Shinty fights challenge from hockey upsurge

Roddy Mackenzie reports on a new threat to a traditional game while a sports award is experiencing a new lease of life Fears that schools shinty is under threat from other sports have been allayed by the sport's Team Sport Scotland co-ordinator Alan McMillan.

Alastair MacIntyre, executive officer of the Camanachd Association, has expressed concern about the money football and rugby can afford to plough into the development of their sports to encourage youngsters to play.

In his December circular to clubs, he also wrote: "Hockey is now a major game in the shinty playing areas. To say our develop- ment officers have a difficult task in competing with them is the understatement of the year."

But McMillan believes the sport is making significant progress and he was unconcerned about the situation with hockey.

"I work closely with the hockey co-ordinator Gill Messenger and we compare ideas on the stick sports and discuss such things as coaching and education, " he stated.

"They are two entirely different sports in terms of the people involved. The lack of artificial pitches has not helped hockey. I believe hockey considered putting a development officer in Inverness but it was too much of a clash of stick sports."

McMillan is bullish about the sport's future and has the statistics to back him up - 800 new players in the last year, 125 new coaches and player development camps up from two to 17 within two years.

He also denies the argument that First Shinty - the mini version of the game for schools - is in danger of becoming a secondary sport and is not feeding the full version of the sport.

"Teachers can be put off shinty because they see it as a dangerous game with wooden sticks. First Shinty is giving the players the basic skills of the game and our coach education programme is bridging the gap between First Shinty and real shinty," he continued.

According to McMillan, the game is particularly booming in the Western Isles where "everybody seems to be playing". But he pointed out, "The big issue now is how we get them playing in main-frame competition".

In addition to McMillan, the Camanachd Association also has two youth development officers, Niall MacLennan for the North and Gary Reid for Argyll and Bute, and moves are afoot to institute three-year contracts for them.

"Shinty is different from other sports in that you are dealing with rural communities. But there are new clubs and new leagues being set up all the time," he concluded.

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