West Side fans enjoyed a Saturday night delight on a night so electric you could run the west coast of Lewis of the atmosphere as the Siarachs partied into the wee hours.
For the Siarachs it was one of those do not adjust your reality this really is happening occasions on the pitch. An occasion of crackling tension, with creative risk, with the sound of players’ ambition and hunger for victory snarling and roaring -- all audible over the chanting of the crowd.
Having been gazing up at Point for much of the Lewis and Harris league campaign, even going down to a defeat in Garrabost against a Point side who finished the league campaign with a zero in the loss column, they forced a league title play off for the first time in the history of the local game.
And by the end of 90-pulsating minutes the Barvas Blues were enjoying one of the most glorious nights in their history as they became Lewis and Harris league champions for only the second time in their long history.
On a rapturous night at the neutral Creagan Dubh, West Side’s season of chasing to the end narrowed first to a fine point; then burst into the most extravagant life as a 1-0 first half lead against Point saw them pegged back before a late strike from Martainn Shields secured the most prized footballing silverware in the domestic game.
As the full time whistle hung in the Leurbost sky there were several moments on the turf which captured the essence of the occasion.
Full-time celebrations come and go. Every match can end with the traditional mixture of huddles, high-fives and fist bumps. But this was something entirely different, scenes of pure unbridled joy and bedlam. Bodies lifted, hugged and grappled and wild guttural roars into the air.
The West Side bench came running on to the pitch. Gaffer Roy Shirkie bounded on to greet and congratulate his players, team mates took one another in their arms and spun them around like beloved ballroom partners.
The match itself lived up to it’s star billing. Both sides put so much effort, desire and determination into the winner-takes-all battle. Players in red and in blue shirts were harried and hurried and stretched thin by the relentless and frenetic energy shown by both sides. Tackles flew in. Toes were crushed, shins scraped and ankles hacked on a night which meant everything to both camps.
The first half was clearly edged by the defending champs and it was classic red fury from Angus Mackay’s side who created the better openings, turned defence into attack quicker and looked the more likely to score.
On reflection Mackay will know his side had enough chances to take a comfortable lead into the dressing room at the break for their half-time Haribo’s instead they were unusually wasteful in front of goal.
Josh Smith and Ali Gillies both passed up good sights of goal before Stuart Munro drilled against David ‘Lurch’ Murray when haring in on goal. Alexander Macdonald also left his shooting boots at home as he made a hash of a volleyed chance.
The opening goal came against the run of play as West Side’s resident roadrunner Luke Mackay latched onto a glorious quarterback ball from his own half by Ali ‘Barvas’ Macleod – a man making a late surge for the Player of the Year award – before firing across Daniel Macdonald at full stretch to draw first blood. It was football poetry in motion.
Don’t take your chances and any side runs the risk of being punished like this.
Point continued to press and dominate the ball in the more dangerous areas of the field with Alexander Macdonald again passing up a good sight of goal at the far post.
The Reds pressure finally told on 25 minutes when Mikey Jones’ overlapping run, completely untracked, was fed by his big brother Rob’s ball with the teenager skipping beyond Duncan Maclean and finishing with aplomb.
Point had two more gilt-edged chances to take the lead before the interval with Josh Smith snatching at a chance when he had more time to steady himself and Alexander Macdonald firing against Murray in the West goal.
Throughout the opening period it was the younger Jones who ran the show and he was being afforded far too much space to bound into by Martainn Shields who was reluctant to track him every time. But by the second half his whirring legs slowed up as West Side took more control.
If Jones was the star man of the first-45 I’d suggest Tam Maclennan was the star turn in the second. The teenager controlled, turned, gyrated back the other way, fed the ball to others, showed for passes and, on a number of powerful occasions, won utterly vital 50/50 challengers to rob both Red shirts when failure would probably have sparked a counter attack.
Maclennan was a colossal presence in the heart of the park. Remarkably still a teenager but fearless, strong and built like a player twice his age, Maclennan hurled himself about in midfield like a St Bernard puppy chasing flies.
You knew that West Side meant business in the opening stages of the second-half as Luke Mackay forced a strong low save from Daniel Macdonald. The Blues were far more adventurous and dangerous moving forward having been pinned back for much of the first.
Gordon Campbell was next to have a chance as the ball fell to the buccaneering full back in the middle of the box but he dragged his shot wide.
The title winning goal came from a set piece, an area where Point’s row of NFL size linebackers have been so dominant but crucially switched off when it never mattered more.
Alex John Morrison whipped in a swirling free kick as the red shirts milled about, lost in their own game.
Point defenders were on their heels and when the ball dropped inside the six-yard box, off the chest of Ali Gillies who rose with Luke Mackay to meet the cross, Shields was the first to react as he pinged a well struck drive soaring into the roof of the net before sprinting to the half way line to leap into his manager’s arms.
Falling behind with so little time on the clock sparked a natural late charge from the Reds who were determined not to relinquish their grip on the Lewis and Harris League Championship without scrapping with everything they had.
Rob Jones was sent scampering clear but leaning back as his boot met the leather, the ball sailed harmlessly over the bar.
Alexander Macdonald too found himself in possession inside the box but with a number of red shirts screaming for a cut back he went for goal and sliced wide.
Then late drama as Point did force the ball into the net as Rob Jones latched onto a deflected shot which fell into his path which he lashed into the net at the second attempt.
But the Reds celebration were cut short with an offside decision which must have been marginal. It was difficult to see in real time with my position but it seemed tight and watching the video highlights just muddies the waters more.
Cue uproar with the offside call as the sands of time began to hurtle down towards the end.
By now West Side were so close to glory they could almost taste it while Point could feel it slipping away. The Red shirts were now taking in great, gulping breaths of air and hoofing the ball up the park as quickly as it fell to them but West Side stood tall, defiant and determined to secure their second league title. The Siarachs were never going to let this slip – and they didn’t.
West Side held on and clinched the title to spark jubilant scenes in Leurbost.
Football is the world’s beautiful game but she can also be a cruel and fickle mistress.
For Point, unbeaten throughout the entire regular league season and with the Co-op Cup on their Garrabost sideboard, also tasted the agony of defeat in two cup finals – the Eilean an Fhraoich and Moldova Lewis Cup Finals – while they can now add the desperate pain of losing the first ever Lewis and Harris League title play off to that list.
This season’s Lewis and Harris football ‘nearly men’.
And West Side have become a club that is accustomed to winning. This is a club for whom a slow start to a season or a match is never a concern; they know how to peak in the most important part of the season.
And now the ABC Cup, won in May and the Moldova Lewis Cup, won in September, have company in the shape of the Lewis and Harris League title trophy on the Barvas sideboard.
3mendous stuff from the treble winning West Side boys. ‘S math a rinn sibh.