Instonians made a successful start to their Kirk Cup bid when they defeated Portadown 2-1 during the week at Edenvilla Park.
Ross Blair and Sam Brown scored the Inst goals with Ryan Bennett replying for the home side.
This season, of course, sees the return of the EYHL sides to the competition for the first time in four seasons after they were excluded from competing previously. That will obviously make the Ulster Premier League clubs’ task all the more difficult as they attempt to book a place in the Boxing Day showpiece.
However, it will be more of a level playing field in some instances with the Ireland World Cup squad, including eight Ulster players, currently preparing for next month’s trip to India. Banbridge coach Mark Tumilty, for example, will be without Eugene Magee for the bulk of the Kirk campaign and he is relishing the opportunity to keep his remaining players ticking over before the resumption of the EYHL.
“I think it has been better this year in that we play EYHL for six weeks and then have another large block of matches in February. I would rather have the two blocks of matches than what we have had over the last few seasons,” said Tumilty.
“We will play in the Kirk Cup and use this to give our younger/fringe players more experience, so I am looking forward to seeing how they develop. The break is a challenge for clubs on and off the pitch, I am not sure what you can do to avoid it when you have a World Cup in November. International Hockey dictates to the club game. The good start we have made will make the break easier to deal with as we have something to really focus on now and to work on the areas of our game that need improvement.”
Bann open their Kirk Cup programme on Saturday when they face NI Civil Service at Havelock Park while in the other games, holders Kilkeel travel to Lisburn to play South Antrim and Newry host Portadown.
On the ladies front this weekend, Megan Frazer is set to make her first appearance for Ulster Elks in more than two years when she lines out for the Jordanstown students in the Irish Inter-varsities championship in Dublin.
The Ireland World Cup silver medallist is back home from Germany where she plays her club hockey for Mannheimer, who are currently taking a break from outdoor action to concentrate on the indoor game. Frazer is now approaching full fitness after suffering a bad knee injury in October 2016, shortly after she moved to the continent and scored for Mannheimer in a 6-1 win over Berliner at the weekend.
At one stage, the shattered cruciate ligament she sustained in a training accident, which required two surgeries, threatened her participation in the World Cup in London. Although she missed the final due to a hamstring injury, she played a prominent role in helping Ireland lift the silver medals, having played in the previous five matches.
Frazer will be available for Elks from now until March, when the outdoor season in Germany resumes which is good news for the Ulster Premier League club. Generally regarded as one of the most talented players in the country, the 27-year-old Londonderry woman helped the side lift back to back Irish Senior Cups in 2015-2016.
Her return to the side, playing as Ulster University, will undoubtedly help them in their quest to regain the Chilean Cup in Dublin which kicks off on Saturday while UU and Queen’s men are in pursuit of the Mauritius Cup. UU ladies are up against NUIG and holders UCD in their group but will be confident of progressing to the semi-finals by finishing in the top two in the first phase. Queen’s, who lost to UCD in each of the last two finals, face UCC and Trinity in the other group which looks slightly tougher as both their opponents have played in the EY Irish Hockey league in recent years.
Locally, with the EYHL put on the back burner for a week due to the inter-varsities tournament, the focus of attention will be on the Ulster Premier League.
Newly-promoted Lisnagarvey are the surprise early pace-setters after making it four wins in a row on Saturday with a narrow 4-3 comeback victory over Banbridge. However, team captain Scarlett Holdsworth, who steered her team to a Senior One-Senior Cup double last season, is taking nothing for granted at such an early stage in the campaign.
She said: “Our aspirations remain the same as they were going into the season and the number one aim is to keep ourselves in the Premier League.”
“As a club we aim to achieve our goals by improving our process and performance each week and we are all delighted with the progress we have made so far. It is an exciting challenge being back in the top-flight and we are a club which focuses on process-driven hockey and are enjoying testing that process in the Premier League.”
Coached by former Queen’s II’s boss Adam Louden, the current Garvey squad includes several ex students, including Paige Brown and Robyn McKee, who were Denman Ulster Shield winners last year.
Up front Garvey have signed Irish international Robyn Chambers from Belfast Harlequins while another former Queen’s player Kerry McIlwaine is the Hillsborough team’s leading scorer, having already netted two successive hat-tricks
On Saturday Garvey host Mossley while champions Lurgan have a tough trip to Ballymoney with Rainey facing Banbridge in Magherafelt.
There are just two games in senior One with CI facing Priorians and Coleraine playing host to Castle.
Friday 26th October 2018
Men – Ulster Linden Cup (Pool B)
20:00 Portrush v Ballymena @ Coleraine Rugby Club
Saturday 27th October 2018
Men – Ulster Kirk Cup (Pool A)
14:30 Banbridge v N.I. Civil Service @ Havelock Park
14:45 South Antrim v Kilkeel @ Friends Sch.
Men – Ulster Kirk Cup (Pool B)
14:45 Newry v Portadown @ Newry H.C.
Men – Ulster Linden Cup (Pool A)
14:30 Antrim v Saintfield @ Antrim Forum LC
13:00 Ballynahinch v Parkview @ St. Colmans H.S.
Men – Ulster Linden Cup (Pool B)
13:00 Armagh v CI @ Ardmore Recreation Centre
Women – Ulster Premier League
14:30 Ballymoney v Lurgan @ Joey Dunlop L.C.
14:30 Lisnagarvey v Mossley @ Lisnagarvey HC
Rainey v Banbridge @ Meadowbank Sports Arena
Women – Ulster Senior 1
13:00 CI v Priorians @ CIYMS Sports Ground
14:30 Coleraine v Castle @ Coleraine Rugby Club
Women – Ulster McConnell Shield
Ballyclare v N.I. Civil Service @ Ballyclare H.S.
Ballymoney 2 v Limavady @ Joey Dunlop L.C.
Kilkeel v Saintfield @ Kilkeel High Sch
Larne v Dromore
Owls v Annadale @ Roughfort Playing Grounds
Irish Inter-varsities Championship (Dublin):
UCC v Queen’s (2pm)
Ulster University v NUIG (12.45pm)
Ulster University v UCD (7pm)
Queen’s v Trinity (8.15pm)
Irish Inter-varsities Championship: Ulster University v DIT (2.15pm)
Queen’s v DCU (4.45pm); semi-finals: (7.15pm)