Kingussie's James Hutchison bows out of game after remarkable career
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It’s the end of an era at Kingussie as one of the game's longest serving players bows out.
James Hutchison is retiring after a remarkable playing career which has seen him collection medals for 11 Camanachd Cups, 12 Macaulay Cups, 13 MacTavish Cups and 15 national league titles and it would surely have been even more but for Covid
The topic is brushed aside with typical modesty by Hutchison who said: “Aye, timing is everything and I definitely broke into the side at the right time as far as the medals go as the team were flying at that time.
“Ronald Ross, Davie Anderson and Kevin Thain were banging in the goals wherever we played.
“We weren’t just winning games; we were winning by big margins. We had the Borthwicks too and I was lucky to be involved at that time.”
After playing shinty throughout primary school, Hutchison captained the Kingussie under-14 side to MacMaster Cup success in 1994 when he was presented with the trophy by Ken MacMaster whom the cup is named after.
Hutchison was given the Kingussie young player of the year accolade a year later and became an integral part of the Kingussie second team’s treble winning side in 1996.
He was handed his first team debut by legendary manager Ian Ross, establishing himself in the squad in 1997.
It was the year that brought a landslide victory for Tony Blair’s new Labour Government and the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, prompting Elton John’s revamped “Candle in the Wind” which sold almost 5 million copies to become the year’s biggest selling single.
The film Titanic was a worldwide smash and three times formula one world champion Max Emilian Verstappen was born.
Hutchison seemed to be in a race of his own as, in his first three full seasons, the squad completed successive Grand Slams and Hutchison’s overall winners’ medals haul is quite remarkable.
He said: "I remember Garry Munro and I came through at the same time and we were on the bench for the first couple of years, biding our time before making the starting 12."
Hutchison soon became a key player before going on to captain Kingussie in 2003, with the then 23-year-old winning his seventh Camanachd Cup as part of another Grand Slam.
There were also the tough years as Hutchison explained: “There were around seven years when we didn’t do a lot and of course we had the play-off game against Kilmallie to stay in the top league.
"There were two or three of us who stuck at it to help carry the team through. Some former players came back to manage the side and that helped too.
"It became a completely different mindset ahead of games as you were going from winning almost every week to not knowing what was going to happen on a Saturday.
“Newtonmore have had the same as both clubs have had periods on top whilst the other has struggled and they had a lot of success at that time. It is important to make the most of it when you are on top.
“Kingussie and Newtonmore are two massive clubs and they have won more than half all the shinty trophies on offer between them.”
Indeed, the quality of shinty player produced in Kingussie and Newtonmore over the years is remarkable, especially given the relative size of both communities compared to some of their rival teams.
“Kingussie has a lot to thank the likes of Ian Ross for,” said Hutchison. “I can remember back in the primary school; Ian would come down to check we were all playing shinty at break time.
"There better be no sign of a football and it was drummed into us at an early age how important shinty was.
“The likes of Jimmy Gow and Davie Anderson are the same. Always encouraging shinty and it will be the same at Newtonmore with the likes of Norman MacArthur.
“Neil Bowman plays a big part in our success over the years too. We have won a lot of games late on this season and he’s the main reason we are so strong during the closing 15 minutes of games.”
A fifth Grand Slam came under John Gibson’s guidance in 2022 and the plan for the 2023 season was that Hutchison would take a back seat and only be used sparingly, but a lengthy injury list led to a more prominent role.
This was typified during the final game of the season when his switch to full centre helped secure a win against Newtonmore at the Dell in what was to be his final match.
Nobody would ever grudge Hutchison his retiral given the service he’s given to Kingussie and the sport of shinty.
“I don’t think it has properly registered yet but the time’s right to call it a day. My son plays youth football for Inverness Clach so I’ll have more of a chance to watch him play now.
"My daughter is a shinty fan though so I can still see myself taking in a few games. I’ve never really watched before unless out injured but this will be different, knowing you can’t play.
"I’ll just sit with a few of my former teammates and watch. It’ll certainly be a new experience.
“Saturdays are always enjoyable, and I’ll miss that, but the training definitely gets harder as you get older.
“There’s also work to consider. I work for Cabot Highlands and we are very busy. We are in the process of building a second course at Castle Stuart at present so I will need to work a number of Saturdays.
“The current squad is strong and that makes the decision to step back much easier. I believe they can go on and dominate for another 10 years if they all stick together.
“I’ve had loads of great memories but I’m not sure any standout in particular. I remember coming off the bench and scoring against Oban Camanachd in a Camanachd Cup final in Glasgow. The buzz was incredible.
“There were always cracking games against Newtonmore and Fort William back then too.
“I was also lucky enough to play at Croke Park twice and that was an incredible experience. The stadium holds over 82,000 and although it wasn’t full when we played, it was still very impressive.
"I also played twice against Ireland in Inverness and for the Scotland under-21s. All good memories.”
Kings manager Iain Borthwick has said it would have been easy for Hutchison to walk away when the club was in the doldrums after all of his success.
He said: “James has been a magnificent servant to the club. Kingussie enjoyed a lot of success for the first 10 years or so that he was in the side, and he could easily have bowed out during the tough years but he kept going and put the club first.
“We had a chat at the start of the season and the plan was that he would take a bit more of a back seat this year but our injuries have been such that James played more than either of us expected and made a massive contribution.
“James also said he wouldn’t see us stuck if we had a player shortage for any game next season and that is typical of the man.”