Queen’s coach Simon Bell has put his neck on the block and made Ards favourites to wrench the Premier League title from the vice-like grip of near perennial champions Pegasus.
The Belfast side have won the trophy 15 times in the last 16 years, Ballymoney’s 2011 success providing the only interruption to the monopoly.
Bell’s assessment is based on the fact that Ards are the only side to be operating from a near identical panel of players as they had last season.
Add to that the fact that Pegasus themselves have lost the services of the mercurial Arlene Boyles, who played in all 15 of those triumphs and you can see where the Queen’s boss is coming from.
Also significant is the fact that some of the usual suspects like Ballymoney, Queen’s and Lurgan have all suffered a net loss of up to seven players damaging their chances of being genuine title challengers.
“Ards play a very well organised style of hockey, they may have no outstanding individuals but they play cohesively as a team.” said Bell last night.
Pegasus have started unconvincingly losing 3-1 to Bell’s Queen’s side before scraping a narrow 1-0 win over relegation threatened and newly-promoted Lisnagarvey in the Ulster Shield.
But that’s nothing new for a side that are late starters as far as training goes and usually as far as results are concerned as well.
One team that has recruited a host of players is the Ulster Elks and they meet Pegasus head on in the top opening fixture at Upper Malone.
Ricky Lee’s squad includes three Canadian internationals and the Jordanstown coach sees tomorow’s game as a real litmus test.
“I wouldn’t read anything into Pegasus’ results so far so I see it as a really tough game for us, one which will provide us with an early idea as to how we are.” said Lee.
Bell feels that the fact the League is being staged in parallel with the Shield in a departure from the norm could see a few ‘funny’ results creeping in as the latter competition is usually partly used to try and systems and some sides mightn’t be best prepared.
So Lee and company will certainly hoping to be laughing tomorrow afternoon at around 530pm after the late start at Upper Malone.
If there is ever a good time to be playing Pegasus it is at the start of the season and with Boyles’ former Ireland team mate, Claire McMahon, still undecided about her playing future there is no time like the present.
As for Ards, a week ago, a trip to Harlequins’ Deramore Headquarters mightn’t have seemed too daunting but all that changed during the week.
Newly-promoted ‘Quins shocked previously unbeaten Armagh with a 5-0 win in the Ulster Shield so Ards will be taking nothing for granted.
Armagh will be hoping to bounce back as they prepare to face Randalstown who trounced ‘Quins 6-0 in the Shield opener before losing 2-0 to Ballymoney on Wednesday night.
In the other game - the first part of an attractive double-header at Upper Malone - Queen’s face Ballymoney with both sides probably happy to share the points although obviously preferring all three.
Saturday’s fixtures: Premier League: Armagh v Randalstown (230pm), Harlequins v Ards (230pm), Lurgan v Lisnagarvey (230pm), Pegasus v Ulster Elks (time tbc), Queen’s v Ballymoney (1pm).
Senior One: Ballymena v Victorians (230pm), Banbridge v Civil Service (230pm), Cookstown v Omagh (230pm), Larne v Ballyclare (230pm), Portadown v North Down (230pm).