HOLDERS Newtonmore defeated Kilmallie 3-2 in a well contested match at Inverness on Saturday to retain their grip on the MacTavish Cup for the second year in a row.

Sponsored by Inverness legal firm Anderson Shaw & Gilbert, this trophy is the de facto championship of the North shinty area – and Newtonmore were always going to be favourites against a Kilmallie side which has struggled in the Marine Harvest Premiership so far this season. However, the game came after a difficult fortnight for Kilmallie due to the sudden death of top-scorer Duncan Rodger and was, in the end, much closer than was predicted.

Both sides opened strongly with Kilmallie opting for the southern 2-2 formation up front while Newtonmore stuck to their more familiar north pattern. This almost paid off for More in the opening minute when veteran Glen Mackintosh slipped the ball through to full-forward Steven Macdonald but his shot flew wide. Mackintosh then contrived to miss a more straightforward chance when he fired over the bar when he looked odds on to open his team’s account.

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At the other end Kilmallie attempted to drive forward with runs from youngster Calum MacDougall in particular, testing the More defence, but against pacy defenders the remaining Kilmallie frontmen found their 2-2 formation forced them to play too far off the D where opportunities to test keeper Norman Campbell were hard to come by.

With Kilmallie fully committed to attack they were undone in the 16th minute when Newtonmore wing-back Ackie Macrae exploited the space vacated by the attacking Kilmallie centreline to fire a long ball forward up to Macdonald, who turned to smash it low past keeper Shane Gillies for the opener.

More’s second came in 27 minutes when slack Kilmallie marking saw a clever free hit by winger Fraser Mackintosh find Drew Macdonald and he beat Gillies with another low shot into the corner.

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There was no further scoring before half-time though Kilmallie continued to shine in patches but squandered two chances to narrow the gap when a Michael Rodger drive came close and Mark Graham’s attempt was saved by More keeper Campbell.

With Fraser Mackintosh scoring his side’s third goal just after the break, Newtonmore looked to have killed the game but Kilmallie refused to lie down, getting their reward in 53 minutes when a driving run by centre Innes Blackhall finally set up a chance for Rodger, who finished well from close range.

It was an emotional moment for the Kilmallie forward, which he shared with the 1000-strong Bught crowd, as he pulled the number 12 jersey, worn in memory of his late cousin, up to cover his face for a brief moment before returning to the business in hand.

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The goal lifted Kilmallie and though they had to rely on the bar and further saves from Gillies to keep Newtonmore out, they added to their tally when work by the experienced John Stewart, a late substitute, set up eventual man of the match Calum MacDougall to score Kilmallie’s second in the 72nd minute.

Despite willing hearts however, Kilmallie had nothing further to give and Newtonmore held on to claim a record 41st victory in MacTavish finals since the trophy’s inception in 1898.

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Elsewhere there were two matches in the Marine Harvest Premiership. Glenurquhart had a 2-0 home win over Kinlochshiel with goals from Michael Fraser and Daniel Mackintosh, while Lochaber defeated Glasgow Mid Argyll 2-1 at Spean Bridge.

That last result means Kilmallie, on cup final day of all days, now slip to the foot of the Premiership table. On Saturday’s form however, they are eminently capable of rectifying that situation.