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Shinty team pull out of league competitions after being stranded as island ferry pressures continue

Camanachd Leodhais playing shinty. Picture from Facebook
Camanachd Leodhais playing shinty. Picture from Facebook

An island shinty team has been forced to pull out of a league competition due to the ongoing pressure on ferry services.

Camanachd Leodhais are based in Lewis but have been unable to get a group booking to get to matches on the mainland.

Their next scheduled match was against Boleskine on Saturday in the Mowi North League C.

But because CalMac has been forced to restrict its ferry capacity to around a third to comply with Covid restrictions, the team can’t get a group booking for eight weeks.

Hoping for a last-minute cancellation is also not an option due to the “enormous costs” involved.

Realisation was ‘a bit of a gut punch’

The decision was announced in a post on the club’s Facebook page, which explained that they had already decided to forgo any home games this season to save other teams the effort of organising a trip over.

And today, club captain and fixture secretary Donald Lamont said despite the challenges and long days the team would have faced, they had been keen to get games in this season.

He said: “We knew we wouldn’t get showers or anything, so we’d be getting back on the ferry caked in mud on a 15, 16-hour day – we’d leave early in the morning and wouldn’t get back till 10pm.

“And we were up for that, because we felt it was really important that we try and get games this season.”

The team is unable to get a group booking for another eight weeks due to social distancing measures and pressure on the ferry services

“We had a meeting on Tuesday night over Zoom, and we’re really gutted.

“We all made the sacrifice, we all decided we were going to go for it, and we actually had a squad of 20 available to go for the first game, and we were really looking forward to it.

“This is our tenth year in the league, and we’ve always prided ourselves as a club that we always travel, we always fulfil our fixtures.

“We don’t feel like we’re not doing that, because it’s outwith our control, but without any last year we were really looking forward to it and it’s been a bit of a gut punch.”

Problem exposes ‘wider’ ferry issues hitting island communities

Last month, MSPs representing the islands met Transport Secretary Graeme Dey to discuss the ongoing issues with the ferries which are now having serious effects on food deliveries, healthcare provisions and other essential services.

Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan, Argyll and Bute MSP Jenni Minto, and Cunninghame North MSP Kenny Gibson met Mr Dey, who himself described the situation as “intolerable”.

Referring to the shinty issues, Mr Allan said: “This, sadly, is the latest example of how the present unreliability of the ferry service in the islands is impacting on everyday life.

“It is unacceptable that a major part of the islands’ sporting life such as Camanachd Leòdhais is unable to play part of its season simply because it is impossible to make enough bookings on the ferry.

“The answer ultimately lies in bringing more vessels into the CalMac fleet – an argument I again made in parliament today at First Minister’s Questions.

“However, in the meantime, I am very willing to take up the team’s own case with CalMac themselves.”

Robert Morrison, CalMac operations director, said: “Official Covid restrictions, including physical distancing restrictions, remain in place on ferries. This limits the number of passengers we can carry on board. We continue to work closely with Transport Scotland to ensure the safety of passengers and staff, and will comply with any further changes to these rules.”

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