At long last, good news on the European front. I speak, of course, of Liverpool’s historic victory in the Champions League final on Saturday night. The performance may have been a pale shadow of the scintillating football that has characterized Jurgen Klopp’s team over the course of an outstanding season, but that matters little as Liverpool secured a six triumph in Europe’s premier footballing competition.
On the back of the Liberal Democrats’ strong showing in the recent European Parliament elections, this is starting to feel like a very welcome winning streak when it comes to Europe.
Much as I would have loved to have been basking in the glory and heat of Madrid on Saturday, I had to settle for watching the game in Shetland, where the need for ‘factor 50’ was much less pressing. It did at least involve a trip overseas, but a weekend of Junior Inter County competition was played out against the backdrop of an unremitting drizzle.
Having spent the day cheering on Orkney’s hockey players, athletes and footballers as they locked horns with their Shetland counterparts, I made the short hop over to Bressay to the home of my MSP colleague, and fellow Liverpool fanatic, Tavish Scott. It felt good to put aside the sporting rivalries of the Junior Inter County for a few hours and share in the nervous excitement and ultimately elation of Liverpool’s triumph.
The game also successfully distracted my hosts from gloating over the commanding lead that Shetland had already built up in the JIC competition. That said, there were more than crumbs of comfort for the Orkney squad, even in defeat.
In the hockey, Orkney started as slight favourites, given results over recent years, but this was a much-improved Shetland team: fast and a threat in attack. As disappointed as the Orkney girls will understandably feel, though, they should take comfort from knowing that they are a relatively young squad and sporting fortunes have a habit of changing: just ask one or two of the Shetland girls, who not so long ago were in the team that lost this fixture 10-0.
In the athletics too, Shetland proved too strong overall but Orkney’s athletes put in one gutsy performance after another on the track and in the field. Zander Scott, Gregor Dowell and Ross Sinclair perhaps stood out amongst the boys, while Molly Cant, Shannon Passotti and Teghan Spence did likewise for the girls. In truth, though, the whole squad showed real tenacity and again, with most of them still eligible to compete over the next couple of years, the future looks bright.
Gilbertson Park then played host to the final fixture of the day, where Shetland’s footballers were expected to do well, after performing so impressively last year in Orkney. An early goal for the home side appeared to justify those predictions, but Orkney fought back with real bite and no little skill to equalize in the second half. Although, Shetland went on to nick a winner before the end, it was a solid performance by Orkney and one to build on for next year.
Sunday then dawned grey and damp, but thankfully both the remaining events were to take place indoors. First, Orkney’s netballers provided the perfect start by delivering an emphatic victory that reinforced their burgeoning reputation. In a week that saw Sarah MacPhail confirmed in Scotland’s squad for the Netball World Cup next month, and many congratulations to Orkney’s Sportsperson of the Year, there seems little doubt that more Orkney lasses will be following in her footsteps before long.
Proceedings were brought to a close in the pool, where Shetland‘s swimmers broke various records en route to the anticipated win. Once again, though, Orkney’s young squad pulled out some fantastic results and will have benefited enormously from the experience. Heads can certainly be held high.
So, in the end, Shetland deservedly retained the Stuart Cup for the third year in a row. For me, though, what marks out this competition as something special is seeing the camaraderie both within and between the two squads: lifelong bonds being formed.
Like Liverpool’s success in Europe and the Liberal Democrat resurgence in the polls, long may that continue.