Shetland’s temporary senior football manager Niall Bristow has named a youthful-looking squad to face Orkney in tomorrow night’s inter-county clash at Gilbertson Park.
A quintet of players from unbeaten league leaders Celtic’s impressive young side have been rewarded with places in the 16-man squad, with two 18-year-olds – energetic midfielder Connor Regan and pacey forward James Aitken – both expected to feature. Another impressive Hoops midfielder, Jordan Webb, 23, may also get to sample his first taste of county action.
The most notable absentee is Whalsay’s experienced midfielder Karl Williamson, a lynchpin in the Shetland side for the past decade, due to an Achilles tendon problem.
The team does retain considerable experience in the shape of the last remaining survivors from Bristow’s 2005 island games gold medal-winning team. Delting defensive pair Leighton Flaws and Merv Jamieson and Spurs midfielder James Johnston, all aged 30, remain very much to the fore.
Captain Jamieson has forged a strong partnership with Whalsay’s Richard Arthur at the heart of the defence, while Whitedale’s Piotr Drozdowski could be given the opportunity to make the left-back berth his own.
Bristow said players like Regan and young centre back Robert Smith had benefited from a winter playing on the Scottish mainland, and had put in some “outstanding” performances in 2011.
He had also been “greatly impressed” with former Unst duo Neil Laurenson and David Thomson, both now playing for Thistle after the North Isles side dropped down to the reserve league.
Bristow has not made any commitment beyond tomorrow’s game and said he was solely focused on keeping up the isles’ “proud record” of recent years. Shetland has defeated Orkney in every home encounter all the way back to 1981, when the visitors won 1-0. The record since 1990 has been even more impressive, with Orkney prevailing just once in 20 attempts.
The Shetland squad comprises: Erik Peterson (Ness United), Paul Grant (Celtic); Leighton Flaws, Merv Jamieson (both Delting), Richard Arthur (Whalsay), Piotr Drozdowski (Whitedale), Robert Smith (Celtic); Jordan Webb, Connor Regan (both Celtic), James Johnston (Spurs), Neil Laurenson, David Thomson (both Thistle); James Aitken (Celtic), Ross MacDougall (Delting), Erik Thomson (Whalsay), Paul Molloy (Whitedale).
Meanwhile, Shetland’s hockey women welcome two uncapped players – Juniors’ Megan Nicholson and Karis Irvine of Scalloway – into the fold as they search for a first win over Orkney since 2003. The last two encounters have been closely-fought, with Orkney coming out on top by the odd goal in three on both occasions.
The squad, selected by coaches Peter Sharp and Josie Jamieson, includes plenty of experience in the shape of Delting’s quartet of players, goalkeeper Toni Sidgwick, Brenda Leask (11 caps), Jillian Copland and captain Nicola Blance. Whalsay’s Maggie Irvine will be looking to make her 11th inter-county appearance.
The Shetland squad is: Toni Sidgwick, Brenda Leask, Jillian Copland, captain Nicola Blance (all Delting), Karis Irvine, Rhiannon Inkster, Naomi Johnson, Lynne Scollay (all Scalloway), Gayle Johnson, Ava Sim (both Spurs), Stacey Laurenson, Kristan Robertson (both Burra), Megan Nicholson (juniors), Zoe Irvine, Maree Simpson and Maggie Irvine (Whalsay).
The hockey clash takes place at the Midway Pitch in Brae tomorrow with the pass-back at 2pm. Then, at 6pm, the footballers take to the field at Gilbertson Park.