Talking Sport … with Jim Tait

Congratulations to Whitedale who became senior football champions on Friday night, defeating Ness United 3-2 at Strom and thus ending any hopes the visitors had of taking the campaign to a play-off.

Whitedale are worthy winners of the trophy, their first since 1990. The triumph is all the more admirable as they got their season off to a dreadful start, losing 7-1 to Delting.

But they only had one more setback after that, strangely also against the north team, and 14 victories including two over last year’s champions Spurs has been a great achievement.

Spurs have claimed all the knockout silverware so far this season, four if you add the precursory Highland Fuels Trophy to the Madrid, Manson and Fraser Cups. But the fact that they and Whitedale both exited in the first round of the County Shield means there will be a third name on this season’s honours list, surely a good thing overall.

This week’s semi-finals resulted in the closest of victories over Delting and Ness by Whalsay and Thistle respectively, who will now contest tomorrow’s final.

If league positions are used as a guide Whalsay should probably start favourites. But Thistle created a shock last year by winning the shield, beating Celtic in the final at Bressay of all places, and cannot be discounted from a repeat act.

It should be a good contest. Thistle have youthful Shetland squad players in Calvin Leask, Saul Swanson and Stuart Copland plus the under-rated Scott Evans. Whalsay can depend on the wily old heads of Karl Williamson and Richard Arthur, and superb striker David Murray if he’s available, and they also possess a number of promising youngsters themselves.

Returning to Whitedale’s league-winning exploits, their success has come for a variety of reasons. Noteworthy of course are the barrowload of goals from this season’s top scorer Greg Tulloch, and the contributions from his county team mates Piotr Drozdowski, Gregor Sinclair and Bobby Scott.

Others have played a big part, including combative midfielder Duncan Anderson and defender Duncan Fraser, both of whom are no longer members of the county set-up. Shetland’s loss is surely Whitedale’s gain.

Having the wise and experienced figure of Craig Nicolson in the managerial role has obviously been important, while there is probably another crucial factor in Whitedale’s ascendancy, that of team work.

Losing the likes of Paul Molloy and Cameron Gibbs to rivals Spurs over the past few years must have been difficult, along with the migration of Jamie Wilson to works league football. The fact that those left have remained committed to the cause is a great credit to the club.

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It is a shame that North Isles have effectively been thrown out of this year’s premier league, but the rules are constitutionally set and the association had little choice but to adhere to them.

Having won last season’s reserve league, only losing three games in the process, it was probably seen as a sensible progression for the Yell/Unst combination to step up a level. But there is obviously a vast difference in quality and they have sadly come up short.

Although North Isles had one or two close results they were hammered in other games and ended up with zero points. And failing to field a team on three occasions means all the matches have now been voided.

This is particularly tough for the likes of striker Connell Gresham, who scored 14 goals this season which will now be eliminated from the records. And it also means that Shetland top scorer Greg Tulloch, of Whitedale, will have a fair few deducted from his tally.

What happens now? Does the team return to the reserve ranks, where they would probably at least hold their own again, or is another premier attempt possible?

There are quite a number of more than useful players who either spend their time standing on the touchline for their senior clubs – nine substitutes have been noted this season – or playing in works league football. Perhaps if just a few would rise to a new challenge, North Isles may have a future.

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Uncertainty surrounding the Shetland county football team, or “Shetland FC” as it is sometimes referred to nowadays, arose again this week.

There is a match at Gilberson Park on Sunday against a Scottish Amateur Football Association select, which could be no mean opposition depending on where they pick their players from.

If Shetland are going to participate in any more mainland based knockout competitions, such a game would be excellent preparation.

Unfortunately no details have been released, but we understand that the squad for Sunday will be similar to that which performed so well against Orkney in July’s inter-county, reversing a recent trio of defeats against the old enemy.

Coaches Niall Bristow and Kevin Main will still be in charge on Sunday, although according to the local association earlier in the week the future is somewhat unsure.

It is more than possible that at least one of the roles will become vacant again soon, and once more the hunt will begin for replacements.

It was fortunate that such an experienced hand as Bristow agreed to return to the fold again last year, for a third stint in charge.

But the shock exit of the previous incumbents John Scott Christie and Allan Graham, who were apparently forced out by player power, will have left its mark. It is unlikely there will be people queuing up to take charge.

It has been said that participation in North Caledonian cups, or even Scottish amateur events, is the best available option for Shetland to get more competitive matches, similar to Orkney. I would agree with that sentiments.

That kind of venture can prove problematic for a variety of reasons, not least the winter weather which forced Shetland to withdraw from the Jock Mackay Cup a couple of years ago.

All in all though, there has been a reasonable amount of success. The previous winning of the Jock Mackay Cup and a couple of semi-final appearances have been forthcoming.

Nothing will be achieved without somebody to run the team, however, and the sooner any managerial issues are sorted out the better.

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Corporate hospitality is not really my thing, mainly as it often involves making small talk with people you would rather avoid.

But I absolutely loved the experience of a visit to Myreside in Edinburgh, home of Watsonians rugby club and currently also the Edinburgh Pro 14 side, on Friday evening.

There was a convivial atmosphere in the club lounge before the match against the Welsh Dragons, where former Scotland full back Chris Paterson acted as host.

There were many other eminent names present, including Scott Hastings and Andy Irvine who as well as turning out many times in the dark blue also starred for the British Lions.

But the daddy of them all, as far I as I was concerned, was the great Ian “Mighty Mouse” McLaughlin, one of the country’s greatest ever props. It just goes to show that, even at an advancing age, you can still be star struck!

The match which followed was actually something of an anti-climax, as a slightly below par Edinburgh, still getting to grips with new coach Richard Cockerill’s methods, proved too good for the Dragons.

But watch out for Blair Kinghorn. In the absence of a still-injured Stuart Hogg, he could be in the frame for a full back slot in at least one of the autumn tests.


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