Skye success an impassioned story which stretches back eighteen years

WHEN Skye Camanachd lifted their first trophy for 18 years on Saturday afternoon in Beauly, there were some who thought they might never witness such scenes again.

After watching the club stun the stick sport back in 1990 by winning the Camanachd Cup, then comically leaving it overnight in Portree Square, supporters of the club had to look on mournfully as that great side disintegrated within a year. There was no infrastructure to facilitate the instant replacement of retirees and injured stalwarts. So, when captain Gileasbuig Macdonald lifted the Balliemore Cup above his head on Saturday, Skye Camanachd had basically come full circle.

To get there, it has taken the blood, sweat and years of a vast army of volunteers putting in place a system to ensure Skye now have a development structure so occasions like Saturday are not just enjoyable one-offs.

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Ross Cowie, current chairman, is one of a number of key individuals whose lives are bound up in the fortunes of the island's Shinty club. Cowie was the team manager when Skye won the Camanachd in 1990. Now he helps oversee a club which has two under-14 feeder teams, a second and senior side, a ground facility and social club and hundred-mile round trips to organise every week so the island's shinty players can enjoy elite competition.

"It's a labour of love for a lot of people," says Cowie. "In Skye, it is a social and family thing. Shinty is the national sport here and people take pride in it. It gives people something to do; a purpose."

As Scotland's only senior island club, Skye's ability to get a team on the park requires passion, dedication and hard cash. Without committed fund-raising and the backing of the entire island in money and in kind, rising fuel costs could see off lesser run organisations.

"I reckon it probably takes about 100,000 to run a club like Skye each year," says Cowie. "In the 21st century, to embrace the game as an amateur sport, is not easy. There are so many other sideline attractions for people but it is the community, and the parents that ferry the kids about to games, that keeps shinty going in Skye and keeps it so important here."

In order to keep the finances in check at their excellent ground on the outskirts of Portree, Skye has a separate social club committee. Community events are hosted there, as well as sporting contests. On the island there is also now a thriving primary school league, ensuring there are always fresh recruits ready to step into the senior set-up when required.

"It's nice when you get success like on Saturday but I take my hat off to the volunteers behind the scenes at clubs that have maybe not won something for thirty years," says Cowie.

"That is what shinty is all about. It's not about the Kingussies or Fort Williams winning everything. It's the people that keep the sport going for shinty's sake."

At least Skye Camanachd and its followers now have something tangible for all those years of unstinting labour.

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