Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Shinty (Scottish Gaelic camanachd or iomain) is a team sport played with sticks and a ball. Shinty is now played almost exclusively in the Highlands of Scotland, but it was formerly more widespread, reaching as far as England.
The sport was derived from the same root as the Irish game of hurling, and is similar to bandy.
Shinty is one of the forebears of ice hockey, Scottish immigrants to Nova Scotia playing a game on ice in 1800 at Windsor. In Canada, informal hockey games are still called shinny. Shinty is often compared to hurling, yet has many different rules and features. Shinty is more commonly compared to the modern day hockey.
In the Scottish Lowlands, it was formerly referred to as common/cammon (caman), cammock (from Scottish Gaelic camag), knotty and various other names.
Gaelic settlers from Ireland brought the sport of hurling to Scotland, where the game was played as such until the 14th century, albeit with a different caman from the Irish one. Shinty appears prominently in the legend of Cúchulainn, the Celtic mythology hero.
The game was traditionally played through the winter months, with New Year's Day being the day when whole villages would gather together to play games featuring teams of up to 80 a side, players often using any piece of wood with a hook as a caman.
In 1887, a historic game was played between Glenurquhart Shinty Club and Strathglass Shinty Club in Inverness. This game was attended by thousands of people and was a major milestone in developing a set of common rules. This fixture was to be repeated on 12th January 2007 in Inverness as the opening centrepiece of the Highland 2007 celebrations in Scotland, but was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch.
The modern sport is governed by the Camanachd Association (Scots Gaelic: Comann na Camanachd). The association came into being in the late Victorian era in as a means of formulating common rules to unite the various different codes and rules which even differed between neighbouring glens, in this the sport shares similarities with other sports which became organised around this time. The first meeting of the Camanachd Association was held in Kingussie in 1893.
Shinty is traditionally divided into two administrative and playing areas, the North and the South. The geographic divide is at Ballachulish, with all clubs south of here being classified as South teams, although most are still northerly in comparison to most of Scotland. The long distances to travel have meant that the game in the South and in the North habitually have slightly different approaches to the game. The South considered to be more skilful in comparison to the more physical style propagated in the North. The South also has a slightly differing formation which is commonly used than that of the North.
These clubs compete in various competitions, both cup and league, on a national and also North/South basis. Whilst the top two leagues are played on a national basis, the premier competition is the Scottish Cup or the Camanachd Association Challenge Cup (the Camanachd Cup for short) which has been dominated by Kingussie in the last twenty years. The other dominant team in shinty history has been Newtonmore, Kingussie's near neighbours. Strangely these two teams only met in the Camanachd Cup Final for the first time in 1984.
The 2006 final was played, for the first time, in Dunoon between holders Fort William and Kingussie. Kingussie regained the cup after three years due to a majestic performance by Ronald Ross.
In League shinty, Kingussie has been dominant for the past 20 years and, according to the Guinness Book of Records 2005, is world sport's most successful sporting team of all time, winning 20 consecutive league championships and going 4 years without losing a single fixture in the early 1990s. This incredible, unmatched run of dominance was ended on 2nd September by ancient rivals Newtonmore who defeated Oban Camanachd 2-0 to ensure that Kingussie could not catch the team at the top of the league. However, Newtonmore were unable to usurp their neighbours as champions, as the first post-Kingussie champions were confirmed as Fort William who sealed the title on 30th September 2006 having won their games in hand over Newtonmore.
In 2003, shinty clubs voted for a trial period of two years of a summer season from March to October, with a view to moving permanently to summer shinty if the experiment was judged to be a success. Despite opposition from the "Big Two", Kingussie and Newtonmore, and other small groups in the game, an EGM in November 2005 voted by an overwhelming majority (well over the required two thirds) to make summer shinty the basis upon which the game would proceed.
Predominantly a Highland game, there are also clubs to found in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth and even London. University Shinty is a popular section of the sport, with almost all Scotland's main universities possessing a team. Historically, Glasgow University, Aberdeen University and Edinburgh University have vied for supremacy but in recent years, Strathclyde University, Robert Gordon's College and Dundee University have risen to prominence. It is also played in the British Army with The Highlanders Shinty Club keeping alive the tradition of the game being played in the Forces.
In recognition of shinty's shared roots with hurling, an annual international between the two codes from Scotland and Ireland is played on a home and away basis using composite rules. In recent years the Irish have had the upper hand but the Scots won the fixture narrowly in 2005 and again in 2006, this time at Croke Park, Dublin albeit with the Irish fielding weaker players from the second tier Christy Ring Cup.
Although Camanachd Cup finals and internationals have been shown over the years, 2006 marked the first ever regular TV deal for shinty with matches being shown on the BBC Sports show Spòrs.
In August 2006, the Camanachd Association decided to move its main offices to Inverness from Banavie near Fort William. This move was met with consternation by many in the sporting community with calls for an extraordinary general meeting. The EGM was held but a vote of no confidence in the Board of Directors was voted down. The Association recently appointed its first female chief executive Gill McDonald.
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