A PLACE in the final of the Tulloch Homes Camanachd Cup beckons for Lovat tomorrow when they face Oban Camanachd in the first semi-final set for the neutral venue of An Aird in Fort William.
Two years ago at the same venue and at the same stage, Lovat edged out Inveraray after extra-time en route to taking their place in the final of shinty’s most prestigious competition for the first time since 1953.
Current Lovat manager Fraser Gallagher was a player in 2015 but is not relying too much on coincidence as he prepares his squad for the biggest game of his short managerial career.
“Yes in 2015 we won at An Aird and yes it was against a south team but that is where the similarity ends,” he said. “Oban will be a different prospect and we are a different team from two years ago.
“We have a more experienced squad in 2017 but we have lost some key players as well. Kevin Bartlett, for instance, one of our top forwards, has gone and you do not replace someone of that calibre readily.
“We go into the match in good spirits though and hopefully we are ready for whatever Camanachd can throw at us.”
Gallagher confirmed that forward playmaker Lorne MacKay has copped a two-match ban and misses out tomorrow, leaving the way clear for Marc MacLachlan to make his debut for the Kiltarlity side.
The powerful striker moved from Beauly in July and Gallagher admits that his elevation to the first team has come sooner than expected.
“Our plan for Marc was for him to see out the season in our second team and then for him to challenge for a place in the first team next season,” added Gallagher. “He is an experienced guy though and I have no qualms about pitching him in tomorrow”.
Apart from MacKay being missing, Gallagher expects to be at full strength with the exception of long term injury victims Scott MacKenzie and Marc Kelly.
Gallagher reports no ill-effects in the wake of the club’s 400-mile charity cycle run which ended last weekend at the Belladrum Tartan Heart festival.
Gallagher, who took part in the event, maintains that any sore muscles have cleared up and that the event was a great team bonding exercise.
“We had a physio at training on Tuesday night and all seems well with the lads and they are raring to go,” he said.
“I rate Oban Camanachd very highly – they play to a very high standard and in Daniel Cameron and Gary Lord they have two of the best players in the Premiership.
“It will be close but I am quietly confident we can make it through to the final.”
The second semi-final between Newtonmore and Skye is set to go ahead at the Bught Park in two weeks time.
As Lovat revel in the glamour of the Camanachd Cup, near neighbours and arch rivals Glenurquhart face a grim battle against relegation from the Marine Harvest Premiership.
A crucial four-match run to the end of the season starts tomorrow with just about the most difficult game in the club’s 18-league match programme: away to title challengers Kyles Athletic.
The Glen’s international defender John Barr is suspended but manager Iain MacLeod is hopeful that Michael Fraser will return to bolster his attacking options.
The Glen have a decent record in Tighnabruaich so Macleod will not be writing off the chance to take at least a point.
The Glen sit third from bottom and will be eyeing the outcome of the derby match between Kilmallie and Lochaber with Lochaber a place above the Glen while Kilmallie are in last place in the league.
MacLeod’s side are three points clear of the drop but they have played more games than the two teams below them. Their home tie with Glasgow Mid Argyll on September 9 could well prove decisive.
Glasgow, also in the relegation mix, face defending champions Newtonmore at the Eilan. This match is followed by the final of the Strathdearn Cup – the North of Scotland Junior championship – where Newtonmore, winners in 2015, face local rivals Kingussie after winning the toss of the coin to decide the venue.
Meanwhile in the National Division, Inverness are at home to league-leaders Skye while Caberfeidh in second place make the long trip south to face Inveraray, with the Strathpeffer side defending an unbeaten record in the league. Midfielder Martin MacDonald starts a four-match ban and misses out as the club pushes for promotion.
The Cabers harbour promotion hopes and are a point behind the islanders, having both played nine games. The top two are well clear of the chasing pack and the battle for ascension to the Premiership could well hinge on the meeting between the two sides in Portree next month.
Strathglass play their penultimate match as they take on Fort William in Cannich. The hosts are sixth, level on points with Oban Celtic, with only a home game against Beauly to come after tomorrow.
Inverness are almost certain to be relegated, needing to win all three of their remaining games to avoid the drop into North Division One.
In the regional leagues, relegation-threatened Glenurquhart and Beauly are both in action with the Glen facing Fort William reserves while Beauly are in Portree to face Skye.