Kiltarlity is probably one of the last places you would expect to find a sporting revolution taking place but, as the Shinty season starts today, hopes are high for the village club.
Seven years ago, Lovat Shinty Club were faced with some cold facts. How do you create a successful club from the roll-call of one primary school and a population of under 1000 people? Lovat came up with a simple solution: take the young players you have and nurture them. The more difficult part was trying to make sure they then stayed.
The plan was challenged by several factors which were outside of their control, particularly as the trend has been for the bright young players to venture further afield for work or education. Yet last year, as a result of a concerted effort from many at the club over a number of years, Lovat witnessed the first signs of progress.
Loading article content
Under the considered stewardship of manager Alan MacRae, Lovat secured their first senior trophy in 60 years: the MacTavish Cup. They also finished in second place in the Orion Group Premiership campaign, behind champions, Newtonmore.
Lovat open their Premiership campaign today with a match against Kyles and are hopeful of witnessing further improvement. "We had to make some decisions," said outgoing club president Ian Ferguson of their initial aspirations. "There were boys who were successful at school age, under-14s and under-17s. Normally, you lose some to university and maybe to work off-shore but, for a wee while, that didn't happen.
"We decided to build a team around the younger players in the village. We took a longer term view and there were some very good, more senior players, who had to be sacrificed for that. However, we had our 125th anniversary recently and eight of the boys who won the cup last year were also in our MacKay Cup [a schools tournament] winning team.
"It's probably a good job we decided to do what we did. The primary school roll has dropped recently and future recruitment into the team may be more difficult."
Ferguson - who first got involved with the club 34 years ago - Lovat will continue to follow a "map" designed to bring them success. There is one trophy in particular which the club hope to pick up along the way.
"We want to keep the momentum going but, really, the Camanachd Cup is the sport's biggest honour and, if you have any ambition, you must be motivated towards that," he said. "With a bit of luck, there are probably about six clubs who could win that."
MacRae is not one for putting time scales on such ambitions but he is also compelled by a desire to see the club moving forward. "Progress can be measured in many ways," said the Lovat manager. "But, certainly, we want to compete in the senior competitions.
"I really hope that, after winning the cup last year, the boys believe in themselves that bit more because confidence can be everything."
The league has a very different look to it this season, of course. Despite the opposition of some clubs, the league body pressed ahead with plans to streamline the division - instead of a top 10 there is now a top eight, while the old north and south leagues in tier one have been dispensed with. In their place comes a new national league, taking in the best of those north and south clubs and the teams relegated from last year's Premiership.
"A few poor results and I think it will be very difficult for teams to stay away from that bottom relegation spot," added MacRae.