AN EXCELLENT display of finishing early in the game by holders Lovat provided the platform for a convincing 5-2 victory for the Kiltarlity side over local rivals Beauly in the annual Lovat Cup match.

The New Year derby clash has been a highlight of the shinty calendar since the trophy was first put up for competition in 1904. Although the season does not begin nationally until March, it has long had its place as an appetiser for a shinty public starved of the sport since the last caman was swung in earnest back in October.

While the match took place at Beauly’s Braeview Park, the home side, who play in the lower National Division, were always pre-match underdogs given that they were facing a team with a Premier League pedigree. They gave a good account of themselves on a heavy surface which at times made ball-control tricky, but Beauly were undone by the clinical finishing of the Lovat front men who racked up a four-goal lead before the Beauly defenders had got themselves properly organised. Indeed Lovat scored in the first minute when an early free hit by former Ross County youth player Danny Kelly fell to winger Graham MacMillan and he smashed the ball home for the opener.

Beauly keeper Josh Grant could not do anything about that one, but might have done more to prevent Lovat’s second. His defence allowed a long high ball to drop in front of Lovat half-forward Lorne Mackay and his direct shot beat Grant, who was slow to react to the danger.

Minutes later, Greg Matheson put Lovat 3-0 up when he gathered the ball under pressure and turned to send his strike in off the inside of the post. When Graham MacMillan got on the end of a Ryan Ferguson cross to fire the ball into the roof of the net for number four in the 16th minute, things began to look bleak for the home side.

This seemed especially true when MacMillan strained a hamstring and was replaced up front by Scotland international Kevin Bartlett, who was playing his last game in a Lovat shirt before returning to his home club Caberfeidh. However, after Grant atoned for his earlier sins by pulling off two exceptional saves from rocket shots by Greg Matheson and Mackay, his teammates began to grow in self-belief and push forward. They got their reward when they pulled back a goal through winger Sandy Elrick, who fired a shot past Lovat’s teenage keeper Ronan MacMillan from the narrowest of angles to make it 4-1 at the break. The goal lifted the home side and they opened the second half on the offensive, adding another goal not long after the restart when a shot by full-forward Conor Ross rebounded off MacMillan and into the path of fellow striker Jack Macdonald, who made no mistake from close range.

However any thoughts of a comeback were soon dashed when Bartlett manufactured Lovat’s fifth goal of the afternoon, forcing his way past his marker and knocking the ball into the net off the unlucky Grant who slipped on the wet ground as he tried to keep it out.

Though Beauly kept pushing hard for the rest of the match they were unable to create further clear chances and in the end Lovat were worthy winners with their Premier League experience in front of goal the decisive factor.