John MacLeod Interview
Fort William’s Camanachd Cup success in 2005 sparked a period of dominance which saw the iconic trophy rest at the An Aird Clubhouse for five out of the following six seasons.
Fort William’s only other Camanachd Cup success came back in 1992 and a number of factors came together to create that later period of dominance and the versatile John MacLeod, a five-time winner over that time, was certainly among them.
Equally comfortable in defence or attack, MacLeod suffered disappointment in 2003 when he snapped his achilles playing football, missing the final defeat to Kingussie. Just 12 months later, MacLeod captained Fort William against Inveraray but there was more heartache as Inveraray’s Euan McMurdo scored the only goal of the game to take the cup to the Winterton.
So what changed in 2005? “We were a developing side over that period,” recalled MacLeod. “We were certainly better for the experience gained from having the two previous finals under our belt. We also had some very good players which helps.
“I remember it was very wet on the day of the final and there was a huge crowd at An Aird where we were against our neighbours Kilmallie of course.
“I played up front that day against James MacNicol. He was a tough competitor. We won 3-2 and the celebrations afterwards were a bit special.”
The Fort reached the final again in 2006 but Kingussie took the honours that day, winning 4-2. “The game was at Dunoon and Ronald (Ross) was almost unplayable,” said MacLeod. He scored all four Kingussie goals that day and he made the difference.” There was however a first Premier League success to console the Fort squad.
The purple patch continued with successes in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 and it was a time when it almost became standard that the Fort would lift the trophy.
James Clark scored twice as Fort William defeated Inveraray 3-1 at the Bught Park in the Centenary Final in 2007 but it was the final a year later which is a favourite for John Macleod.
“The 2008 final at An Aird was a memorable one for me,” he said. “I played in defence that day and was tasked with marking Kevin Thain who had played in a dozen finals up until then and had won them all so it was a big responsibility.” James Clark again scored twice as Fort William came from behind to beat Kingussie 2-1.
“Having said that; the 2009 final in Oban was also pretty special. We were 3-0 ahead after an hour in the game but Kyles came right back at us to draw level. James Clark got the winner with a couple of minutes to go to make it 4-3 so it was exciting stuff.”
The 2010 Camanachd Cup Final would be John MacLeod’s final match for the Fort William first team so it was fitting that the side beat Kingussie 3-2 with Gary Innes bagging a brace.
John MacLeod is very clear on what makes the Camanachd Cup so special. “The incredible history of the competition brings it to the fore,” he said. “I also always appreciated that there were better players in the game than me who never had the opportunity to play in a final. My brother Ally and I always heard stories about Camanachd Cup matches from days gone by when growing up in Ballachulish so it was always something that was talked about.”
Included in the many other honours he won in the game, John MacLeod also represented Scotland four times in the Mowi Shinty / Hurling internationals. “The international is another occasion, like the Tulloch Homes Camanachd Cup Final, that young players can aspire to. Its important shinty provides youngsters with these things to aim for. I really enjoyed the internationals and I got the chance to play at Croke Park when an Aussie Rules game was also on the bill and it was a fantastic experience.”
After stepping down from senior shinty, John MacLeod spent a further two seasons playing with the club’s second team before moving into coaching.
He coached a hugely successful Inverlochy primary school team for around 12 years along with former teammate Willie MacDonald. The youngsters were well drilled and they won every competition they entered during 2018.
And if that wasn’t enough, he currently helps Richard Shaw with the Fort William U14 squad and assists Neil Robertson with the current batch of Fort second team players.
Shinty needs people like John MacLeod and it’s hard to imagine him not involved in the game in some capacity.
The Liberty British Aluminium Smelter employee was only too happy to play a role making the 2019 Tulloch Homes Camanachd Cup quarter-final draw and he knows more than most what a trophy success would mean to the teams and players involved.
This year’s Tulloch Homes Camanachd Cup Final returns to An Aird, Fort William on Saturday 14 September 2019 when some more memories will be made. (Story written by Alisdair Bruce on behalf of the Camanachd Association)