Michael Ritchie was a teenage outfielder at Newtonmore when rivals Kingussie began to exert a grip on shinty that has remained steadfast ever since.

Today Ritchie - now a long-serving goalkeeper - and his Eilean team-mates have an opportunity to prove that stranglehold is capable of loosening.

This afternoon's MacTavish Cup final between the two great foes at Bught Park in Inverness promises to be a very different game.

Most recent majors have involved Fort William and Kingussie and have often become tactical quagmires, pivoting around the methods deployed to stop Kingussie's Ronald Ross.

Today would appear to have all the ingredients of a carnival, though, with the two clubs from neighbouring villages beginning to break into a gallop.

Two finals in as many years for Newtonmore could also indicate they might be ready to once again mount a concerted challenge, something they used to take for granted at the Eilan.

"When I started playing for Newtonmore as a teenager, Kingussie were just beginning to start winning things," recalls Ritchie, whose Kingussie address leaves him open to good-natured ribbings from both foes and team-mates alike.

Now 37, he might have slightly less hair but he has lost nothing in terms of agility or desire to see Newtonmore back on the game's A-list. He is also well-placed to comment on change in the sport, applauding Kingussie for ushering in a new era of professionalism which revolutionised the game.

"I don't think anyone expected Kingussie's run would go on so long," he said. "Obviously, the gap is not so big now. Basically, people have cottoned on to what Kingussie did and it has pushed everyone else up a level. They definitely started off the attention to fitness and training.

"What we do in our training now is a lot different to before. We even have a local osteopath who helps us out. We do circuits and stretching. The whole warm-up, warm-down idea - that was never heard of before."

For years, observers have been predicting the fall of this ageing Kingussie team, with a few of their senior servicemen heading towards 40.

Yet the ability to churn out new records, sustainably, was built into the blueprint a long time ago. One of their shrewdest additions was in enlisting Neil Bowman, a lecturer in sport at Inverness College, back in 1996.

"I think the team's fitness has something to do with their staying power," says the conditioning expert, who came into shinty by accident after specialising in cross country ski-ing.

"A person can be a shinty player or a footballer but they are an athlete, first. These boys know they can't always influence what happens in a game but they know they can control their rest, what they eat and how they train and so make a difference.

"A lot of teams are now realising that if they want to be competitive, they have to think more about training and preparation. Kingussie have been lucky to have a good group of players who are still motivated and focused to put themselves through that."

With so little between the sides, today's winners will need a touch of everything. Hunger and focus will play a part as will the performances of the game's leading personalities.

Ronald Ross goes in with 12 goals in the last two games but David Cheyne grabbed three for Newtonmore last week. A Kingussie versus Newtonmore match on a knife edge?

Haven't we heard that one somewhere before?