Galway are the unknown quantities at this weekend’s National Indoor Championship series which is being held in Ulster for the first time.
After Leinster clubs voted with their feet and decided not to enter the competition, the authorities invited Ulster to host it as the province had done with the local series in recent years.
Five teams will descend on the Queen’s PE Centre for the two day event and Ards will start favourites to retain their title.
Most of their rivals are familiar as they have been joined by the Ulster Elks, Portadown and hosts Queen’s.
But the only southern club to express an interest in taking part was Galway and Ards manager Phil Mills admits they are an unknown quantity.
“We know nothing about them but as they will be taking the trouble to travel across Ireland to play in the tournament they are obviously taking it very seriously so we won’t be underestimating them.” he said.
This year the tournament will have another significant change in that teams will be made up of just five players instead of the usual six.
That represents a falling into line with a directive from the European governing body which has reduced the number of players in a bid to make the game even more exciting and spectator-friendly.
But it will also make things more challenging for the players as indoor hockey is a notoriously physically demanding version of the sport.
“It will mean that there will be more substitutions than before and it will be important that teams have plenty of players to come off the bench.” Mills added.
“We are fortunate in that we have some new players who will be taking part in the tournament this weekend as we prepare for Europe in February.”
Ards have confirmed that they will be travelling to Budapest in the New Year as current all Ireland champions and that will make this weekend all the more important.
Their indoor training has been limited as they do not wish to run the risk of compromising their level of performance outdoors as they are the current Premier League leaders.
So the weekend tournament will, in effect, represent part of the preparations for the European trip to Hungary.
“If we were to win the National title once again then we would be in charge of our own destiny in Budapest so that’s another reason for wanting to retain it.”
Ards finished third in the last Euros in Lisbon so they will be aiming to go one better and secure promotion to the second tier for next season’s Irish champions, who they hope will be themselves and it’s hard to see anyone stopping them... unless Galway prove to be the surprise package.
National Indoor Championship (Queen’s PE Centre):
Saturday: Queen’s v Ards (1020am), Galway v Portadown (12noon), Ards v Ulster Elks (1250pm), Ulster Elks v Galway (230pm), Queen’s v Portadown (410pm).
Sunday: Galway v Queen’s (1110pm), Portadown v Ards (12noon), Ulster Elks v Queen’s (140pm), Ards v Galway (230pm), Portadown v Ulster Elks (4pm).