Saturday’s shinty/hurling encounter between Scotland and Ireland at Páirc Esler, Newry, is a milestone occasion as Kinlochshiel’s Finlay MacRae becomes the first shinty player to amass 20 senior international caps.
Having broken into the Kinlochshiel senior side as a 14-year-old, MacRae has gone on to win every honour in shinty, including the Tulloch Homes Camanachd Cup in 2021.
However, it is on the international front he has really excelled.
Having represented the Scotland under-21s on four occasions between 2003 and 2006, there was little doubt he would progress to the senior side, and he made his full debut at An Aird, Fort William in 2007. It was a winning start as Newtonmore’s Danny Macrae captained the side to a 22-11 victory.
Pace and physicality of cross-code clashes suits MacRae ‘down to the ground’
Current Lochaber boss Ally Ferguson managed the Scots back then and he gave Finlay his first senior cap.
Ferguson said: “Finlay MacRae was always a standout player, even from a young age.
“The shinty/hurling exchange with the cross-code rules, the added physicality, and the pace of the game all suits Finlay down to the ground – he relishes it.
“From his first senior cap, he has never looked back. He’s a model player in all respects. He looks after himself, he has a great attitude and is an all-round team player and leader both on and off the park.
“I am not surprised Finlay has reached a milestone 20 caps – and any recognition that comes with this is certainly well deserved.”
Following his full Scotland bow in 2007, MacRae retained his place in the side for the 13-12 victory against Ireland at Nowlan Park, Kilkenny in 2008, when Lochcarron’s Kenny Ross was skipper.
MacRae’s longevity can be measured by the fact both he and Ross, now playing in goal for Newtonmore, are the only players from that squad who played regularly in the Mowi Premiership this season.
MacRae has gone on to play in every senior international over the past 15-plus years, captaining the side when they last played in Newry in 2014 and again in 2017, while also playing alongside his brothers Keith and John on several occasions.
MacRae: An honour to represent Scotland – no matter how many times I’ve done it
The 2016 Mowi national player of the year has lost none of his enthusiasm for the fixture with Ireland, saying: “The shinty/hurling internationals are always a big occasion, and it is always an honour to represent Scotland no matter how many times have gone before.
“It is going to be tough this year as Ireland have named a very strong squad with more players than usual from the top tier.
“That just makes it all the better though – and don’t forget that we have great players, too.
“I’m really looking forward to it.”
‘Finlay combines ability with experience to pass on to youngsters’ – Shiel boss
Kinlochshiel boss Willie MacRae said of his player: “It’s an amazing achievement and it was a good move by manager Garry Reid to include Finlay, as you not only get an excellent and versatile player, but you also get someone who can pass on his vast experience to the younger players.
“Finlay has been a great servant to Kinlochshiel since breaking into the side as a young lad and he always wants to play.
“I took him off towards the end of our win against Lovat last week.
“As he walked by me on the touchline, Finlay asked me if I thought he’d been slacking. I told him: ‘No chance’, and that I just wanted to give him a break before the international.
“We also have young Duncan Matheson in the Scotland squad for his first senior appearance and Finlay will help him along the way, just as he did when Duncan broke into the Kinlochshiel first team.”
Scotland manager Reid said: “Finlay is one of the best shinty players of his generation, combining athleticism and skill with the heart of a lion.
“He has served club and country very well, and there won’t be many players who accumulate so many caps.”
Scotland captain Roddy Macdonald agreed, adding: “Fair play to Finlay, as 20 caps is an impressive number.
“It’s quite an incredible achievement really and one that takes a lot of dedication to the sport over the years.”
Throw-in for Saturday’s shinty/hurling international is at 2.45pm, and Scotland supporters unable to make the trip will still be able to watch the game as it will be shown live on the official TG4 YouTube channel.