Shinty is a fast, physical contact sport played outdoors. Each player has a caman, or curved stick, which is used to strike a small leather ball, the aim being to score goals. A well-struck shinty ball can travel over 100 metres at very high speed so it is not a sport for the feint hearted!
The origins of shinty can be traced back many centuries. It is likely that sports involving hitting a ball with a curved stick were played in different places around the world as early as the fifth century BC. Shinty and hurling, as played in Ireland today, certainly have the same historical roots. It is probable that emigrants from Scotland took the game with them to Canada, playing on ice during the cold winters – and so emerged ice hockey! Somewhere in its development shinty was linked to training warriors. It was seen as a way to develop the skills needed in battle. Then and in the present day sport, shinty is an ideal activity to learn team-working and to develop positive attitudes.
In Scotland, shinty developed as a sport played by people within one community, sometimes competing against people from another community – and that attribute is very evident in the game today. Grand exponents of the game – and among the greatest of rivals – are the Badenoch villages of Newtonmore and Kingussie. They may only be 3 miles apart but each community is extremely competitive and passionate about their teams.
Newtonmore is very much a star in the shinty world right now. The team has had a winning run, topping the National League and they are the current holders of the Camanachd Cup (shinty’s most coveted trophy, first played for in 1895). Can they match this record in 2016, retaining both the Cup and league? Not if their local rival has anything to do with it! Kingussie has an illustrious past in the game, holding the most successful team record for winning the league 20 years in a row. But they will wish to relegate recent performance to the past. Will Kingussie bounce back from their relegation scare last season? And how will their young team fare in the top league? The games are usually on a Saturday at 2.30pm with a £5 admission charge. www.newtonmoreshinty.com and www.kingussieshinty.com
Kingussie’s ground, The Dell, is regarded as one of the best shinty grounds in the country; perhaps something to do with flood waters from the nearby River Spey which irrigate the area from time to time? Newtonmore’s home, The Eilan is to be enhanced with new training pitches which means their main ground will remain in tip top condition for matches.
So when can you see these teams going head to head? The two teams meet a couple of times throughout the season and always on the first Friday evening in August for the Sir Tommy Macpherson trophy.
A new kid on the block is the relatively recently formed Strathspey. Based in Grantown on Spey, the team play on the Grantown Grammar school pitch. They train on a Thursday so why not go along and find out more or follow the team on Facebook: Strathspey Camanachd.
Kincraig is also looking to attract players and their activity can be followed on Facebook: Kincraig Camanachd Club.
Competitive shinty is organised into league and knock-out cup competitions at various levels and grades with matches taking place throughout the summer. A full fixture list, involving other teams from across Scotland, can be seen on www.shinty.com and local matches are listed on the online calendar at www.visitcairngorms.com
But shinty is not the exclusive domain of males. The ladies game has gathered momentum over the last few years and the sport is also a popular addition to school PE lessons. Badenoch and Strathspey based in Kingussie do particularly well at a national level, while Strathspey just started last year and are in North division 2 and Kincraig ladies also have a team. Badenoch and Strathspey won the ultimate competition in 2013 – the Valerie Fraser Camanachd Cup – and are striving to win both the league and cup in the same year.
So what’s the differences between the mens’ and ladies’ game? In men’s shinty there are 12 players in each team – including a goalkeeper. In women’s shinty, and in some competitions for children and young people, there are fewer players in a team (10 in women’s National Division 1 or 8 in Division 2) and the pitch dimensions are smaller. www.womens-shinty.com
What’s On spoke to Rona Stewart, Badenoch & Strathspey Ladies Captain.
What attracted you to what’s often regarded as a “man’s” game?
Growing up in Kingussie, its difficult to avoid the sport and a lot of children are handed a camen at a very young age. I first tried shinty when I was around the age of 13 and have enjoyed it ever since. I love the quick, physical and competitive aspects of the game.
Can anyone take up the sport? Do you need any particular skills?
Yes, the sport is open to anyone, at any age and level. There are many different teams in the Badenoch area ranging from primary to senior level and this includes three women’s teams. Shinty is a very fast moving and skilful game, particularly at a senior level. You have to be strong and agile but your skills will develop as you train with your team. Teamwork and communication are two main attributes required as the team will perform best when working together.
What makes shinty special to you?
The thing I like most about the game is the fact that it is different from every other sport. Shinty is a reasonably small community, in relation to most other sports, so everybody is well known, but there is still plenty of competitiveness and the game is developing all the time.
If someone was interested in taking up the sport how would they get involved?
The ladies’ clubs in the area are always trying to encourage new players. Anyone is welcome to come along to training and give it a shot, even if they have little or no experience. We can be contacted through Badenoch and Strathspey ladies shinty club Facebook page.
So, ladies why not give it a go?
Or if you’re just content to watch, the ladies play at the Dell, Kingussie on a Sunday afternoon (times confirmed near match day) so go along if you can and give them your support!