There was a time, not long ago, when even the most battle-hardened shinty players shivered at the thought of away games at Tighnabruaich. Now the sport is about to find out if that old bear-pit in Argyll is still the fearsome fortress it once was.

Kyles Athletic are back in the big time and contest their 2008 Premier League opener today against Bute. Fortunately for the islanders, it is Kyles doing the travelling this time around. Bute's trip to the ground simply called the Playing Fields' will come later in the season.

For shinty as a whole, and for the health of the game in the south, the return of such an illustrious name is overdue. With 20 Camanachd Cups secured during their unbroken existence, only Kingussie and Newtonmore can lay claim to more. A sleeping giant is rousing after almost half a decade out of the top flight.

Not that everyone will be overjoyed, as John Taylor, the Kyles secretary, is happy to acknowledge. "I think teams coming to Tighnabruaich often don't like it," he acknowledged.

"The park is long and narrow and takes a bit of getting used to. Then, of course, you have the slope. If anything, it might be a psychological thing in other teams' minds."

Despite rebuilding in the lower divisions for the past few seasons, Kyles have given off periodic signals that they never intended to shun the limelight too long.

Inveraray came a cropper twice in cup competitions just off the A8003. Other clashes with Premier League teams have brought narrow defeats.

The fact they'll still have goalkeeper Kenny MacDonald in their ranks this year is a major fillip, especially with the majority of the team in their 20s.

Over the past couple of decades, the talismanic figure of MacDonald has strengthened the opinion that, while Kyles may not be the great team they once were, they are still damned difficult to defeat in Argyll. Even instinctive marksmen like Ronald Ross of Kingussie still rate MacDonald one of the best in the sport and, according to his manager, Norman MacDonald, the stopper has lost little in the way of agility.

"I have seen other teams breathing a sigh of relief when they've learned that Kenny is not playing, for some reason," says MacDonald, a local farmer. "He's still as good as he was and, with most of the boys being younger and inexperienced in terms of the Premier League, it is good to have him."

The loss of the forward Dan MacRae is a disappointment for Kyles as his match intelligence would have been an asset, but MacDonald believes the club is now back where it has to be and is relishing the challenge, with or without the cushion of experience.

"This is what the young lads have been wanting," said the goalkeeper. "It is up to them to prove themselves now. The club has been through a transitional time but it has allowed us to bring these boys on."

MacDonald will have his son Roddy in front of him in defence this year and admits that his offspring bears the brunt of dad's vocal offerings from the goal-mouth.

With many teams having to travel 150 miles and the local fans backed up on the road', visiting teams may find Tighnabruaich less welcoming than its holiday resort status suggests this season.

As far as MacDonald is concerned, Kyles will accept any advantage that comes their way. "No-one seems to like coming here to play. I can remember when hardly anyone beat us down here. In saying that, there may be more pressure at home. It will be a difficult season for us."

In today's other main games, Kingussie face newcomers Lovat while Fort William tackle local neighbours Lochaber. Newtonmore and Strathglass battle it out at the Eilean while Mossfield Park hosts the Oban versus Inveraray south derby.