Ulster’s oldest trophy, the Kirk Cup, gets under way this weekend without the four clubs who have dominated it for the last twenty years.
Holders Banbridge, Lisnagarvey, Cookstown and Annadale will all be missing from Ulster Hockey’s show case tournament.
With the four teams opting to play in the new Irish Hockey League, it has resulted with them being excluded from the Ulster hockey programme, denying the best teams in Ulster playing in the tournament.
So the question is how does that leave the creditability of the tournament?
This weekend sees the opening salvos fired as Newry welcome Instonians, who will be disappointed that they are not playing with Irish hockey’s big boys this season.
They have already lost the services of Paul Gleghorne after transferring his long-time allegiance with Inst to Lisnagarvey.
Gleghorne’s departure will be a massive blow for the Shaw’s Bridge side particularly as he was colossal in Ireland’s superb bronze medal victory over England at the recent Euros.
But Inst will be determined that they will be playing in the top flight next season and must start as favourites for the first piece of silverware come Boxing Day.
Last season’s Senior One champions South Antrim travel to Portadown and under the captaincy of Lee Marshall, the Lisburn outfit will be looking to open their Kirk Cup account with a win.
In the other group Kilkeel, without the services of former coach, Robbie McMinn, make the long trip to Raphoe and it could be a close call with a share of the spoils expected.
In the remaining game North Down, who last won the Kirk back in 1943, face Belfast Harlequins who are also without the influential, Johnny Caren, now coaching Dublin side Monkstown.
There is also a full Linden Cup programme. Newcastle, playing in the Linden for the first time, welcome Queens and Campbellians should open with a home win over Armagh.
In the other section, Antrim entertain PSNI, while Bangor are expected to claim maximum points at Cliftonville.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s young stars of the future are playing in the Sainsbury’s School Games in Manchester against England Scotland and Wales.
Stephen Watt, Ulster Hockey’s Performance Manager said: “We will be keen to perform well at the event. Our preparations have gone well.
“The interest and commitment of the boys has been sound. With many of the squad involved with Ireland at U18 or U16 level to late July those preparations have been deliberately much shorter to allow for rest time. The talent level though is high.”