Ronald in action for Kingussie
while the crowd and their dog watches on!
Ronald Ross has become synonymous with shinty. Brought up playing the game at primary school in Kingussie, he has gone on to become the greatest goalscorer the sport has produced – over 800 to date.
Having come from shinty stock (his father Ian played in several Camanachd Cup finals and coached him at an early age), he is simply a natural.
There are those who argue that his instinctive eye for goal would have brought him records whichever sport he chose to play but there was never any doubt where his future lay.
At 32, not only is he still banging in the goals for Marine Harvest League leaders Kingussie but he is also Highland Shinty Development officer as he sets about rearing a new generation of player.
As with any sporting legend, there are disputes about his records. In season 2002-03, some observers will tell you Ross hit an incredible 94 goals, others say 95. He insists it was 96.
Maybe in a few years time when all becomes murkier through the Highland mists of time, it will surpass the century mark.
Whether he can ever reach such a tally in one season again is debateable but it is clear that there is no-one around who can come close the threatening such a record.
In spite of missing the first five or six games of this season with a broken toe, Ross has still amassed over 60 goals and is way out in front in the scoring charts again.
One of his fondest memories was in the 2006 Camanachd Cup final when he scored all four of Kingussie’s goals as they beat Fort William 4-2.
But as much as Ross’s name will be forever in shinty’s folklore, he is also aware he is one of the guardians of the sport’s future in his role as a development officer.
“The game has become more professional. Whereas some clubs were maybe getting by on one night’s training a week a few years back, that is no longer possible and clubs are training twice a week,” he points out.
“Kingussie set the standard and dominated the sport for 25 years but more clubs are now following their approach having seen the success it brought. Clubs are now more focused on what it takes to get to the top.
“It is important to get players at youth level and for clubs to rear their only talent. “First Shinty” [the development version of the game] is important in that it gives youngsters a taster session and you can develop them from there.
“Once youngsters play the game, they tend to be hooked as it is such an exciting sport to play.
“You also have to be brave and very fit. I think the athletes at the top level in shinty are as fit as Premier League footballers.”
Ross has seen football become more sophisticated in its approach towards talent identification and, if the Highlands were an area which was an afterthought in the past, then that is no longer the case.
Youngsters from remote communities see football games beamed into their homes from all over the world and, with the riches the sport can offer, the pull is difficult to resist.
“Of course, football is a threat,” continues Ross, “There are a lot of football development officers and coaches in the Highlands now and they are on the look-out for talent.
“Inverness Caley Thistle getting into the Premierleague and the fact they are getting 4,000 fans a week and are playing matches against Rangers and Celtic has had an impact.
“Many youngsters are fed the dream that they could be playing for the team one day and that can influence them which sport to play.
“Michael Fraser, the Inverness Caley Thistle goalkeeper, was once a very good shinty player and would have played the sport to a high level had he not chosen football.
“But, of course, football can offer a standard of living that shinty can’t. Yet there are more children playing shinty now than ever before and the sport has never been so popular in schools.”
Can Ross ever see the day where shinty players will ever be professional?
“Who is to say what the future holds but I can’t see it happening during my time in the game," he states.
“There is more media coverage of the game and television is covering more games live which is a positive step.
“It’s an exciting sport to watch and I don’t think television does it justice - people really have to go and watch a game to appreciate it.
“But the game is spreading. There are teams in the central belt like Glasgow Mid-Argyll, Glasgow University, Edinburgh University and Aberdour.
“The important thing is having a coach who will take a team week-in, week-out. It’s all very well for a coach from the Highlands coming down and doing a one-off session but, if it is not followed up, then the interest will wane.
“It needs someone to go into the schools and do ten-week coaching sessions and provide equipment for the children to take it from there.”
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Photos courtesy of Val & Ern Emmett and www.shinty.com
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