BEAULY were within six minutes of retaining the Lovat Cup before substitute Fraser Gallacher fired a spectacular winner to give Lovat a 3-2 win on their own Balgate pitch on Saturday.
The usual large crowd was in attendance for the traditional New Year clash between the Aird rivals with the weather relatively mild as both teams endeavoured to come to terms with a dry but fairly heavy surface.
Beauly, holders with a 3-1 victory last year, started as underdogs against their Camanachd Cup-winning neighbours, and battled hard throughout in an extremely tight and keenly-contested encounter.
With a draw being enough to keep hold of the trophy, Beauly will consider themselves unfortunate not to have made the short journey home from Kiltarlity with the silverware in their possession after a brave and spirited display.
Beauly fielded a youthful line-up with three of last year’s successful juvenile side – defender Andrew Morrison and strikers Robbie Brindle and Sandy Elrick – all being awarded starting places.
Missing from their ranks was the influential figure of Scotland internationalist Conor Cormack, who has decided to seek pastures new this season, with last year’s top scorer Marc MacLachlan also being a notable absentee.
Lovat were minus two of their Camanachd Cup-winning squad – full-back Drew Howie and international striker Lorne MacKay – due to both players being on holiday.
Calum MacAulay made a return to the Lovat team, while leg break victim Graeme MacMillan was one of four substitutes on their bench.
Lovat started brightly and teenage Beauly goalkeeper Josh Grant was called upon to make two crucial early saves from Camanachd Cup goalscoring hero Kevin Bartlett and also Lewis Tawse.
Beauly’s fleet-footed young attack, however, began to ask questions of the Lovat defence and their reward came in the 17th minute when Brindle notched the opening goal, the youngster’s low drive deceiving Scotland keeper Stuart MacDonald.
Chances fell at both ends, but Beauly held on to their lead and their manager Stephen MacLean had cause to be the happier of the two bosses at the break.
After the restart, Lovat looked hungrier and the home side pulled level through wing centre Tawse, who netted from close range after a scramble in the penalty area.
This was the spur that Lovat needed and as their forwards started to see more of the ball, Beauly’s hopes of pulling off another shock result looked to be diminishing.
A melee in front of goal in the 70th minute resulted in referee John Angus Gillies awarding Lovat a penalty, with Bartlett stepping up to take the spot hit.
The Scotland striker struck the ball clean and powerfully, however, keeper Grant produced the save of the match, reacting instinctively to get his stick to Bartlett’s head-high drive with the ball ricocheting over the bar to safety.
Any chance Beauly had to take heart from such a superb stop was quickly dispelled as the resultant corner fell to an unusually quiet Greg Matheson, who waltzed in to the semi-circle to clinically finish from five yards, leaving Grant helpless.
Shortly afterwards, Lovat manager John MacRitchie sent on veteran campaigner Gallacher to replace Matheson in the Lovat attack and it appeared the Kiltarlity outfit had done enough to claim back the coveted trophy.
Beauly had other ideas and just four minutes later skipper David Maclean, venturing forward from his midfield role, took advantage of uncertainty in the home rearguard to rifle the ball low past MacDonald from 10 yards for a dramatic equaliser.
But as so often happens in these New Year derby clashes, drama would unfold in the closing stages and it was Lovat who would be the beneficiaries this time.
With just six minutes remaining, substitute Gallacher fired a superb winner, drilling a ferocious 25-yard drive high past a despairing Grant, to the delight of the home support.
When all the fuss had died down, Lovat captain Daniel Grieve was presented with the Lovat Cup, which will sit alongside the Camanachd Cup in the Balgate trophy cabinet.