Hugh Dan MacLennan: BBC voice of shinty hangs up his mic

Hugh Dan MacLennan and Jonathan Sutherland
Hugh Dan MacLennan with Jonathan Sutherland and the Camanachd Cup in 2015

Camanachd Cup final: Kingussie v Oban Camanachd

Venue: Bught Park, Inverness Date: Saturday, 16 September Throw-up: 14:00 BST

Coverage: Watch on BBC Alba & BBC iPlayer, listen on BBC Radio Nan Gaidheal & BBC Sounds

Few inhabit their sport quite like Hugh Dan MacLennan.

He has played it, written books on it and tours the highways and byways regaling audiences with his 'Heroes of Shinty' live show. The sport even formed part of his PhD on Highland customs and traditions. He is an undisputed authority on the subject.

"In the 1960s, there were no X-Box's, there was nothing," he says. "We went to the playground, we played shinty. So it was my whole life."

Which makes it all the harder to believe that the BBC's voice of shinty is about to hang up his microphone for the last time.

The 2023 Camanachd Cup final between Kingussie and Oban Camanachd will be his final fling - 40 years after his first.

Way back then in 1983, BBC producers sought out the fresh faced MacLennan - a fluent Gaelic speaker from Lochaber - to harness his knowledge of Scotland's ancient game to help guide their then maestro of Scottish sporting commentary, David Francey.

"He confessed immediately, 'I have never been to a shinty match',"MacLennan says.

"In those days, the done thing for the BBC was to give their doyen, their chief football commentator, a jolly at the end of the season to go and 'do the shinty'.

"I said, 'Mr Francey, how are we going to do the shinty?'

"He said, 'it's like this, you put your pen on the player who hit the ball - that's what we'll do.'

"I said, 'is that it?' And he looked up and around and he was thinking about it and then he turned to me and said, 'listen, when I touch your elbow, sonny - you speak'."

Despite this slightly curious set-up, it seemed to work.

"It went fabulously well," MacLennan says. "I have listened to a recording of it in the BBC archives and it was seamless, flawless. The guy was a genius."

Most memorable moment

With his natural grounding in the sport, MacLennan would eventually make the microphone his own.

Flash forward to the 1996 Camanachd Cup final and Hugh Dan's most cherished shinty broadcasting memory.

"It is hard to beat the way Gordon MacIntyre - uncle of the golfer Robert Macintyre - won the cup for Oban Camanachd.

"He had lost an eye 12 or 18 months before. I was at the game in Kingussie where he lost the eye. I went to see him on the Monday after and he said to me, 'Hugh Dan, I'll be back playing'.

"And remarkably, to cut a long story short, he scored the winner. This is a guy with one eye. He had just recovered from all the trauma. And he rocketed the ball into the net.

"I was doing radio that day and I was sent down to the field. Gordon was completely overcome. I will never forget it. And, of course, everybody dived on top of him."

Final fling

MacLennan and shinty broadcasting have come a long way since his first tentative steps 40 years ago.

He has since gone on to cover other sports, including football and rugby. But it is shinty where his voice is synonymous.

Now at the age of 67, he feels the time is right to make more time for himself and wife Kathleen.

But how will he feel come the final whistle on Saturday?

"To be honest, I don't know how I am going to react to it," he explains.

"I am going to be doing my farewell in Gaelic, albeit working with Gary [Innes, co-commentator] in English. Now to me 40 years ago, that was inconceivable. It just was not on the horizon.

"For sure it is going to be emotional."