With no senior interprovincial tournament again this season Ulster’s hopes of beating their Irish rivals are confined to the U21, U18 and U16 tournaments.
Last year Ulster made it a hat-trick of trophies by doing a clean sweep and this weekend in Cork it’s the turn of the two younger age-groups to attempt to make it another double success.
Both the U16s and U18s will have the unwanted burden of the favourites’ tag but with good reason especially as far as the former are concerned.
That’s because it is the same squad, minus two players, that won the recent UK School Games title in England when Northern Ireland beat both Scotland and Wales.
So with that experience and bearing in mind the quality of the opposition - national teams rather than regional - there should be no reason why they can’t emulate last year’s achievement.
The U18s are also usually strong at this level and coach Fiona McIlwaine, the former Pegasus player, is looking forward to the tournament.
“This is my sixth year working with this age group and the build up has been very good starting with Area Board finals in March and trials over the next three months.” she enthused.
“We then had Development Squad training in July and August and we played an American touring team during the same period.
“Our training matches have been very good and we played Queen’s and the Ulster Elks and only last Wednesday played some of our best hockey to beat a Lurgan XI 4-0.
“This is a new U18 squad with not as much experience as in previous years and fitness will be a key factor.
“But we do have some experience in the group with the likes of Ruth Maguire who recently moved from the Elks to Pegasus and vice captain Emma Kernohan who plays for Ballymoney along with Ayeisha McFerran and Zoe Wilson, who both play for Randalstown.”
The U16s, coached by Ards player Janice Vaughan, have just four members of last year’s winning squad.
But their coach is quietly confident that UK School Games experience will stand to ther players over the course of the three day competition.
“It was invaluable to have some tournament experience before the interpros and our preparations have been going well.” she explained.
“Mind you it is always difficult to know what you are going to be up against but we have prepared as well as we can.”
Both teams get their campaigns under way on Friday, the U16s taking on South East at 3pm with the U18s facing the same opposition three hours later.
The tournament in Cork means that there are just two Premier League games on Saturdsay with Harlequins attempting to to make it three wins in a row when they host the Ulster Elks and Queen’s travelling to Lisnagarvey.
The students are still without a point after four games while ‘Garvey have already picked up four so another loss for Queen’s would set the alarm bells ringing.
That would certainly be the case if Harlequins were to make it three consecutive victories as the gap at the bottom would widen with only Armagh, who have a day off, currently joining Queen’s without a point to their name.
Ulster U18 squad: Ayeisha McFerran (Larne GS), Naomi Costley (Lurgan College), Zoe Wilson (Ballyclare HS), Katie Larmour (MCB), Alex Halliday (Coleraine HS), Alex Ogilby (Larne GS), Rebecca Mercer (Wallace HS), Ruth Maguire (Larne GS), Emma Kernohan (Ballymena Academy), Taite Doherty (Cambridge House), Faye Kidd (BRA), Jessica Moore (Coleraine HS), Pippa Best (Armagh Royal), Olivia Blundell (Victoria College), Tori Hastings (Rainey), Rhianna Campbell (Ballymena Academy), Alex Hurst (Lurgan College).
Ulster U16 squad: Jade Lamont (Ballymena Academy), Megan Todd (Belfast High), Kerri Burns (Portadown College), Rachel Burns (Rainey Endowed), Alana Doyle (Royal School Armagh), Kathryn Edgar (Lurgan College), Amy Edwards (Victoria College), Erin Getty (BRA), Julea Glover Belfast High), Rosie Henderson (Friends), Hannah Irwin (Royal School Armagh), Jayne Kilpatrick (Wallace High), Jasmine Kirkwood (Wallace High), Rebecca Lobo (Victoria College), Katie Mckee (Banbridge Academy), Jessica McMaster (Belfast High), Orla Thompson (Banbridge Academy).
Under 16 interprovincials: Friday: Ulster v South East (3pm); Saturday: Ulster v Leinster (9am), Ulster v Munster (2pm); Sunday: Connacht v Ulster (11am).Under 18 interprovincials: Friday: South East v Ulster (6pm); Saturday: Ulster v Leinster (12pm), Ulster v Munster (5pm); Sunday: Connacht v Ulster (12pm
Premier League: Harlequins v Ulster Elks (230pm), Lisnagarvey v Queen’s (230pm).
Senior One; Cookstown v Ballymena (1pm), Larne v Omagh (230pm), North Down v Banbridge (230pm), Portadown v Civil Service (230pm), Victorians v Ballyclare (4pm).