Pegasus coach Arlene Boyles has given the new EY Irish Hockey League the thumbs up as her side prepare for Saturday’s opener against old rivals Ards at Portaferry Road.
The expanded league has had its critics, most notably from the corridors of power at Ulster Hockey’s headquarters.
But, despite all the fuss that the debate provoked, it’s full steam ahead for what the participants at least regard as an exciting new chapter.
“It will improve the standard of hockey in Ireland and it had to happen,” said Boyles.
“Other successful nations work on a countrywide league and countries a lot bigger than ours. Top players will pit themselves against top players week in week out.
“Also non-international players who have no desire ever to be an international will learn from their game on Saturdays.
“The intensity of training has increased and we are all looking forward to it. Of course there will be a few bumps along the way but we’ll get over them. The Ards game will be a battle but we are all looking forward to it.”
Both teams have signed new players who will be on parade at Ards’ new base tomorrow afternoon as several newcomers have left the residual Premier League to play at the top level – one of the precise concerns Ulster Hockey had when the idea of the new IHL was under discussion.
Pegasus have recruited goalkeeper Sammy-Jo Greer from Ballymoney, while former Queen’s players Katie Morris and Hannah McMillan and Ireland Under 18 player Rosie Henderson (ex-Harlequins) have also joined the reigning champions.
Ards have signed former Queen’s keeper Ashley McIlroy and ex-Armagh players Alana Doyle and Scarlett Holdsworth, while the Ulster Elks, who host Pembroke Wanders tomorrow, have been boosted by the arrival of Hannah Irwin, who also played for the Orchard County team last season.
Caroline Adams has taken over the Ards captaincy from Naomi Grundie and she is expecting a tough game today.
Last season Ards won a Premier League-Ulster Shield double, pipping Pegasus to the post in both tournaments, by virtue of a decisive 1-0 win in the former and a penalty shoot-out in the latter.
Meanwhile, there was action in the Denman Ulster Shield during the week and, incredibly, all five teams in Pool B are locked together with three points.
Lucy Geddes hit a brace as Harlequins beat Queen’s 6-2, Laura Johnston did likewise as Lisnagarvey defeated Armagh 7-2 while Randalstown are favourites to join Armagh in getting out of Pool B.
Nicole Moore and Katherine McDowell hit two apiece in Town’s 5-3 win over North Down, for whom Katherine Hill also scored twice while Dungannon and Portadown fought out a scoreless draw.