Talking Sport … with Jim Tait

The Shetland football team is due to face old rivals Orkney tomorrow in the first round of the North Caledonian League’s Jock Mackay Cup.

It is the perfect chance for Shetland to gain revenge for the defeat in last year’s inter-county match in Kirkwall, a game which they deserved to win.

Tomorrow’s cup tie is also an opportunity to regain the trophy which Shetland won two years ago when they defeated Thurso 1-0 in the final.

At first glance the squad appears to be a very young and inexperienced one, minus players such as Leighton Flaws, Joel Bradley, Shane Jamieson, Paul Molloy and Sam Ward from last year’s inter-county match. But it gives manager Niall Bristow and his assistant Kevin Main a chance to see how some of the younger players they will presumably need to rely on this summer in the island games, perform in a competitive atmosphere.

The fact that the game is being played on a grass pitch at Dounby, which is used for regular action in the North Caledonian League itself, again illustrates how far ahead Orkney are with regard to preparation. Their side have been playing regularly together all winter, whereas the Shetland players have made do with training sessions.

There are some very exciting youngsters in the squad, however, and this is their big chance to make an impression. Good luck to them.

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The weekend’s Six Nations rugby matches were nothing if not exciting, with Ireland completely running away with it against sorry Italy and France and England eventually overcoming stubborn resistance from the Welsh and Scottish teams respectively.

Scotland’s setback was a bitter pill to swallow, with both the manner of the defeat and the rack of injuries sustained suggesting that the remainder of the campaign will be even tougher than expected.

The loss of captain Greg Laidlaw, so influential in the initial win over Ireland, leaves a difficult hole to fill.

Some have suggested that coach Vern Cotter should go for experience and bring back Henry Pyrgos, but after replacement Ali Price’s promising introduction in the cauldron of the Stade de France, I reckon he should keep the number nine shirt.

The France v Scotland match was a pulsating encounter. Shetland’s own Kenny Groat, who was in Paris to witness it, predicted a “hard, fast game” prior to the action and he certainly got the first word right.

It appeared to many that once again fortune favoured the English, who required another late try to see off a Welsh side who surely deserved better in Cardiff. But you largely make your own luck and superior substitutes, notwithstanding the home side basically throwing the game away, were a big factor.

Predicting the outcome of the next series of games in a fortnight remains a difficult task, apart from England’s home tie with Italy. Coach Eddie Jones could probably put out an entirely different team from the one he used against Wales and the English, such as the country’s strength in depth, would still win at a canter.

Jones has already hinted that he may experiment and if, as expected, hooker Dylan Hartley makes way for the in-form Jamie George, it could signal the end for the captain.
When you consider that the Vunipola brothers are almost fit again, it becomes even more difficult to see anything other than another grand slam for the seemingly immovable champions.

But for injuries I would have tipped Scotland to win at home against Wales. But the setback, especially Laidlaw’s absence, could mean the Welsh are now favourites.
Ireland, I believe, will have enough in the tank to defeat France at home, but if the French play as they did against the Scots do not rule out a surprise there.

Before I include my Lions 15 based on form during the first two Six Nations matches, I am grateful to a well-known reader for pointing out that my first selection was minus the two lock forwards – it would be fair to say that the Flea possesses the eyes of an eagle. The missing pair were Alun Wyn Jones of Wales and Jonny Gray of Scotland.

On to the team after week two. They are: 15 Stuart Hogg (Scotland); 14 Keith Earls (Ireland), 13 Scott Williams (Wales), 12 Alex Dunbar (Scotland), 11 Elliot Daly (England); 10 Dan Biggar (Wales), 9 Connor Murray (Ireland); 8 Ross Moriarty (Wales), 7 C J Stander (Ireland); 6 Sam Warburton (Wales); 5 Courtney Lawes (England), 4 Jonny Gray (Scotland); 3 Taghd Furlong (Ireland), 2 Jamie George (England), 1 Joe Marler (England).

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George Burgess (Readers’ Views this week) has come up with a perfectly reasonable suggestion of how to deal with part of the Knab site once the Anderson High School has moved to its new home at Clickimin.

His idea would be to use the car park adjacent to Knab Road for conversion to a suitable hockey pitch, which would require recovering the tarmac with a sand-based artificial turf.

The area directly below the car park was known as Bellevue and did indeed contain both football and hockey pitches. I played on it many a time both while at school and during junior football matches and also pre-season friendlies at senior level.

The hockey pitch, if you could call it that, ran down the right-hand side of the football pitch. Although providing a valuable space for girls to train on it would not really have been suitable for a full-sized game.

Mr Burgess’ suggestion is surely worth bearing in mind, and as he says it would help put Shetland’s hockey players on the road towards gaining parity with Orkney. The only problem is, it is probably too sensible for the powers that be to even consider!

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The departure of Mark Warburton as Glasgow Rangers manager at the weekend has thrown up all sorts of candidates being tipped take over, whether temporarily until the end of this season or on a permanent contract.

The favourite as we went to press appeared to be Alex McLeish, who was very successful during his first period in charge at Ibrox, with others such as Aberdeen and St Johnstone bosses Derek McInnes and Tommy Wright mentioned. Former players Terry Butcher and Billy Davies, both of whom are currently without a club, are also said to be in the frame.

I was never a fan of Warburton from the first day he was trotted out as the latest saviour of the club a year and a half ago. Something about his background, where he was alleged to have made enough money out of a career as a city banker to buy himself into football management, I found rather distasteful.

While he was given a fairly generous amount to spend on new players, some of his signings were rank. Joey Barton, Clint Hill, Philipe Senderos and Nico Kranjar were all either well past their sell-buy date, or in the case of Barton, on another planet. Others like Joe Garner and Joe Dodoo have been abject failures, while the defensive frailties of James Tavernier, who does all his best work at the other end of the field, are obvious.

Some players, such as Martyn Waghorn, have questioned whether Warburton’s constant changing of the team has had an adverse effect, and some of the manager’s answers to media questions have created real doubts as to his capability of doing a job north of the border.

The challenge to finish second behind Celtic this season, after being in the lower leagues for the past five years, was not a realistic one. The experience of Aberdeen and Hearts made then far better candidates for the runners-up spot.

Whether McLeish takes the job or not, there is no doubt that Scottish football will be the better for having a serious challenger to Celtic’s dominance. Any league with a team more than 20 points in front at this stage of the season is not a healthy one. The sooner that changes the better.


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