favourites for a return to the Premiership: David Whitelaw, Iain MacDonald and Leighton Reid have all left, with Whitelaw now living and working in England and Reid having followed in the footsteps of ex-teammate Roberto Zavaroni by moving to Kyles Athletic for a taste of Premiership-standard shinty, while Graham Fisher has stood down as first team player-coach.
But Martin, ever the optimist, sees the changes in personnel not as a problem, but an opportunity.
“There are young boys eager to make the step up to the senior team,” he said. “James Dunn will be back in the centre, and Tam McCready and young Adam Stirling have come back into the fold, and then there’s the likes of Chrissy Lawrence and Neil McKirdy, who were on the fringes last season but should have more of a chance to prove themselves this time.”
Martin, however, will not be making a return to front-line coaching: that job will be handled by David McVey for home games, and by the playing triumvirate of James Craig, John McCallum and new first team captain Kevin Queen away from home.
“We’re expecting it to be a struggle,” Martin admitted. “We know that. But we beat Glasgow Mid Argyll in the Mòd Cup in our last game with virtually a second team, and they were near enough full strength that day, so we’ll give it our best shot - and we’ll give anybody a good game.”
Bute’s National Division campaign begins this Saturday, March 1, at home to last season’s North Division One champions Kilmallie, with a 2.30pm throw-up at the Meadows - though a wary eye between now and then will be kept on the playing surface, which, as with many pitches at this time of year, has been badly affected by heavy rain.
Bute’s second team, meanwhile, begin their South Division Two campaign with a trip to Fife this Saturday to take on their Aberdour counterparts.
For coach David Kilpatrick, the weeks leading up to the new season have seen the now-customary battle to assemble a settled squad, although he’s hopeful that once the competitive action begins any personnel problems will soon sort themselves out.
“Commitment is all we need,” he said. “As long as the boys are committed to playing regularly we’ll be okay.”