Kingussie will be perfectly aware that the man credited with inflicting their last defeat, Gordon MacIntyre, is once again in the Oban Camanachd squad for the Glenmorangie Camanachd Cup final. MacIntyre's fairy-tale finish to the 1996 match at the Bught Park, when he capped the most courageous of comebacks to the sport with a spectacular winner having lost an eye just 18 months before, will go down in shinty history as one of the truly great moments.

On the strength of that single moment alone, perhaps, they will take nothing for granted when they line up on their home ground, the lush turf which is now the Dell. For MacIntyre, it will be an especially poignant experience, the scene of his accident and also in all probability the last game he will play for Oban before taking off to Holland as part of a job transfer, but only after heading for Cyprus at 9am tomorrow morning for a well-earned break. There will be no post-match celebrations or reception as he heads home to pack his bags.

MacIntyre, man of the match in the Camanachd Cup final as far back as 1986, says he is travelling to Kingussie with a confident squad. ''We may not have had the best of build-ups for a number of reasons, but we are going to Kingussie full of confidence. There is no fear in this team. We were written off prior to '96 and this is no different. If anything, this is the best Oban team I have played in.

''If our defence play the way they can, and if our midfield can win that area, then we have the men up front who can take the chances. David Devine is perfectly capable of doing to Kingussie what Ronald Ross does to other teams. I suspect it is going to be a high-scoring final either way, and while the tight pitch at the Dell doesn't particularly suit us, it will provide a brilliant surface for the ball players. I want to be going on my first holiday in four years ready for some celebrations.''

Oban will train at Newtonmore this morning before making their way to Kingussie and their date with destiny in the ninety-second final. Kingussie, if they win, will secure their third successive Grand Slam and clinch an unbeaten sequence of 79 games. Oban, the last team to beat the champions, three years ago today, travelled to Newtonmore last night, though it will not have been the quietest of places, given that it was base for the aftermath of last night's world Police Shinty Championships!

Shinty needs a good final today. The sport's expansion to new areas, a key plank in its development, is dependent on meagre crumbs of comfort from an increasingly unhinged Scottish Sports Council, who have led the sport up the garden path, only to firmly shut the gate on shinty's fingers.

Representatives of that august body will make a rare appearance north of Edinburgh to attend Kingussie. They would do well to arrive with an explanation of why the vastly expensive (in time, effort and brain power) exercise involved in preparing a development plan at their behest has been a total waste of time, and remains so with a meeting this week at Tulliallan, for organising bodies, emphasising that once again.

Dwindling attendances at shinty's big occasions are perhaps the greatest indictment of the game's modern failings, and the sports council's failure to support its development properly. Fewer people are watching shinty. Put simply, if shinty was a bird it would be an endangered species.

The Sports Council is not going to save it or develop it. Perhaps the new Scottish Sports Minister would like to take note and make shinty a key sport featuring in its rightful place in a properly constituted highland arm of the new Scottish Institute of Sport, which will not, hopefully, be based anywhere near Gyle in Edinburgh, but somewhere to the north.

If the institute is going to represent Scotland then somewhere like Stirling is a natural base. Yet public money, in the shape of lottery funding continues to flow scandalously back and forth along the M8. Rich local authorities get richer and the poor get poorer. Ironically, shinty was the only sport to feature in television trailers trying to convince people that voting for Scotland's Parliament was a good idea.

Politicians who make it to the Dell will understand the importance of sport as culture and recognise its prominence in the new government's concordat for the future.

The Parliament should consult with Professors Jarvie and Thomson of the University of Stirling who have been lone and reasonable voices in the debate about sport's future in Scotland.

They have recognised shinty's worth in our sporting culture and have a vision of how sport should be run.

That could well lead to great things for sport in this country, and shinty could at last assume its rightful place as one of Scotland's greatest indigenous assets.


Kingussie (red and blue hoops): Andrew Borthwick 1, Stephen Borthwick 2, Ian Borthwick 5, Rory Fraser (captain) 3, David Borthwick 4, Ally Dallas 6, Euan Grant 7, Michael Clark 8, Kevin Thain 12, Ali Borthwick 10, Barry Dallas 9, Ronald Ross 11. Substitutes: Martin Genini 14, Willie John Fraser 16, Garry Munro 15, James Hutchison 13. Manager Jimmy Gow.

Oban Camanachd: (white-topped jerseys, with red and black hoops below (new strip): John MacGregor 1, Alex MacVicar 2 (captain), Gareth Evans 3, Nonnie MacInnes 4, Duncan Morrison 5, Ian Hay 6, Dougie MacIntyre 7, Fraser Inglis 8, David Devine 9 David McCuish (10) Gordon MacIntyre 11Neil Ross 12 Substitutes: Colin Dairon (Goalkeeper), Daniel MacIntyre, Andrew Pearson, Ally MacInnes. Manager: Iain MacMillan.

Referee: John Henderson, Caol.

road to the final

Kingussie: first round Kingussie 9, Kinlochshiel 1; second round Kingussie 8, Kilmallie 1; semi-final Kingussie 7, Inveraray 1 at Ballachulish.

Oban Camanachd: first round Fort William 1, Oban 1 (replay Oban 2, Fort William 1); second round Oban 2, Kyles Athletic 1; semi-final Oban 6, Skye 4.

q TODAY'S sides have met in the final four times in the last six years. They had never met in the final before. The results were:

1993 Oban Camanachd 0, Kingussie 4 at Fort William; 1995 Oban Camanachd 2, Kingussie 3 at Oban; 1996 Oban Camanachd 3, Kingussie 2 at Inverness; 1998 Oban Camanachd 3, Kingussie 7 at Oban.

q If the final ends all-square after 90 minutes, there will be 30 minutes' extra time. If the teams are still tied, the game will go to a penalty shoot-out of five each, followed by sudden death if necessary.

q BBC Radio Scotland will be providing full, live coverage from 3.05pm with commentary by Alister Alexander and summaries by Herald columnist Hugh Dan MacLennan. Televised highlights will be shown by the BBC tomorrow, at 4.05pm with commentary by Iain Anderson and summaries by Donnie Grant.

q Kingussie were first winners of the cup in 1896 at Inverness. Newtonmore are record holders of the cup having won 28 times in 48 appearances. Kyles Athletic are next, having won 20 times in 38 finals. Kingussie have won the cup 16 times in 25 appearances. Oban Camanachd have won twice in 11 finals.

q The first Camanachd Cup final played at Kingussie was in 1904. Other finals there were in 1907, 1910, 1913, 1924, 1970, 1980, 1985. This is the ninth final on the Dell, and Kingussie have never won the cup there. They have played in just one final at the Dell, in 1985, when Newtonmore won the Grand Slam, Kingussie having done the same thing in 1984.

Jimmy Gow was Kingussie captain in 1985; now manager.

q The Albert Smith Medal for man of the match was introduced in 1972. It was presented by Victor Smith Sr, of Fort William, in memory of his father Albert. Born in 1888, Albert Smith was a native of Lochuanagan near Fort Augustus, and after the First World War he moved to Fort William, where he worked as a joiner.

Rory Fraser, of Kingussie, and Oban's Nonnie MacInnes, both playing today, are two of only three players to have won the medal twice. Hugh Chisholm of Newtonmore is the other.