When 17 year old Dunoon Grammar School pupil Duncan Henderson left his Lochgoilhead home on the morning of Saturday 11 April 1959 to set off for the Camanachd Cup Final at Old Anniesland, Glasgow, it was the beginning of a love-affair with shinty’s covet prize that would see him go on to attend the next 62 successive finals, including two replays.
The Tulloch Homes Camanachd Cup is universally regarded as shinty’s blue riband event and whilst league competitions usually carry kudos in most team sports, this national knock-out tournament has always been the Holy Grail for shinty players and supporters alike.
Duncan Henderson’s first shinty memories stretch back to his school days in Dunoon where he shared digs with Tighnabruaich boys such as Barney Crawford and they introduced him to the game of shinty. “Shinty wasn’t played in my home village but it didn’t take the Tighnabruaich boys long to get me hooked and I ended up playing for Strachur,” he recalls.
Duncan remembers the excitement of attending that first final. “I travelled to Glasgow on the bus with the Tighnabruaich boys to watch the final. The great Celly Paterson was in the Kyles goal that day and he was coming to the end of his career. Newtonmore had the likes of Cameron Ormiston and Gabriel Fraser in their forward line. They also had Johnny Campbell who played as if the ball was tied to his stick and they won 7-3. I still have the match programme from that final.”
Travel wasn’t always the easiest in the early years and there were a couple of close calls along the way and Duncan recalls hearing the roar from the crowd on a couple of occasions as he ran down the street to get to the game in time. “We were there in plenty time in Glasgow in 1992 though and it’s just as well as Deek Cameron scored the fastest goal in a final - within 9 seconds. It was the only goal of the game too as Fort William beat Kingussie 1-0.
“I always pencil in the Camanachd Cup Final date when it comes out but I didn’t set out to attend so many finals and it was only when I reached 50 finals that someone said to me that it must be some sort of record. It’s always a great occasion though and it’s nice to meet old friends.”
Duncan worked for the Forestry Commission for 33 years. “I used to have to get someone to work for me on a Saturday so I could get to the final as April was a particularly busy time. Someone would always help out although it was tricky in 1968 and 1975 when there were replays so I had to get the following Saturday off too.
“The first year the final moved away from the North v South game was in 1983 and Strachur reached the final against Kyles Athletic. Strachur did so well that day. I was very sorry to see them eventually lose, 3-2.”
There is a pause as Duncan is asked to recall the best final he attended. “The 2012 final when Kyles beat Inveraray 6-5 at Mossfield would take some beating,” he said. “There was a lot of good shinty played and the match was end-to-end. It had everything really.”
Dougie MacIntyre senior, who featured on the opening credits of Sportscene back in the day, was a favourite player. “He was a fine player and his boys Dougie and Gordon went on to do well too. I’m keeping an eye on Dougie’s boy Robert MacIntyre who is doing very well at the golf just now.”
The Oban Celtic team of the late 1950s and early 1960s was one of the best sides. “They were great to watch,” he says.
Duncan is modest about his own shinty career but he was a noted defender, mainly a full back. “I had a good block,” was about all he would disclose. He went on to play for Strachur for 10 years before joining Inveraray in 1968 after he’d been handed a change of work location.
Some tight semi-final ties were the closest Duncan came to making a Camanachd Cup Final appearance as a player. “We usually came up against Kyles in the South part of the draw and they were very strong although we ran them very close on a couple of occasions. I had some great battles with Tommy Nicolson.”
However he has a Glasgow Celtic Society winners medal and a runners-up in the Macaulay; losing out to who else but Kyles.
When Duncan relocated to Taynuilt, shinty was always going to be to the fore and he went on to play a further 10 years for Taynuilt as the club was reformed before finally hanging up his caman in 1988, aged 46, after a 30 year playing career.
“When Duncan Gillies scored the first goal for Taynuilt in 1978, the local minister said in his Sunday sermon that it was Taynuilt’s first competitive goal in 40 years which goes back to just before the Second World War. That’s how important it was.”
As well as coaching and playing valuable role behind the scenes at Taynuilt, Duncan refereed for 4 years and was a Camanachd Association match assessor for 6 years.
Wife Cathie is no slouch either, having attended 56 Camanachd Cup Finals with her husband. They share a love of the game, coaching primary school players in Taynuilt with Scottish international John MacGregor amongst the players who have come through the ranks.
Daughter Deirdre played shinty in primary school whilst other daughter Fiona’s sons are promising youth players: Blair & Louie MacFarlane.
These days, Duncan and Cathie will likely make a weekend of their Camanachd Cup Final trip although he does have one concern about this year’s event. “I’m due to have a knee operation so I hope the dates don’t clash.”
The 2019 Tulloch Homes Camanachd Cup Final takes place at an Aird, Fort William on Saturday 14 September and don’t be surprised if Duncan Henderson, and his wife Cathie, are first in the queue for Shinty’s BIG day out.
Story by Alasdair Bruce on behalf of the Camanachd Association