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Scotland and Kingussie shinty ‘legend’ Donnie Grant MBE dies, 84

The former Highland League footballer turned Scotland shinty international "revolutionised the game".

Donnie Grant and son Ross winning the Camanachd cup in 1984. The first father and son combo to do so.
Donnie Grant and son Ross winning the Camanachd cup in 1984. The first father and son combo to do so.

Shinty trailblazer Donald “Donnie” Grant, “one of the giants of the game in the second half of the 20th century” has died aged 84.

The former Highland League football player who went on to become Scotland international shinty manager, led Kingussie Camanachd Club for decades.

“Often the word legend is batted around but Donnie was truly deserving of such an accolade. He changed the game of shinty,” said long term friend and collaborator Dr Hugh Dan MacLennan.

Trailblazing shinty star

In a tribute from Kingussie Camanachd Club friends said there was “great sadness” on hearing the news of his death on Tuesday August 22.

“Donnie set standards on and off the pitch that the rest of us can only try and follow. When it came to training techniques and a modern approach to playing shinty, he blazed a trail that no one could match and during the 1980s he had led Kingussie to the top of the sport,” the club’s tribute read.

Shinty promise from an early age

Born on November 10 1938, Donnie lived at Meadowside, north of Kingussie until he was 16. By the time he went to school the bus from Aviemore passed his door, so he was able to attend Kingussie Primary rather than Alvie. He enjoyed interschool sports, especially swimming on Saturdays.

Donnie Grant, second from right on the front row with his Kingussie Primary team in 1949. The first winners of the Mackay Cup. Image courtesy of Kingussie Camanachd.

His first shinty success came in 1949 as part of Kingussie’s Primary School winning Mackay Cup team then would go on to set records for the number of shinty medals won at Kingussie High School under the tutelage of school janitor, Sandy MacWilliam, and D Mackinnon the Gaelic teacher.

During his National Service – where he worked listening to Morse code from Russia –  he returned home from England twice a month to play shinty.

Kingussie Camanachd first team

Donnie married Janice in 1960 and the couple would go on to have three children.

The year after his wedding, Donnie made Kingussie’s first team and was part of the 1961 Camanachd Cup winning team. He scored a goal in the 2-1 win over Oban Celtic in the final.

Donnie Grant in action, centre, hitting the ball.

By 1963 Donnie was captain of Kingussie first team and again reached a Camanachd Cup Final only to lose to Oban Celtic in Glasgow.

The Highland League

Despite being encouraged to pursue academia, Donnie wanted to continue on with a more practical career. A butcher at first, then an electrician, he also sat a GPO engineer admission test in Inverness which was successful.

Between 1969 and 1976 his job took him to Inverness where he turned his skills to football playing for Nairn County in the Highland League.

However, in 1976 the pull of Kingussie and shinty encouraged him back to his home town where he was the helm of the shinty club.

Revolutionary approach

The turning point was the 1973 Camanachd Cup Final defeat by Glasgow Mid Argyll at a rain-soaked Fort William. There followed a determination to improve shinty in Kingussie.

“Over the next 30 years, Donnie and many others – most notably Iain Ross – worked long and hard, to change attitudes and improve standards. This resulted in Kingussie’s outstanding successes at all levels in the game. Donnie played and served in an official capacity in Kingussie and the Camanachd Association,” added Hugh Dan.

Donnie Grant with the Shinty book penned by friend Hugh Dan McLennan.

Reflecting on Donnie’s contribution to Kingussie the club said: “His approach was revolutionary for shinty, and success wasn’t long in coming.

“Over the following years he also held every position at Kingussie Camanachd Club. His shinty knowledge also took him to the position of Scotland International shinty manager.”

Awards and accolades

At the age of 45 Donnie played his last match for Kingussie in the 1984 grand-slam.

Known to have “everything as a player”-  the skills, fitness, bravery, technique and tactics, his accomplishments were many.

He was president of both the Kingussie Camanachd Club and the Camanachd Association.

George Fraser (left) and Donnie Grant with the MacTavish Cup.

In 1991 he was recipient of the British Institute of Coaches award for his services to the development of coaching in shinty. That same year he received the Sport Scotland Coaches of the Year award with Sir Iain McGeechan.

He was made MBE in 1994 for services to shinty and was an accomplished broadcaster and commentator for major shinty occasions.

Shinty rivals to devoted friends

Donnie was also one of two ambassador for Shinty Memories Scotland.

Alongside former rival John MacKenzie MBE they helped highlight the caring nature of the shinty community, supporting those in situations of loneliness or battling mental health issues.

John said: “Without doubt Donnie Grant was one of the giants of our game in the second half of the 20th century. His impact on shinty in Kingussie and beyond has not yet been fully acknowledged. Only the passage of time will do that.

Best of friends and former rivals Donnie Grant, left and John MacKenzie of Shinty Memories Scotland.

“He was a fantastic player, administrator and leader of men. This was seen than in how he transformed shinty with modern ways of coaching and match preparation.

“He met every challenge he faced with remarkable fortitude and we will miss his twinkling eye at meetings and his sound advice when helping us understand how he was dealing with his health issues.

John MacKenzie and Donnie Grant, Shinty Memories ambassadors. Picture supplied by Shinty Memories Scotland.

“He was a remarkable man in all the areas of life. We will all miss him terribly but that is as nothing to the loss felt by his family Jan, son Ross and daughter Noreen. We also remember his late son Donald, who meant so much to the family.”

Kingussie community stalwart

In retirement Donnie started the Kingussie Community Development Company,  coordinating the Hydro Scheme on the River Gynack.

He also spent a number of years as chair of Kingussie and vicinity community council and in 1996 oversaw the building of the Shinty Clubhouse at Market Stance, Kingussie.

Donnie Grant in his home.

“His gregarious nature, and sense of humour ensured that he got on with everyone. It won’t be the same at the Dell on Saturdays without him, and no one at Kingussie Camanachd Club will forget him.

“A truly great man. Kingussie is much the richer for his life, as is the sport of shinty,” said the club tribute.

Further tributes

Donnie, who had lived with dementia for the last few years, passed away on Tuesday at his care home. He is survived by Janice, his daughter Noreen, son Ross and two grandchildren, Rhianna and Ryan.

Shinty Memories Scotland will pay tribute to Donnie, who attended last year’s championship at Kingussie, at this year’s tournament at Newtonmore on Sunday August 27.

No date has been set for his funeral at time of publication.