“People out-with shinty don’t realise just how special the Camanachd Cup is. You can be the best shinty player in Scotland and still not get a Camanachd Cup winners medal.” Kilmallie stalwart Derek Fraser is in no doubt of the importance of shinty’s blue riband competition and, ahead of making the draw for the Tulloch Homes Camanachd Cup quarter-finals, the memories came flooding back of the team’s 1964 success, when they beat Inveraray 4-1 at the King George V Park in Fort William.
“It was just unbelievable at the time. Kilmallie had such a good side through the 1950s and 1960s but we thought the Camanachd win might never come. We had gone close before, and indeed afterwards, without winning.”
Kilmallie reached five Camanachd Cup Finals between 1956 and 1969 and Derek Fraser featured in four of them. His 1964 winner’s medal, the club’s only Scottish success, is one he treasures to this day.
“We beat Newtonmore in the semi-finals and we had some very close games with them at that time. We did well against them. However Kyles were our jinx team. They always seemed to put one over us and I can only ever remember beating them once.” To prove the point, Kyles recorded Camanachd Cup Final wins over Kilmallie in their four other final appearances during that era in 1956, 1962, 1965 and 1969. The 1962 final took place in Inverness with the other three in Oban.
“We had a good side back then. Alastair MacIntyre, who was for so long the Camanachd Association Secretary, played in goal and he was a good keeper. Of course he didn’t have much to do with me in front of him,” laughed Fraser, a robust full back by all accounts.
Our forwards were Ronald Ferguson, Hugh “Shep” MacIntyre, Iain MacKintosh and my brother Charlie (Fraser) at full forward.” Indeed Charlie Fraser, who went on to be a shinty referee, was prominent amongst the scorers in the 1964 Camanachd Cup Final and would have been a good shout for man of the match had such an accolade existed back then.
“There was a meal at the Imperial Hotel in Fort William afterwards. Walter Cameron was there. He was the Camanachd Association President at the time. He was also Head Teacher at Banavie and he did so much for the game of shinty.”
Derek Fraser’s shinty career began at Banavie Primary School and he progressed to play for a Kilmallie U17 side who were 1946 MacTavish Juvenile Cup winners, a trophy they went on to lift three years on the trot.
He was introduced to the Kilmallie senior side in the buckshee back position before going to full back when Jimmy Chisholm retired. James Burnett took over at buckshee back and went on to captain the side to their 1964 Camanachd Cup success.
“We were dedicated to the game back then. We never went out on a Friday night, even when Kilmallie Shinty Club were running the local dance. We never booked holidays during the season – not that there was money for holidays back then – so the boys were always ready to play for the team every week.”
Derek Fraser’s standing in the game was recognised in 1972 when the Shinty / Hurling international between Scotland and Ireland was resurrected as he was named captain for the Bught Park clash. “It was a great experience,” recalled Fraser. “I was very proud to captain the Scotland team. We lost out that day but it was our first outing so we were new to the rules and Scotland have come on a ton since then.” It was one of two international caps he gained.
Following a shinty career during which fulfilled all his on-field ambitions, Derek Fraser stayed involved with the game. He was Chairman of the Camanachd Association Referees Association and he enjoyed his role on the Association’s Disciplinary Committee. “I think it’s good to have former players on the Disciplinary Committee. I knew all the tricks of the trade so I could spot the players that were spinning stories,” he chuckled.
Derek Fraser still attends Kilmallie games at the Canal Parks and he rates the current side. “The 2-0 win against Newtonmore at the start of this season was a nice surprise. No one saw that one coming. The boys are doing well and Liam MacDonald is a good player and I’d like to see him more involved in games in a central position.”
The 2019 Tulloch Homes Camanachd Cup draw took place at the Liberty British Aluminium Smelter in Fort William where Derek Fraser worked for 43 years and where his Grandson now also works.
This year’s Tulloch Homes Camanachd Cup Final takes place at an Aird, Fort William on Saturday 14 September 2019. When Derek Fraser attends, he might just cast his mind back 55 years when, just along the road, he played his part in his beloved Kilmallie Shinty Club’s greatest day.