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Shinty: Can anyone stop the Kingussie juggernaut this season?

Kingussie captain Savio Genini with the Mowi Premiership trophy. Image: Neil Paterson
Kingussie captain Savio Genini with the Mowi Premiership trophy. Image: Neil Paterson

Who can stop Kingussie, fresh from pulling off shinty’s first Grand Slam in 19 years, from retaining the Mowi Premiership title?

Ian Borthwick is the new Kingussie manager with Camanachd Cup goal hero James Falconer as captain.

The champs will be strengthened by Zander Michie and Thomas Borthwick making imminent comebacks.

Their defence was the lynchpin of last season’s title triumph, conceding only 12 goals in 18 games, eight fewer than anyone else, while 36-goal Roddy Young will again be a major menace.

The Red and Blue Hoops have won 14 of the 24 Premiership titles and start firm favourites for another.

Kinlochshiel best placed to mount another challenge

Kinlochshiel, runners up last year four points behind, were the only team to beat Kingussie, and are seeking to add to their 2017 title.

Willie MacRae is the new manager with Jordan Fraser as skipper.

The Wester Ross men have recruited Oliver MacRae and Johnny MacAskill from Glasgow Mid Argyll and Ruairidh Macdonald from Glengarry plus a comeback from Duncan ‘Ach’ MacRae but forward John MacRae faces a layoff with a back problem.

Finlay MacRae marshals a physically powerful side and the 2021 Camanachd Cup winners have an enhanced mix of youth and experience.

They should again be Kingussie’s number one challengers.

Can Newtonmore close the gap?

Eight times champions Newtonmore were third last year, six points adrift, and again have the Norman MacArthur/Evan Cheyne/David Cheyne managerial triumvirate, with Conor Jones as new captain.

Drew MacDonald’s return, after missing most of last season, is a tonic but Darrin Fowler has retired and Max Campbell plans a year out.

More have two of the game’s finest exponents in Rory Kennedy and Steven MacDonald.

The Blue and Whites had a sluggish first half of last season but came strongly later.

Their youngsters gained good experience and the 2019 champions should make progress.

Lovat, fourth last term, again have Jamie Matheson in charge with Fraser Heath as new captain.

Fraser Heath will captain Lovat this season. Image: Neil Paterson.

Sam Stubbs has joined Skye but influential defender Callum Cruden is fit to return while Lorne MacKay, in rehab from knee surgery, should be back in April and young talents Angus Mearns and Joe Embleton bid to break through.

The Camanachd Cup runners-up finished last season’s championship weakly through injuries but with Stuart Macdonald, Danny Kelly and Greg Matheson arguably the best in their positions, the Black and Whites are capable of mounting a title challenge.

Oban Camanachd have strengthened

Oban Camanachd, fifth last time and the only team not to draw a match, have Gareth Evans in his second season as manager while Daniel Sloss, at 21, will be the Premiership’s youngest captain.

The capture of Jamie Forgrieve from Oban Celtic boosts their defence while Daniel MacCuish’s decision to swoop football for shinty adds attacking edge.

Cammy Sutherland and Scott MacKillop helped the Mossfield defence to be the division’s third best, but five teams finished ahead of them in the scoring stakes, which indicates where improvement is needed.

Scotland boss Garry Reid is the new manager of Caberfeidh, helped by Brian Macdonald and Kevin Bartlett with Blair Morrison as captain.

The Strathpeffer side were sixth last year but second highest scorers, helped by Craig Morrison’s 36 goals, and have strengthened their attack by signing Conor Golabek from Glen Urquhart.

Only the relegated teams leaked more goals, which is where work is needed to turn an often exciting side into a more consistent one.

Five player-managers at Kyles

Kyles Athletic make history with five player-managers – Roddy MacDonald, John Whyte, Calum Miller, Andy King and Robbie Macleod – with 25-year-old Ross MacRae as skipper.

Finishing seventh was their lowest spot in 20 years.

Their tight squad has been bolstered by signing Will Cowie (Skye) and John Kennedy (Inveraray) while Donald Irvine makes a comeback when medical duties allow.

Sorley Thomson (ex-Newtonmore) opts for a second season at Tighnabruaich as the managerial ‘Famous Five’ aim to move the Blues upwards.

Glasgow Mid Argyll have Allan MacRae in charge for a second season with John Sweeney (ex-Lochaber) as skipper.

Celtic Society Cup winners last year, they finished third bottom but five points clear of the drop.

The loss of Johnny MacAskill and Oliver MacRae is a blow while Ewen Fraser is away for the first half of the season. Ryan Harrison is still to the fore and they have a big squad, but may again find themselves in a relegation scrap.

Gillies to skipper Skye this season

Skye galloped unbeaten to the National Division title, conceding only five goals in 14 games. Kenny Macleod is manager with John Gillies the new captain.

Kenny Cushnie (Lochcarron) and Sam Stubbs (Lovat) are new recruits while Martin Pringle’s comeback is a big help but Will Cowie will be missed.

The islanders have been a yo-yo team between top flight and National Division in recent years and staying up this time is their prime target.

Beauly are making their Premiership debut with Gregor McCormack and Niall MacLennan again co-managers and Conor Ross as skipper.

They rattled in 57 goals in 14 games last season, losing only once, and young forwards like Euan McCormack and Finlay Maclennan get the chance to showcase their ability.

The Greens have the same squad but will have to hit the ground running after only one pre-season friendly. Survival would be quite an achievement.