After fourteen rounds of matches, 240 goals, and an unexpected three-horse race for much of the campaign, this year’s Uist and Barra Football League season comes to a conclusion this weekend. In what should be an enthralling finale, the current holders Barra, host Iochdar Saints in a winner-takes-all clash.
42 matches played so far have produced an incredible average of 5.7 goals a game, in a season that has seen a reduction in the number of fixtures — down from 20 rounds of matches to 15 — but has been no less entertaining. With one game remaining you could be forgiven for thinking the league has effectively been two divisions within in one this year — with Barra, Saints and Southend competing for the title, while Benbecula, Eriskay and North Uist United vie for fourth spot.
Although this has been true for long periods throughout the campaign, it says nothing of Benbecula’s four-game unbeaten run, which included a hugely impressive 5-3 victory over Saints, followed closely by an emphatic 4-0 win over North Uist United. It also doesn’t tell the full story of Eriskay’s season, which has also included a 3-2 win against the champions-elect, Saints, as well as a 4-4 draw against their local rivals Barra. Those results enabled the club to make marked improvements on their points and goals tallies from the previous season.
Meanwhile, North Uist United approach their final match of the season as favourites for fourth position with a two-point lead over both of those sides. Indeed, they showcased their potential, as well as great character, in bouncing back from losing their first three games of the league season to record back-to-back victories over Benbecula and Eriskay, respectively. Those wins could prove pivotal in what has been another closely contested season, where each team has been capable of beating one another on their day.
The aforementioned sides have of course endured difficult times as well as enjoying some highs along the way. However, they can take great inspiration from this season’s surprise package, Southend. Although the 2015 campaign brought little in the way of cheer, let alone trophies, for the South Uist side, this year has been one to remember. Even-though their title hopes were vanquished after a recent defeat to Saints a few weeks ago, they had, for long periods this season, threatened to become something of a Hebridean Leicester as they sought to overthrow the might of Barra and Saints in the fight for the title.
While DA Lindsay might not be dilly-donging his way around Daliburgh come the season’s end, he should at least be quietly content by the vast improvement his team has shown in what has been a memorable campaign. Flashes of title-winning form, such as winning four of their first five league matches, including a famous victory away to reigning champions Barra, will give Southend much confidence that they can a mount an even greater challenge next season.
With one game to go, however, only two teams remain standing as the battle for the title comes to a crescendo. Although the two sides’ form this season comes as no surprise, such has been their pedigree in the league in recent years, it is still hard not to be impressed by the exploits of both Barra and Saints during this campaign.
With one match left to play, and positioned just a point off of top spot, any fears of Barra ‘doing’ a Chelsea have not come to pass as Martin MacPhee’s side are just one win away from retaining the title. The sheer relentlessness of their championship rivals Saints should not obscure just how impressive Barra has been this year in their defence of the title. With only two defeats in the league — against Saints and Southend, which is less than any other team – Barra is currently on a run of ten games without defeat, and have taken 26 points from a possible 30 in the process.
That kind of form would be enough in many leagues to have already secured the title, unfortunately for Barra, Iochdar Saints still stand in their way, and the 2014 champions are now in pole position in the race for the title.
With the league’s best attack and its meanest defence – 68 goals scored and just 21 conceded from their 14 games played – Iochdar Saints has proven they are as hunger as ever to regain the title Barra usurped from them last season. Despite Stephen MacAulay’s team having lost one game more than their opponents, they are yet to draw match, a result which, incidentally, would prove sufficient for them to win the title if they were to hold Barra on Saturday.
Having trailed the champions by a point with just two games left to play, Saints took full advantage of the Barrachs 3-3 draw against Southend last week, with a 7-0 win against Eriskay to take the lead ahead of Saturday’s match-up between the teams.
For Saints, the prospect of winning the title at Barra will no doubt have them licking their lips in anticipation. The 3-1 defeat to their rivals at Liniclate last season, arguably the turning point in the title heading south-west, should provide further motivation if required for the Iochdar side.
Whatever the outcome, the season is sure to get a fitting finale as the league’s top two teams go all out for victory in what should be a fantastic encounter. While predicting a winner is perhaps a mug’s game, it would take a foolish man, or woman to bet against the sides adding to the mere tally of 125 goals they have scored between them so far. A nil-nil anyone?