Lewis Camanachd demonstrate the sporting benefits of hard work
It is a remarkable turnaround for a team that has struggled to put together any run since first joining the league set up in 2011.
If you talk to anyone who is involved with competitive sport, they will inevitably get round to the importance of “momentum” in winning matches. Lewis Camanachd have clearly discovered that vital ingredient.
Last Saturday they put 12 past Strathglass, and in recent weeks they have reversed early season defeats to Lochcarron and Aberdeen University, scoring 11 goals without reply. Impressive stuff.
While the forwards Paul Duke, Donnie MacRae and Donald Lamont grab attention with their consistency in front of goal, another name has been pivotal in the turnaround of Lewis Camanachd.
Like so many other players, steeped in the history and folklore of shinty as a community sport in the Highlands, Duncan MacIntyre has been swinging a stick since he could walk.
Glengarry was his team, and he talks about his years at the club with obvious affection, from playing schoolboy shinty to scoring the opening goal in the first final of the Balliemore cup in 1985.
After moving to Lewis, he played around 70 matches before hanging up his caman.
He recalls “tough times” as they fought to keep the club competing in the league with long ferry journeys and most games ending in defeat, which can take a heavy toll on confidence and the desire to continue playing.
At the start of the season, Duncan took over the reins as manager once more. Early results were not promising, but slowly the team began to improve.
He explained: “Shinty is a tough game that demands a lot physically and mentally. You must give 100% in every game. If you don’t, you lose. I knew we had good players, but the mentality was not right. They didn’t have the expectation they’d win.”
As manager, MacIntyre set about changing this.
“Most of the teams we play against have a long tradition and history in the game," he said. “As a new team, Lewis didn’t and we had to instil the same attitude in our club as the opponents we face.
“At regular training sessions, If things went wrong in the previous game, we focussed on putting it right. If things went right, we worked on doing it again. As the results improved, I could see the confidence flowing through the team from the back to the front.
“Lewis Camanachd are now a real shinty team. The players are fit, physical and aggressive. On the field, shinty is a one v one game. If you win your personal battle against your opponent and your team-mates do the same, you are going to win.”
MacIntyre now finds himself in the position of having to manage expectations, but avoid dulling the ambition of his players: “Momentum is huge in sport, and we have it, but it also brings its own pressure. We know we’re top of the league, but I try to focus on the previous game. One game at a time. If we did well, let’s go and do it again. So far, it’s working.”
Momentum can often help to suspend the normal rules of gravity in sport. If teams take to the field expecting to win, it can inspire them to go on long, undefeated runs. But, as Kingussie and Celtic found out last weekend, gravity also has a habit of bringing you back down to earth when it is least expected.
MacIntyre’s role for the rest of the season is to make sure this momentum and newly-found confidence takes them to the league title and promotion, which would be a huge achievement for Lewis Camanachd. Right now, it is looking rather good.