The shinty season proper begins this Saturday, March 1, with a league which may be short of teams but is in no way short of intrigue.
With only six teams in the league, teams have to jockey for position in the first ten games in order to achieve a place in the top three who will then play off for promotion and the bottom three who will be left to play for pride only.
Kilmallie can probably be considered the favourites. They have been in the lower league for two seasons already and may look at this as a good chance to bounce back. They have a very strong first team and several players with a great deal of experience.
Inconsistency plagues them and will drop points. Lewis held them to 0-0 for 65 minutes in Caol last season and were ten minutes from winning at Shawbost before a suicidal final passage of play saw the Lochaber side take the win.
Despite only being in their third season in the league, Grantown-on-Spey side, Strathspey are approaching this season confidently, with some backing them to sweep to the title.
A move from the moor-like Freuchie to the playing fields of a local school may reap dividends as they have always had a good away record. Games with Lewis have been dingdong battles over the last two years, with honours even last year, but both teams will have the first day of the season off, meeting each other on March 8.
Strathpeffer’s Caberfeidh will have a major say in who wins the title. Cabers are a genuine development team, a hard but honest outfit who use their older veterans to help prepare youngsters for the demands of their first team.
They will take points off every team and should finish in top three.
Ullapool based outfit Lochbroom are undergoing one of their periodic furloughs with several players unavailable due to work and other commitments. There were rumours of the club pulling out the league but these have been quashed, and a good start to the season could see a lot of players making themselves available.
Iain MacFadyen may call upon players from Kinlochbervie Camanachd’s fine youth programme to augment his squad and give the club a profile more representative of the whole North West. Lewis face their old friends and neighbours on March 15.
Inverness have developed a fine team spirit over the last few years through adversity and can also benefit from players with first team experience. Although the Town finished bottom of the table last year, they were much improved on recent years and will be no pushovers. Capable of some surprise results as well, could be dark horses for top three.
Back at home, our own Camanachd Leòdhais have been training hard since November with an increased focus on fitness for this year. Sadly weather annihilated the planned preseason programme of games versus Lochcarron and Lochbroom but confidence is high. A strong start is essential to ensure that the Dubh is Gorm stay within the mix for the top three. The side taking to the park is not radically different in terms of personnel from those initial, wary steps in 2011 but is light years advanced in terms of attitude and self-confidence.
Iain Sinclair has assembled a top management team with Duncan MacIntyre and Conor Macdonald playing important roles.
The message for this season then is anything can happen, and probably will. Follow all the shinty action every week in the Gazette.