THE Nicolson Institute under 15 girls booted their way into the history books this week by bringing the u15 Scottish Shield back across the Minch for the first time ever.
On the hallowed SPL turf of Inverness Caledonian Thistle the Stornoway schoolgirls held their nerve on the grandest stage of schools football and survived the lottery of penalty kicks to ensure their place in schools football history.
Beating arch rivals Mintlaw Academy from Aberdeenshire in the final made the victory even sweeter as the Nicolson teens sparkled in the sundrenched Inverness atmosphere.
It was a fitting reward for the outstanding footballing females of the Niccy who, having covered more than 1,000 miles en-route to the final, scored 39 goals and conceded only three in the entire competition.
Ninety minutes couldn’t split the sides with the Nicolson defending heroically in the closing stages before a nail biting shoot-out was settled by Amy Shirkie who, displaying nerves cooler than the icy wastes of Siberia, won it for her team mates with the deciding penalty.
The match was already a record breaker as the first time in the competition’s history that two teams from the North of Scotland were competing in the Scottish Shield final.
From the outset the Niccy girls set out their stall to attack with a driving run down the wing from Beth Macleod setting alarm bells ringing in the Mintlaw defence.
A low cross into the box was met by Sophie Macaskill who managed to swivel round to get her shot away but it was straight into the keeper’s path.
From there they continued to attack the Mintlaw box with some brilliant running from Macleod and Kirsty Macdonald down the wings but the Mintlaw defence were strong.
The game’s first near miss fell to the Nicolson when Isabelle Bain caught the Mintlaw defence napping when she burst out of the box towards Macleod to play a short corner with the pair playing a one-two before Bain whipped in a dangerous ball which narrowly missed the lunging foot of Latimar.
The Hebridean Heroines continued to press their opponents and despite chances in the box from Latimar, Macaskill, Maclean and Macleod, they couldn’t make the breakthrough.
As expected Mintlaw gained a foothold of control in the match and just before the break they earned their first corner of the game. A fizzed cross flew into the box with pace but the impressive Cirsty Gillies in goal came charging off her line and jumped high above her opponent’s to gather the ball safely in her hands and relieve the danger.
The second half started just as the first had ended with the Nicolson girls immediately on the attack with a defence splitting pass from Maclean straight to the feet of Macaskill but once again she was stopped in her tracks by the impressive Mintlaw centre back.
As the game ebbed on Mintlaw were unlucky to see a rasping shot from the edge of the box go just over the bar and in the final minutes of the game, Mintlaw earned themselves a corner. The in swinging corner dropped straight to a Mintlaw player who managed to poke the ball goal wards. The ball was goal ward bound but Shirkie threw herself towards it and managed to deflect the ball onto the post which Smith then cleared up the other end of the pitch.
It was a heroic and timely intervention and one which earned her side a penalty shootout which proved to be as tight as the game itself with little to separate the teams.
With Mintlaw missing their third penalty it was up to the Nicolson to slot their fifth and final penalty away to be crowned the champions of Scotland but the shot hammered off the crossbar to take it into sudden death.
Two more missed penalties from Mintlaw followed with one from the Nicolson meaning it was up to penalty taker number 10 Shirkie to step up and send her team into jubilant celebration.
“I am so proud of the girls and what they have achieved,” said team coach Catherine Anne Macleod.
“We have scored 39 goals and only conceded 3 in this competition and have travelled over 1000 miles up and down the country fulfilling each of our fixtures. Our last two games were particularly tough and it says a lot about our girls that they can hold their own against teams with Scottish Internationals and Club players.
“It once again highlights the talent of our young people when they can achieve success such as this on a national level, and we as a school are exceptionally proud of these girls.”