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Tony Cohen Inverness shinty club – the definitive gentle giant.

Inverness shinty club has suffered its second major loss within a few days with the passing of the redoubtable Tony Cohen regarded by many as one of the biggest hitters of a shinty ball ever.  An accomplished Highland athlete and Inverness Harrier, Tony had been ill for a number of years and in hospital.  He was born in 1939.

When interviewed by the Shinty Yearbook in the mid 1970s, Tony had been playing for Inverness for 15 years and he was to reach the end of that decade at the Bught.  His formative shinty years were at Glen Convinth School in Kiltarlity and he went on to play for Lovat and also, it is often forgotten, for Kingussie, along with his fellow joiner Tom Mckenna, both being employed by Colin MacMillan, as indeed was Davie McMillan who died in the last ten days. Once he came to the town it was perhaps inevitable that Tony would don the red and white with distinction, playing at the heart of the defence for most of the time, where his prodigious hitting of the ball was often one of the Inverness team’s most potent forms of attack, regularly reaching two thirds of the vast expanse of the Bught, if not even beyond.

The definitive gentle giant, Tony was a remarkable athlete beyond the confines of the shinty field, although his participation in various Highland vents often took him back there.

He was, by all accounts, a more than decent competitor at the Highland Games representing Inverness Harriers and the North amateur games in the 1960x and into the mid-70s. He was a regular prize winner at the Games, and he won the North of Scotland amateur title in the

56lb weight over the bar at Blairbeg Park in Glenurquhart in 1971, finishing it second when he defended his title the following year.

Tony was a kenspeckle figure in more ways than one, being of distinctive build and

bearing, with his trademark woollen hat during his athletic endeavours, and a judiciously placed hair-net or other decorative apparatus when playing shinty.

Tony himself regarded the Games and the athletic circuit as a way of keeping fit during the shinty close season. However, he conceded to the Shinty Yearbook that by “having a go” at the Games he had won the North of Scotland Hammer championship, as well as the shot put and the weight over the bar, the latter on five separate occasions.

 

His greatest achievement was undoubtedly winning the Scottish Amateur Heavy Events Championship in 1970 and 71 with the Harriers, his only Athletic Club.  He also dabbled in boxing whilst in the Army and won no less than the East African Heavyweight title when serving in Kenya, an achievement not repeated by many in the Highlands!  He also, perhaps less surprisingly, was a member of the Gordons’ tug of war team which won the British Army championship at Aldershot.

 

One of Tony’s main claims to fame apart from his undoubted prowess on the field of play, regards the day of his wedding. It happened to be the 1959 MacTavish Cup Final against Newtonmore.  Tony took part in both events, wedding first, then lasted just ten minutes of the match before ending up in hospital with a facial injury.  It was to be his most disappointing experience on the Bught, quite understandably, with Inverness going down 2-1 to ‘More.

Long-term friend Malcolm Fraser, who played with him in the town as a young boy, took him to hospital that day. He will remember Tony as a “perfect gentlemen, very modest and humble.”

Tony’s biggest regret, he admitted, was the lack of a Camanachd Cup winner’s medal and while Denis Swanson, who celebrated his 95th birthday just yesterday, was lucky enough to pick one up while hospitalised, Tony’s Inverness career came at a time when the team was less successful on the national stage. He did, however, go on to represent Scotland in the first shinty hurling match of the 1970s at the Bught Park and it was no mean achievement to get into that team.  One other team he was proud to be part of was the Inverness senior six-a-side team in 1987 in which Davie McMillan also played. Incidentally, Tony thought Kingussie’s Andy Anderson was the best player he had encountered.

Sports broadcaster and fellow Inverness Harrier Charles Bannerman recalled this other incident which highlight much of what Tony Cohen was about.

There was an interesting Highland prelude to the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh Games when eleven athletics competitors from four Commonwealth countries took part in the Inverness Highland Games on Saturday, 11th July, as part of their preparations for the Meadowbank event.   The appearance was negotiated by the North of Scotland AAA officials including the late Donald Duncan, President of the SAAA in 1957.  

The squad was managed by former 440 yards world record holder Herb McKenley who was then Jamaican team coach.   From Jamaica there were 400m runners Leon Priestley and Eshinan Samuel and high jumpers Yvonne Sanders and Andrea Bruce.   The Canadian contingent consisted of endurance athletes Ray Verney, Andy Boychuk and Dave Ellis along with shot putter Brian Caulfield, while reigning Empire and Commonwealth decathlon champion Royal Wiliiams and hammer thrower Warwick Nicoll represented New Zealand.

Completing the eleven strong squad was Scotland’s own 800m specialist Mike Maclean who returned a time of 3:57.2 in the 1500m to defeat Verney.   Maclean also returned a surprisingly modest and comfortable 52.8.  

North distance running legend Alastair Wood moved to the very bottom of his range to take on Canadian opposition in the 5000m where he recorded 14:56 on a grass track which had suffered from an extremely wet summer.   He eventually conceded defeat to Boychuk and Ellis who crossed the line together in 14:41.  

The turf was wet enough for Saunders and Bruce not to risk High jumping but they instead contested the 200m which Saunders won in 25.8.  

Nicoll won the wire hammer, the only event of its kind on the North Amateur games circuit at the time, with a throw of 56.29m, nine metres clear of former Scottish internationalist Alex Valentine of Elgin AAC and RNAS Lossiemouth.

However, the technical departure to the Scots hammer appears to have got the better of Nicoll who, deprived of the capacity to turn, had to concede defeat to Tony Cohen of Inverness Harriers.”

Tony is survived by his wife Betty and daughter Alison.  Funeral arrangements will be published in due course, taking into account the current restrictions of gatherings.

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