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Old rivals set for Camanachd climax

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Gary Innes | 15:18 UK time, Thursday, 15 September 2011

As a shinty player growing up in the highlands of Scotland I can't stress enough what it means to play in a Camanachd Cup Final, never mind win it.

This Saturday Bught Park in Inverness hostss the 104th Camanachd Cup Final

The Camanachd Cup is shinty's blue riband event and this year will be contested by two teams that live just three miles apart, arguably shinty's biggest rivals: Kingussie and Newtonmore.

Kingussie and Newtonmore  - shinty's Old Firm

I could go on all day about the history and rivalry between these two clubs, and how all the players' fathers and grandfathers will have undoubtably collected a Camanachd winners medal at some point.

However, for Newtonmore there has been a 25-year drought.

While the most successful Camanachd Cup team on record with a staggering 28 wins, the village of Newtonmore has found recent days are not so littered with gold.

And what is more, they have had to watch their neighbours Kingussie dominate the sport for over two decades.

This has been extremely difficult for the blue and white men of the Eilean, but, over the past couple of seasons, the tables have started to swing in their favour.

In fact, I would even go as far to say that they will start as favourites on Saturday.

I have played in the last eight consecutive Camanachd finals and, to be honest with you, it really hasn't hit home yet that we are not there on Saturday either.

You may think because we have made the last eight finals everyone should manage.

To put it in perspective, in Fort William's previous history they had made the final four times in ninety-something years, winning only once.

Many of shinty's greatest players never get to experience nor fulfil their dreams, to grace the field donning their colours, on shinty's showpiece day.

2003 was the first year we made it with Fort William, where we met Kingussie at An Aird.

I still remember the week leading up to the big day with my the nerves in tatters.

And the two days without sleep before hand didn't help, as everytime you closed your eyes you thought about how you were doing to do this, do that and drift a 40-yard rocket into the top corner.

All this did nothing more than dent the rain forest further, as you used more toilet roll than you thought was ever possible.

Then, the morning came, the bus collects you with all your team mates, and off you go trying to pretend it's like any other game and there's nothing to worry about.

I remember getting in trouble a few years back as the manager said: "Now, when we arrive at the Bught Park, nobody, and I mean nobody, speaks to anyone. Ok? Just put your head down and straight in to the changing rooms, stay focused!"

It'll come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that, when we arrived and two little boys of about six ran over for me to sign their book, I stopped to do this...and then got involved with booking a ceilidh in Lochcarron village hall all in the space of 20 seconds.

It was very funny looking back, although my manager didn't see it that way.

You arrive into the changing rooms and start to get changed as the manager starts his preparation.

You may have started every game that season but until your name is read out on that starting line up, your heart is in your mouth.

Then, standing in the tunnel side-by-side with your opponent, the pipe-band strikes up and leads you onto the field.

The crowd rise to their feet to welcome their warriors to the field.

It's an amazing feeling.

All nerves and thoughts of glory go out the window as soon as that ball is thrown up to commence the start of the match.

I feel extremely fortunate to have been involved with the last eight finals, and even more so to have won five of them.

Kingussie's squad have also experienced many finals, and this experience will help them immensely as they prepare.

For 95% of the Newtonmore squad this will be their first final and so they have the unknown ahead of them.

Saturday is sure to be an outstanding final between two giants of the modern game.

If Newtonmore can contain King's skipper Ronald Ross, and not let them score early, then they have a great chance.

If 'Mores' Danny Macrae and David Cheyne are on form, then the Kingussie defence is in for a torrid time.

I will have a bird's eye view from the commentary box alongside Hugh Dan MacLennan, for this incredible final which is live on BBC 2 from 2.20pm.

May the best team win, and do shinty proud lads.

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