Captain Robert Stoddart bows out of shinty after over 20 years

Robert Stoddart playing shinty-hurling for SCOTS Camanachd and Defence Forces Ireland against Ireland
Captain Robert Stoddart playing for Scotland against

To 'quit while ahead' is generally accepted to mean to stop doing something whilst still successful.

Unfortunately, after over 20 years' involvement with armed forces shinty l bowed out with a defeat at the hands of Tayforth. To compound the disappointment l was playing in goal for SCOTS Camanachd.

My involvement with shinty in the armed forces was initially down to my position and administrative skills rather than any shinty skills.

My shinty career in Portree High School consisted of one substitute appearance that was only notable for some decent shies which is probably the only shinty skill l still have, if l have any.

It was no great shame being a substitute in the shinty team as many of them played for Skye when they won the Camanachd Cup.

When Fraser MacKenzie formed the first army shinty team he described me as having the potential to be a decent wing forward in a second team.

Jim Innes's description of me at the Tayforth game as "a forward who scored the occasional goal" was probably more accurate. In addition to playing in goal and up front, l also played in defence but my strengths lay in administering the team.

SCOTS Camanachd
The SCOTS Camanachd and Defence Forces Ireland teams at their recent shinty-hurling match

There are many challenges that face shinty teams on a daily and weekly basis but l'm sure there are few club secretaries that have to write to every player's line manager, giving them at least six weeks' notice of a game and asking their permission for the player to be released from work to play.

It is testament to the goodwill that is generated towards shinty in the armed forces and the commitment of our players that l have never had to call off a game due to a lack of players.

Although in the early days of the club if it wasn't for the commitment of a small number of civilians, particularly Ronnie MacPherson, David Arnot, Neil Branigan and David Bowen, we would not have been able to muster a team.

The commitment of our players has never ceased to amaze me. With players regularly travelling from the South East of England to Edinburgh on a Friday night to play a match and complete the return journey after the post-match meal. Their commitment says a lot about the draw of playing shinty that can sometimes be lost in the noise.

The support that the club gets from the Camanachd Association and shinty communities has also ensured that we have been able to field a team and complete our fixtures.

The support from the Camanachd Association was started by Alex McNaughton - a true gentleman - and has carried on to this day. Such is the support that clubs give us that in 21 of being the club secretary only one club has ever rejected a proposed match date.

We have also established close links with Strathglass Shinty Club, mainly through the Fraser and Bain families. The tragic loss of the extremely talented Scott Bain has resulted in the regular playing of a memorial match between the two clubs.

Robert Stoddart playing shinty-hurling for SCOTS Camanachd and Defence Forces Ireland against Ireland
Stoddart has had a long association with shinty

The links between the two clubs have become stronger as l will be replaced as club secretary by Lieutenant Lawrie Wotherspoon of Strathglass Shinty club.

My time with the club has given me some wonderful sporting memories and memorable minibus journeys. On the sporting front, being able to sustain a team and win the Bullough Cup whilst based in Germany will always be special. As was playing the Irish Defence Force at shinty-hurling and the recent commemorative weekend in Skye.

Having Hector MacKenzie and Ian Munro, both ex-Skye players, in our team brought home the strong military links that the Isle of Skye and Skye Camanachd retain to this day. One of the key achievements was getting the British Forces Broadcasting Corporation to regularly broadcast the Camanachd Cup final across the world.

The club has evolved over the last two decades and is now truly representative of the armed forces. The team now has a strong and talented RAF contingent with the experience and playing ability of Michael Cooper, John Morrison and Chris Munro helping to develop both the club and players.

The Royal Navy and Royal Marines are very under represented in the club but the army numbers are starting to pick up with Colin Irving being key to player recruitment and now taking on a lot of the administrative burden not least doing the planning for our six-a-side team to travel to San Francisco next week.

The club has a squad of 20 players but there are now a large number of young players who are reducing the average age of the team, increasing the fitness and skill levels. The short-term future of the club is assured both on and off the pitch but player recruitment is key to the club's sustainability and longevity.

As l leave the Army, l would like to say that it has been a privilege to support armed forces shinty in its many guises and to meet so many people who are passionate about shinty and care about its future.

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