ESA Dropkick 6’s Report.
Back Row Left to Right: Craig Holt, Luke Wilkinson, Joseph MacInnes, Harley Birchley, Paddy Hutchinson (Loaned Out), George Wickenden (Loaned Out)
Front Row Left to Right: Tony Hastings, Chris Pollock (Captain)
The morning on the south bank of the Firth of Forth was bright, but cold and windswept as the ESA squad arrived for a day of Shinty. The day started repaying an old debt to friends from Caithness. They had travelled south with insufficient players, but with 9 players for a 6s tournament (and in the spirit of Shinty) ESA loaned them Hutchinson and Wickenden for the day. Both players were highly commended for their performances in Caithness’ sky blue shirts, however losing two out and out defenders certainly would impact the ESA team selection and force a shuffle of the outfield players.
Game 1: St. Andrew’s vs. ESA The opening match in the group saw ESA pitted against St. Andrew’s. Many players on the field had faced off before and this was reflected in a tight first half. The teams matched each other swing for swing with both teams’ shooting just wide of the target. Saunders was particularly effective at mopping up any loose balls in the ESA third and sending them clear. During the last play of the half St. Andrew’s attacked again; after an initial save from Hastings there was a scramble in the D which saw a striker able to poke the ball over the line. Pollock was replaced at the interval due to an injury. The throw-up for the second half saw ESA attack with more vigor and they were awarded the goal they deserved early doors. The ball was cleared up the centre of the field. With the St. Andrew’s defenders both running to the ball, it was swept right where MacInnes found himself in enough space to strike a thunderbolt and level the score. 1-1. St. Andrew’s pushed back and the match remained tense. Even with players out of their usual positions ESA were giving a strong account of themselves and a draw was on the cards. Then disaster struck. With about 2 minutes left to play a speculative cross came in from St. Andrew’s left midfield. A missed control touch from the makeshift defence saw the ball sit perfectly to be tapped home at the far post. Despite a re-shuffle on the pitch for ESA, this proved decisive and made the final result 2-1.
Game 2: Dunoon vs. ESA With Pollock off injured from the previous game and Dunoon a well known force to be reckoned with this match was always going to be tough. Lots of effort and and heart, however, was not enough to overcome the technical superiority of Dunoon. The ESA defence matched the Dunoon pair in attack, however were unable to respond when the midfield stepped up to create men over. ESA did create chances of their own, however they needed to adjust their aim as these tended to fire wide of the mark. 3-0 may have seemed flattering, but there is no doubt the stronger team won this encounter. Result 3-0
Game 3: Uddingston vs. ESA Immediately following a disappointing loss to Dunoon, ESA were back in action against an in form Uddingston. Pollock had ended up in nets with an injury preventing outfield play, pushing Hastings up into left wing back. The real battle of the match was between MacInnes and the Uddingston captain in the centre of the pitch. Early on their captain broke free attacking the ESA right. Saunders put in the block, but took an injury in the process as a camán was broken across his leg. This was a huge blow as he had been a stalwart in defence all tournament. This put Wilkinson back into defence and Holt leading the attacking line. Similar to the St. Andrew’s match, blows were traded with defence winning over attack at both ends of the pitch. The deadlock was broken when the Uddingston captain found space between the ESA midfield and defence and unleashed a rocket that fizzed into the back of the net. The second half saw MacInnes push further forward, which served well to pin back the Uddingston midfield and the direct threat of conceding any more goals. Uddingston responded by sending more attacks down the flanks, stretching Wilkinson and Hastings with their pace. Half way through the half the Uddingston full-forward put the ball past an onrushing Pollock, only to have his attempt denied by the quick thinking and athleticism of Wilkinson in the defence; flicking the ball off the goal line. ESA did respond with a few opportunities of their own with some long range efforts. However, the exertions of the previous match showed with a lack of urgency following in meaning the opposition keeper was rarely under pressure to clear away. Final score 1-0.
Game 4: Aberdeen vs. ESA With both teams having failed to pick up any points in the group stages and therefore eliminated, this game was purely for pride. Both teams responded to this with a well-spirited and physical contest. MacInnes had been ESA’s biggest threat all tournament and was moved up to a roaming Buckshee Forward role to try and put him into more threatening areas of the pitch with Birchley slotting into a Full Centre role. This paid dividends almost immediately. With the ball coming down from the throw up in the Aberdeen half MacInnes was immediately able to put them on the back foot and after a 1-2 passing move found himself in space to fire home his first. A great solo effort saw him slot in his second a couple of minutes later. Whist Aberdeen had their own periods of pressure the ESA defence held resolutely; efficiently resisting their corner routines and turning defence into more ESA opportunities. In the last minute of the first half MacInnes found himself in the opposition D again after a fine run. This time the Aberdeen defence got the block in, however Birchley had followed in from the centre of the park and was able to scramble the ball through the crowd and over the line, opening his account for the tournament. 3-0 at half-time. Two minutes after the half Birchley picked up his second goal; pouncing onto a stationary ball just outside the D and blasting it into the top of the net. Even with the game effectively won, ESA kept the pressure up, peppering the Aberdeen goal with more shots. With 90 seconds to go MacInnes fired just over the crossbar with a sweet strike, however the game was won by his point. Final score 0-4.
Game 5: Caithness vs. ESA With both the teams who had travelled furthest crashing out in the group stage of the tournament there was time for this match as the semi-finalists prepared. The prize: a bottle of Talisker. Wickenden and Hutchinson returned from their loan to Caithness, but to replace them was some of St. Andrew’s finest. This game was always to be close. The game was played predominantly in the middle of the park with both teams desperate not to lose ground. As the clock counted down ESA looked to be getting the upper hand, stretching the defence wide and putting balls through the middle to threaten the goal. All that was needed was the final shot. With the last play of the half Caithness fired a clearance long high into the air. The striker (loaned from St. Andrew’s) went to bring the ball down with Hutchinson ready to mop up and see out the half, however, the contact wasn’t clean catching everyone unaware as the ball dropped into the bottom-right corner of the goal. The second half saw MacInnes equalise with yet another well directed strike. Again the game was on and all in white and blue were giving their all to both not concede and snatch the winner. Wickenden and Hutchinson had their opponents contained, but from nothing Caithness managed to find an absolute screamer that left defence and goalkeeper rooted as it flew from the halfway line into the top corner. ESA showed plenty of fight with everyone chasing back to make tackles and the defence pushing up on the offensive. The last play saw Hutchinson fizz the ball low and hard towards the goal, a camán to it would have deflected it in and leveled the match, however it wasn’t to be and the ball drifted two inches wide of the upright. Final score 2-1.