Revenge will be on the minds of Shetland’s senior inter-county football players when they take to the Gilbertson Park on Saturday night to face the auld enemy of Orkney.
Orkney produced a stunningly clinical performance 12 months ago to win back the Milne Cup, hammering Shetland 5-1 in front of a jubilant crowd in Kirkwall.
It was Shetland’s biggest defeat in the Milne Cup since a 7-1 reversal in 1972, and in this year’s 101st iteration of the famous fixture the blues will be out to ensure there is no repeat on home soil.
Orkney might feel there is a real opportunity for them to retain the trophy and to finally win a match in Shetland, a feat they haven’t managed since current Orkney Football Association president Colin MacLeod headed home the winning goal at Seafield in 1981.
Shetland manager Kevin Main admitted this week that his side “could easily be classed as under-dogs” for tomorrow’s fixture – but sounded a defiant warning to Orkney that his squad would be well prepared when they head out at 5pm.
Main said winning back the Milne Cup had been the “main focus since the final whistle in Orkney last year for me and the Shetland team” and added that it would be an “advantage” to play in front of a home crowd at Gilbertson Park.
Shetland “can’t take anything for granted” though, he added.
This is a formidable Orcadian team. Since a 6-0 demolition at the hands of Shetland in 2016, Orkney have won two of the next three encounters between the sides, scoring eight goals in the process.
There had been a “huge shift” in Orcadian football since that 6-0 defeat, Main said, and he was “hugely envious” that they were able to compete regularly in the North Caledonian League on the mainland.
But for all of the thunder surrounding the standard of Orcadian football, Main emphasised that there is every reason to be optimistic about the state of football in Shetland in the lead-up to Saturday’s match.
Spurs, Scalloway and Whitedale’s participation in the Highland Amateur Cup had “raised standards” within the squad, Main said, and that was reflected in Shetland’s strong performance in the Ynys Môn tournament where they only narrowly missed out on a bronze medal.
His final squad of 16 is set to be decided on Saturday morning after their last training session, and while he admitted that he had “always had 16 in mind”, he said “it does change” and that with any injuries or final strong training performances “you never know what might happen”.
Main remained coy over what formation the team was likely to take this weekend, saying eventually that it would be “nothing too radical”.
Six members of the current 20-man squad could be set to make their Milne Cup debuts if they are called upon, including Whitedale goalkeeper Adrian Morrison, who has been included in the squad alongside Thistle’s Saul Swanson and Spurs’ Grant Wood, Shetland’s number one for three of the four games in Ynys Môn.
Main also spoke effusively about fellow potential debutants Ronan Grant, Colin Anderson and Ali Scott.
He said he was “hugely familiar” with the talents of Anderson and Grant after their exploits in Ynys Môn, adding they had both “applied themselves fantastically”. They were both “inter-county standard” already, he said, praising Grant in particular for being “hugely experienced” even at the tender age of 17.
“He’s never put a foot wrong,” Main added.
On Whitedale’s Ali Scott, Main said his inclusion “shows you what domestic form can do”.
He added: “He’s very much in the running for a start.”
With a strong mix of experience and youth, and a team that includes players who have competed in Highland Amateur Cup finals as well as the summer’s Ynys Môn tournament’s semi-finals, Main is confident they will be up to the task that he has set them – “matching and overturning Orkney” in Saturday’s Milne Cup clash.
Kick-off is at 5pm on Saturday 27th July at the Gilbertson Park in Lerwick.
The full 20-man squad list is:
1 – Grant Wood (Spurs)
2 – Adrian Morrison (Whitedale)
3 – Saul Swanson (Thistle)
4 – Stuart Copland (Ness)
5 – Robert Smith (Celtic)
6 – Piotr Drozdowski (Whitedale)
7 – Liam Flaws (Ness)
8 – Colin Anderson (Whalsay)
9 – Richard Arthur (Captain) (Whalsay)
10 – Joel Bradley (Celtic)
11 – John Allan (Scalloway)
12 – Ali Scott (Whitedale)
13 – Lorne McNiven (Whitedale)
14 – Jack Clubb (Celtic)
15 – James Aitken (Celtic)
16 – Sam Maver (Spurs)
17 – Ronan Grant (Spurs)
18 – Calvin Leask (Thistle)
19 – Lewis Harkness (Spurs)
20 – Greg Tulloch (Whitedale)