The new look Ulster Premiership hits off this weekend, without Ulster’s big ‘Four’ – Banbridge, Lisnagarvey, Annadale and Cookstown and it will be interesting to see what impact that has on the game in Ulster.
Naturally the carrot for the Ulster winners and runners up is the opportunity to get into the EY Hockey League play-offs and join Ireland’s elite teams next season but there are a lot of games to be played before that happens.
But it is not just the departure of the four clubs, there have been few departures of familiar coaches and players over the summer recess.
We took the opportunity to speak to some of the premiership coaches and captains as they look forward to the new season.
Instonians must be favourites to land the Premiership title but former Irish international Mark Irwin, who had been coaching Inst, has decided to retire and Steven Redpath has taken over this role.
Redpath has had a successful start to the season, winning all four of their Kirk Cup games with ease, to take a semi-final place next month.
But it will be interesting to see how the void of losing Irish International Paul Gleghorne to Lisnagarvey, will be filled by the Shaw’s Bridge side.
Club PRO Tom Reid is confident that Inst can win the title, he said: “We have every confidence that Steven will do a good job and will help develop the squad with the winning of the Premier League being an achievable target.
“A lot of hard work has been undertaken during the summer by Steven, with new signing James Dowling from Garvey having already made his mark with a hat trick at Newry.
“We hope that with James Corry back from Bath and Andrew Coulter fully fit again, we can be serious contenders when it comes to Irish Senior Cup time.”
Mossley, under the leadership of Fergie Cosgrove, have proved that they will be up there contending for the title.
Mossley also went through their Kirk Cup campaign undefeated and the Glade side will be hoping that there could be some silverware coming to their clubhouse this season.
Civil Service lost a bundle of players a couple of season’s ago but they have slowly been returning to the club.
David Whittington (Annadale), Aaron Gill (PSNI), Andrew Crone (Dundee University) are all back at Stormont, and former captain, Jamie Anderson, is back from an injury that ruled him out for two years.
Service captain, Sam Brown, said: “The above additions have provided a much needed increase in squad size, as we suffered in the second half of last season due to our inability to regularly field a full strength team.
“Our penalty corner specialist and former Ulster forward Chris Barnes is back to full fitness and will return from his honeymoon in time for our first league game at home, to Newry Olympic. In Barnes we feel we possess the best drag flick in the league and he will be our major attacking threat.
“Having re-signed Thomas Priestley, Gareth Sanders (Annadale HC) and Ross Anderson (Instonians HC) at the start of last season, our four new signings this year have added more quality and depth to a squad that now contains 7 players that have represented Ulster at various levels and that we feel is capable of competing at the right end of the league, rather than the previous annual relegation dog-fights.
“Ultimately as a club, we would love to qualify for the IHL playoffs and that would represent a successful league season for us but we are fully aware that Instonians are the team to beat and there will be stiff competition from Mossley, Kilkeel and Belfast Harlequins for the two remaining playoff spots.
“We are also wary of the threat posed by the other teams in a league that should prove to be extremely competitive from top to bottom.”
Kilkeel proved the pundits wrong last season and came ever so close to clinching a top five place in the Premiership. But this season they have lost the services of former coach Robbie McMinn.
Colin McConnell, Brian Niblock and Andrew Johnston are all sharing the coaching role but with no new players coming into the club, they just might not reach the heights of last season.
They have had a start-stop run in the Kirk Cup, just missing out on a semi-final spot. But it would take a brave person to rule them out of being up there, come the end of the season as I should know.
Belfast Harlequins could be this season’s dark horses. Losing coach, Johnny Caren, to Monkstown, but they have a familiar name assisting as coach in Wesley Haslett.
Harlequins captain James Hutchinson is looking forward to the new season. He said: “With the absence of the top four from last year, it is definitely much more of a level playing field, albeit you would have to put Inst down as favourites. That being said, we do definitely hope to be challenging at the top of the league and putting behind us, what was a very disappointing season last time out.
“A big change for us this season is the departure of Jonny Caren, who takes up a coaching position at Monkstown. Jonny did a lot for us but now we’re using what he taught us and taking ownership with a more player led ethos in respect of training and management. Our new coaching set up of Wes Haslett and Chris Murphy, bring the discipline and intensity to sessions that the team needs.”
South Antrim, last season’s Senior One winners will be joined by North Down, Portadown and Raphoe, who all came up from the former Senior One. And it will be interesting to see how they compete in the all new Premiership.
In’s and Outs
Belfast Harlequins (2nd)
Coach - Wesley Haslett and Chris Murphy
Captain - James Hutchison
Players in - Matthew Gray
Players out - Michael McKenna; Adam Louden; Ross McKnight
Civil Service (4th)
Coach: Gareth Grundie
Captain: Sam Brown (Goalkeeper)
Players In: David Whittington (Annadale); Aaron Gill (PSNI)
Andrew Crone (Dundee University); Jamie
Players Out: None
Coach: Steven Redpath Captain: Andrew Corry Players In: James Dowling (Lisnagarvey); James Corry
Players Out: Paul Gleghorne (Lisnagarvey)
Coaches: Colin McConnell; Brian Niblock; Andrew Johnston
Captain: Neil Stevenson
Players In: None
Players Out: None
Coach: Fergie Cosgrove Captain: TBA Players In: Scott McNeill; Mark Moreland
Players Out: Neal Glassey (Lisnagarvey)
Coach and Captain: Colin McKnight
Manager: Alan McGaffin. Players In: Ivan Toombs Players Out: Andrew Gilmer; Nigel Davenport
North Down (9th)
Coach: Arron Mills
Asst Coach: Gavin Rodgers
Captain: Tom Donnan
Players Out: Rowan Poots (Manchester University)
Players In: Gareth McKeown; Michael Black
Coach: Mark Evans
Captain: Jonny Brown
Players In: Graeme Morrison
Players Out: None
Coach: Rodney Bates
Captain: Ian McGonnigle
Players In: Kit Regan (Hampstead & Westminster);Luke Witherow (Almeerse ); Alan Lyttle
Players Out: None
South Antrim (8th)
Coaches: Ross Johnston and Drew Campbell
Captain: Lee Marshall Players In: none Players Out: none