Fife sticks with an inspired idea

What began as a coaching project for a degree has snowballed into a successful junior shinty club that can beat long-established clubs, says Roddy MacKenzie

When Lisa Norman returned to her former primary school at Aberdour four years ago, she could not have envisaged the clamour that she would create.

As part of her degree in outdoor education at Strathclyde University, part of her coaching module was to teach a sport that was new to a particular community. She decided to try shinty - never previously played in this area of Fife - with P5 pupils.

It was meant to be only a temporary experiment lasting eight weeks. Four years on, there are 60 children training and playing regularly throughout the area.

They not only play for fun but also achieve some success against long-established clubs. Last season the Aberdour under-10 team won the national title, beating more traditional shinty-playing areas, and the under-14 team reached the final of the national McMaster Cup, only losing narrowly, 3-2, to Oban Camanachd.

Last year, the Aberdour shinty club won a youth development award from the Camanachd Association for its rapid growth and was invited to send some of its players to youth development camps in Perth that were run by the sport's governing body.

The Aberdour players have achieved this success despite the fact that they are not an offshoot of a senior club.

So, what does it take to establish a school-based sports club, even when there is no one else in the immediate vicinity to play against? The only other shinty in Fife is played by St Andrews University and that is an adults' club.

Ms Norman did not start playing the game herself until six years ago, with Glasgow Mid-Argyll. She is now a sport development officer for Renfrewshire and travels through to Fife in her spare time every Friday to work as coach and fixtures secretary for the Aberdour club, which has grown out of those initial sessions with the P5 pupils.

"The idea behind my original involvement back in late 2000 early 2001 was to round off the eight-week coaching block by entering the indoor area qualifier for the national finals in the February," she explains. "It was meant to go no further. But after the initial block of coaching, there was so much demand from the parents, the children and the teachers to keep it going.

"What's more, the older and younger brothers and sisters wanted to become involved and the parents were all keen to help, as they could see how much enjoyment their children were getting from the game.

"We then held Friday night sessions at Inverkeithing High. Within a few months we had parents coming forward to form a committee and we wrote a constitution to set up the Aberdour club in May 2001."

Ms Norman had to borrow the first sets of shinty equipment: plastic sticks and balls came from the then shinty development officer in Glasgow, Alan McMillan, and sticks and helmets came from Jordanhill school.

Once the club was established, it successfully applied for National Lottery support. After sharing facilities with the local football team, it has nowpersuaded Fife Council to give it its own pitch at Aberdour Silver Sands. A local blacksmith has made goalposts and it finally has a facility to call its own.

"We were given a Lottery grant of pound;4,000 to buy sticks, helmets and goalposts for the under-12 team and the club has snowballed since then," says Ms Norman.

"The original P5 team are in second year at high school and the club now has two under-10 teams, two under-12 teams, an under-14 team and, in January, we will have our first under-16 team.

"We had them all together at training recently - 60 players, all juniors - which amazes me when I look back on how it started."

The original P5 pupils are spread across Queen Anne High and St Columba's High in Dunfermline and Inverkeithing High. While the secondary schools have shown interest in playing the game, the Aberdour club's resources are stretched to capacity.

"Shinty needs more development officers if it is to meet the demand," says Ms Norman. "The sport is expanding rapidly and some areas are crying out for it but the funds just aren't there. We have reached saturation point.

We've created a snowball that is just getting bigger and bigger.

"I think it has become so successful because it is so different. There is not the football ethos attached to it and everybody is doing it for fun.

"The parents have made a big contribution and helped out with administration and coaching, and the club now has a dedicated child protection officer."

Children come from Dunfermline and Dalgety Bay to attend training. Since the schools return after the October holiday, winter training nights for the P5s upwards are held on the Astroturf pitch at Dalgety Bay while the P4s and younger children go indoors at Aberdour Primary.

The teams have no problem finding fixtures, even if they have to travel.

Other teams have sprung up in Linlithgow, Milngavie, Gryffe and Callander and there is now a Central Scotland Junior League with regular fixtures.

"There are a few forward thinking clubs in the central belt who are pushing the game forward," says Ms Norman.

"What we need now is a full-time shinty development officer to serve Fife, Edinburgh and Stirling to pull all the good work together.

"Shinty has development officers in the north and Argyll and Bute.

Hopefully what is happening now will show SportScotland that there is a demand here."

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