This week’s Shinty Spotlight shines away from the pitch and into the commentary box.
Broadcasting legend Hugh Dan MacLennan has been the “voice of shinty” for 40 years and his closing commentary in the sport will be next month’s Camanachd Cup final between Oban Camanachd and Kingussie at the Bught Park, Inverness.
Hugh Dan has witnessed many of shinty’s big moments. He shares many of those here.
What is your earliest shinty memory?
My first shinty memory was getting my first stick, which was much too big for me. I was about six and it was about the same height as I was. You were not allowed to cut them as they were so expensive. You had to make it last.
I was taken up eventually to John Macpherson Sporting Store in Inverness to pick my own one. It was like growing up from short trousers to long trousers when you got an adult shinty stick.
My first shinty final was when my father took me to the 1964 Camanachd Cup final when Kilmallie, my local team, won it for the first time (beating Inveraray 4-1). I recall sitting on my father’s shoulders at the final. I was eight at the time.
Who was your senior game you covered and can you recall the result?
The first broadcast game I covered was the 1983 Camanachd Cup final, alongside BBC doyen David Francey.
It was a 3-2 win for Kyles Athletic against Strachur at Claggan Park in Fort William.
It was daylight robbery – everyone wanted Strachur, the underdogs, to win. Kyles, being Kyles, ground it out. That sticks out a mile.
Just when you thought the Tulloch Homes Camanachd Cup Final couldn’t get any better!
We are delighted to have partnered with Fèis Rois to add some traditional music to the event with amateur sport and music providing a platform for one another. pic.twitter.com/V8GpUjn8Zd
— Shinty (@camanachd) August 23, 2023
What has been your best moment covering the sport?
One highlight has to be Gordon MacIntyre scoring the winner for Oban Camanchd in the 1996 Camanachd Cup final at the Bught when he had just recovered from losing an eye.
He lost an eye less than a year before that final. I was very close to that incident at Kingussie. It was completely accidental, but he made a full comeback. He was in many ways the trigger for the helmet and faceguards being worn.
So it was a fairytale for Gordon to have overcome such adversity to score a cup final winner.
Another big moment was when Scotland beat Ireland at the Bught in the shinty-hurling for the first time. They then went over the Croke Park and did it. To commentate from Croke Park was a real highlight. I’d actually played there as a schoolboy. It was a completely different stadium by then.
After 40 years, these moments stick out, as do teams winning (cups or leagues) for the first time or after such a long time, such as Kinlochshiel (winning the 2021 Camanachd Cup).
And the worst?
I have had some really tricky ones with injuries.
There was a bad one at Fort William when Ally Dallas of Kingussie slipped going into a tackle on a very wet day when a swing (of a stick) hit him on the head and the game was abandoned. Ally was taken to the nearby Belford Hospital.
People genuinely didn’t know whether he would survive it. I was able to go on the radio that night to report he was sitting up in bed and talking. It was hugely important we were able to do that.
Another one I was involved with peripherally. I was at the BBC Highland building on Culduthel Road in Inverness at the time with John Willie Campbell and we got a call to say one of my best mates from school, Joe Toal, had died on the field of play.
I wasn’t reporting at the time, but I had to help John Willie compose a report about what had happened. It happened in 1986 and Joe was 26. He was a top-class player and fit as a fiddle.
Radio Scotland interrupted whatever football was on to announce this. John Willie went on air and carried it off after I had helped him prepare the script. That was a one-off and I’d never known that to happen before or since.
What is your favourite ground and why?
This one will get me off a lot of Christmas card lists!
I really enjoy going to the “off the beaten track” grounds. The circuit of Camanachd Cup venues are terrific, but I also like Ballachulish, Strachur, Kinlochshiel’s new pitch, Strathpeffer, while Cannich is another beautiful place.
I used to have to report from some of these remote place from phone boxes. There was a tree at Inveraray I had to stand beside, for example, as it was the only place with a strong enough signal
Which players stand out as being the best you’ve witnessed and why?
There are so many to pick from over the years.
You must include Kingussie legend Ronald Ross because of his prowess in front of goal, while I would add his colleague Davie Anderson in as the best shinty player pound for pound of my generation.
I’d also say Willie Cowie of Skye, who was national player of the year when I was reporter of the year in 1990, the year Skye won the Camanachd Cup. He was a phenomenal player.
The late Donnie Grant, of Kingussie, who sadly passed away this week, was another. He was a terrific player and also played football for Nairn County.
John Fraser, of Newtonmore, was another great, and Stuart MacDonald, the Lovat goalkeeper for his performance in their Camanachd Cup final (win against Kyles) in 2015 where I made him man-of-the-match after 20 minutes. I must mention him to keep in with the goalkeepers!
Any goal/s you remember as being the best you have seen?
Hard to select after 40 years, but there was a goal Scotland scored at Croke Park. It was a one-two between Victor Smith and Ronald Ross, which carved the Irish apart. They didn’t have a clue where the players were.
Victor finished it and I thought at the time that was the best goal I’d seen. It was tactically superb and involved several players, but Ronald and Victor were key to it. It doesn’t matter that it was shinty-hurling, as it was a pure shinty goal.
If I am allowed a second one, Fort William’s James Clark scored a winner against Kilmallie in a cup final. He reached around an opponent and somehow still hit his shot. We had to play it back in slow motion. He played with a long stick, but to have control over the stick was priceless.
Describe shinty in three words?
Shinty Dies Hard. The title of my PhD. (Elgin Courant 29.01.1889). The full quote is “Shinty dies hard. Like the Gaelic, it requires a lot of killing.”
It basically is saying shinty survives despite everything.