Monday, January 27, 2014

Warhorses, Turks, or Pretenders? You Decide!

Oh – I’m looking forward to the Scottish finals this year and no mistake!  Yes, I am disappointed that the Olympic fivesome will not be there to defend their title.  I think, if I am frank, that it demeans the Scottish as the premier competition in Scotland that a team has to forego playing in and defending their national championship.  I am disappointed also because the winning team will always have that wee question mark against their win.  But hey – remember Randy Ferbey?  He won a good few of his Brier titles in the absence of Kevin Martin and Glenn Howard, to name but two – but does anyone question his place at the legends’ table?  No; so let’s not cry too much over the spilt milk and let’s also remember that Sochi will be on their minds!

But back to the Scottish.  You can only beat those put in front of you and the winner will have played well and be worthy champions.  So who’s who in the final field of ten at the Dewars Centre, Perth from Monday 10th to Sunday 16 February (cue the usual and annual bleat from me about stringing things out, asking people to take too much of their hard-earned holidays, etc., etc.!).

First of all, I like the look of the field.  It has a balance to it – a balance of youth, commitment, experience; it is actually like a field in the Scottish from thirty years ago; and anything that reminds me of my up-and-coming (then – not now!) youth is to be considered “a good thing”!  Why do I write that?  Look at it this way.  You have three teams, McCleary, Hamilton and Combe that have been around the block a few times, that are enjoying a little bit of an Indian summer in a couple of cases, that curl together because they like each other and play for fun.  Some have been through the squad system; a few have challenged for Scottish titles in the past; many have been committed activists in the competitive game – and they all deserve their place in the sun.

Of those three, the McCleary team perhaps has the best chance of causing an upset or two amongst the more established or better known teams.  All are capable on their day of beating anyone and I think that they will all finish respectably.  The key thing for me is that they all enjoy their experience.

Then you’ve got the old warhorses – teams Macdonald and Smith.  Ewan has brought in a fine young curler, Dave Reid, at second.  He has Duncan Fernie at third and specialist lead, Euan Byers.  I saw Ewan and Euan throw in the European Mixed Championships in Murrayfield at the start of the season.  I thought that they should have won the competition and believe me when I tell you that team MacDonald could go all the way.

The same is true, obviously of Warwick and his merry band.  They have also had a change of player in the second position and have brought in Carnoustie’s own Sandy Reid to throw the second’s stones.  He threw top end in the team that ran Tom Brewster so close in his maiden Scottish victory three years ago.  David Smith and Ross Hepburn fill the third and lead positions.  Believe me when I tell you that team Smith could – have I not said that already about another team?

But what about the young Turks, teams Smith (Kyle), Hardie and Fraser?  Kyle, the reigning world junior champion and his team of Thomas Muirhead, Kyle Waddell and Cameron Smith all have the pedigree and the chutzpah.  They thrive on competition.  They are arrogant and confident in their own ability.  They could do the double – though I would perhaps rather that they didn’t.  It’s a big ask to go to two separate world championships and peak for both.

Team Hardie has Jay McWilliam (note to the Royal Club; his name has no “s” in it!  He is a single “McWilliam”!), Hammy McMillan and Billy Morton.  They all have the talent and are specialists in their own positions.  Hanging around their necks though – and it seems strange to say this of youngsters in their early twenties – is the tag of “nearly men”.  They have come up short a couple of times in the finals of major championships; could this be their year to get that monkey off their backs?

Ally Fraser also has a strong team in front of him, with a bit of experience at second where the excellent Neil Macarthur will keep a calm head.  This is a new team, put together this season, though Blair Fraser and Ruairidh Greenwood played together last season.  Ally himself proved in the final of the Scottish Junior a couple of years ago that he has the big shots in his pocket.  But I think that winning the Scottish in this field may prove too much for them this season.

Which leaves the Pretenders, Teams Logan Gray and David Edwards.  Personally, I think that the champion comes from one of them.  Both have experienced players down the rink, who have specialised and are top curlers.  Logan has Glen Muirhead, Ross Paterson and Richard Woods.  David has John Penny, Scott Macleod and Colin Campbell.  David and his team won the Edinburgh International in November and Logan won the Perth Masters in January.  It is evenly poised between these two teams, in my view.

Mortgage time?  Well, maybe Logan; they do more curling; they wear more outrageous clothes and they have recent form at Perth.  Oh, but then maybe David, who has been knocking at the door for longer and has a more consistent record in the Scottish.

Cigarette papers, me thinks.  Two fine teams.  And the others aren’t too bad either!

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