Talking Sport … with Jim Tait

Over a hundred Shetlanders had a memorable time in Orkney at the weekend, rekindling aquaintances and reminiscing about old battles during the celebrations to mark the 100th anniversary of the Milne Cup.

Sadly this year’s football team were unable to bring the famous trophy back home again, going down to a highly charged and spirited Orkney outfit who took their chances when it mattered.

Many supporters have been critical of the team selection, in particular the decisions to drop keeper Saul Swanson who kept a clean sheet last year, to leave striker Paul Molloy in reserve and to field James Farmer who did not seem fully fit.

While it is hard to disagree with that, I also felt there was a disjointed look about the side with several players not being fielded in the positions they fulfil for their respective clubs.

But despite the result this did not feel like a hammering. The 5-1 scoreline flattered the home side. Shetland could easily have had another two or three goals and it has to be remembered that Orkney only got their last two with the game either entering or having gone into stoppage time.

Molloy’s introduction 10 minutes into the second half obviously made a difference, as he went on to score the type of goal I doubt if anyone else in the squad is capable of – muscling his way into the box, holding off a couple of defenders, creating space for himself and firing home.

But the damage had been done in the first half – at 3-0 down Shetland were always facing an uphill struggle and it was no surprise that Orkney put the icing on the cake with a couple of breakaway goals.

Some have suggested it was a game too far for captain Leighton Flaws, who reversed his decision to retire after last year’s win in Lerwick. I wouldn’t necessarily go along with that. Flaws, who maintains it was not the carrot of the centenary match that prompted his U-turn, looked as good as anyone in the Shetland side in the second half.

I felt really sorry for manager Kevin Main, who spoke openly beforehand about both his hopes for the big day and his selection tactics. As someone who was described this week as “the Gareth Southgate of Shetland football”, he deserves the chance to turn this setback around.

Two years ago the then management team of Allan Graham and John Scott Christie, whom Main had assisted, were basically forced out of their positions after a 3-2 defeat in Kirkwall.

There is no way that should be allowed to happen again. Hopefully Main and his assistant Robert Geddes will now take stock and work hard towards next year, when the match at Gilbertson Park in Lerwick will celebrate Shetland Football Association’s 100th birthday.

It’s just a pity we have to wait a whole 12 months until a chance of revenge.

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A couple of hours earlier another team in blue slumped to defeat, but with Orkney’s recent record on the hockey pitch that was less unexpected.

There are continuing signs of improvement among the hockey players, however, in spite of an ever-increasing list of failures at inter-county level.

A score of 4-1 was probably about right, as Orkney were much more clinical and displayed a quality of crisp passing and control which was a shade above their opponents.

The Shetland players work incredibly hard and show much commitment, however, especially with the added handicap of having to travel to Brae for any kind of action.

A few caught the eye on Saturday, among them goalkeeper Megan Nicholson who pulled off at least one fine save, Cara Leask who notched the opening goal and Kristan Robertson who got the nod as Shetland’s player of the match.

I would also mention Victoria Duthie who was in the thick of the action throughout, making several excellent runs and showing much determination both in possession and when chasing an opponent. The fact that Duthie was still limping quite heavily a few hours later was testament to how much she gave for the cause.

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Orkney football historian Jockie Wood addresses the Milne Cup 100th anniversary reception at the PIckaquoy Centre in Orkney last Saturday. Former Aberdeen striker Joe Harper, the evening’s guest of honour, is in the centre of the picture. Photo: John Coutts

The reception at the Pickaquoy Centre later on Saturday evening, attended by over 400 guests, was a great opportunity for former county football adversaries to meet up again.

Unfortunately the meal was nothing to write home about – the main course of roast beef and trimmings was cold – and the acoustics of the building were downright awful.

The speeches which followed, if anyone could hear what was being said, were on the lengthy side. And I have no idea at all what guest speaker Joe Harper, the former Aberdeen and Scotland striker, was on about. All you could hear was the occasional “effing” this and “effing” that.

It was fitting, however, when Jockie Wood called on a couple of former Shetland players to take a bow. Both Geordie Hunter, or the “big game Hunter” as Wood referred to him, and the inimitable striker Bert Sinclair certainly did their bit in years gone by.

Sinclair in particular was in his element, reminiscing with Orkney opponents Alan Findlay and Eric Hutchison who also featured in the famous 1963 game when he hit the back of the net five times in the 9-7 victory.

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And finally, as this week’s column is all about the inter-county weekend, it is surely fitting to end on a high note.

On Sunday morning, although the match really should have taken place as a warm-up to the main Milne Cup encounter, over two dozen veterans took to the field again.

Helped by the fact that one or two of the team are still turning out occasionally at B-team level, the blues were much fitter and faster than their opponents.

Robert Adamson, who fills out his shirt rather better than he did 20-odd years ago, was on the scoresheet along with his former Thistle team mate Stuart Smith who netted a hat trick.

The others came from Delting’s Stuart Hay and the aforementioned Main, who surely merited it after Saturday’s setback, and a penalty from the oldest man in the side Bruce Williamson of Spurs.

The final score was a 7-1 win for Shetland, which as some wise guy put it made for an aggregate 8-6 football victory. But unfortunately not many will see it that way.


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