The much awaited EY Irish Hockey League gets under way on Saturday, with last season’s Premiership champions Banbridge hosting Annadale in an all Ulster opening clash.
Both sides would have preferred to avoid each other in the opening game and had a game against their southern counterparts to get a taste of the new League right from the start.
Bann captain and Ireland’s most capped player Eugene Magee is looking forward to the new league starting as he said: “This league will bring out the best in all its international athletes and help to improve them, as well as everyone around them. There will be fierce competition, with the standard of hockey in Ireland being so high at the moment”.
The new full-season EY Hockey League mirrors the domestic league structures in hockey powerhouses such as Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Magee sees huge potential in the role the EY Hockey league can have at all levels of hockey in Ireland
“Having played in professional clubs in Holland, Belgium and Germany their competition is extremely high in their leagues, making them incredibly exciting games to watch. The youth of those clubs then gain a significant interest in hockey and perhaps this is why they develop such skills from such a young age. I’m hoping the same will apply to hockey in Ireland, with the massive buzz that this league is now creating”.
Cookstown face a long trek to Cork Church of Ireland for the opening game and with no new signings at the County Tyrone base this season, the Reds could find it tough going.
They have already lost the service of their prolific goal scorer Greg Allen, who could miss the entire season as he is currently recovering from a hip operation.
Lisnagarvey also have a tough opener, as they head to Dublin where they face crack Leinster side Pembroke Wanderers. Garvey coach Erroll Lutton is hoping to include his two new signings, Irish duo Paul Glehorne and Neal Glassey.
Meanwhile, Instonians could book their spot in the Kirk Cup semis if they take a point from Civil Service. But with two wins under their belt, Inst will be out for another win and top the Pool.
Mossley have already booked their place in the semis and a win on Friday night at the Glade against Kilkeel will see them top the Pool undefeated.
In the other games, Portadown entertain Newry, whilst North Down welcome Raphoe.
Queen’s could draw level with Bangor at the top of their Linden Cup pool with a win over Portrush. And in the other pool, Bangor and Antrim look to be favourites for a semi-final spot.
Antrim travel to Cliftonville for a tough game, with Ballynahinch and PSNI hoping they both can get back to winning ways after their drubbings last week.