Banbridge dazzle as hotshot Dowds fires a warning
Ulster's most lethal marksman Stephen Dowds has started the new campaign with a two-goal salvo as Banbridge opened their EY Irish Hockey League programme with a 3-1 win over Annadale.
And with Neal Glassey scoring his first competitive goal for his new club Lisnagarvey, it ensured Ulster's 'Big Two' are right up among the early contenders for honours in the new all-Ireland set-up.
Dowds, whose Twitter handle is StarlightSteve, rattled in almost 60 goals last season but knows that it won't be as easy in what is a much tougher competition.
But he still managed to convert a penalty corner and slotted home Josh Moffatt's pass to get his account up and running.
Hugh McShane snapped up a corner rebound to guarantee his side their success but it wasn't easy against fellow Ulster side Annadale in the late Saturday slot at Havelock Park.
Garvey sounded out a warning by chalking up a 3-2 win in Dublin against Pembroke Wanderers, and now the Blues turn their attention to this week's home clash with last season's all-Ireland winners Monkstown.
Timmy Cockram bundled home a penalty corner rebound, James Lorimer converted another set-piece and Glassey stroked home Sean Murray's pass to squeeze out the win.
And it could have been a wider margin but they squandered a penalty stroke and conceded a goal right at the death.
Both Pembroke goals came from Alan Sothern, who has rejoined the Dublin club after a spell in Belgium.
It wasn't good news for Cookstown, whose trip to Cork C of I ended with a 4-1 setback.
Keith Black had given the Red Army the lead when he converted a penalty stroke and they were looking good for a valuable away win.
But they faded in the last quarter and suffered on the counter-attack as former international John Jermyn scored a hat-trick.
Monkstown needed Gareth Watkins to spare their blushes, his two late goals giving them a slender 2-1 win at Railway Union while Three Rock Rovers saw off Glenanne comfortably with Peter Blakeney scoring twice in a 4-1 success.
Meanwhile, Instonians and Mossley have qualified for the Kirk Cup semi-finals, with Civil Service and Harlequins favourites to join them after this weekend's final round of pool fixtures.
William Robinson hit two in Inst's 5-3 victory at Service which makes it three wins from three in Pool A with one game to go.
The Stormont side can also make it through if they take a point from their final game.
And Mossley's 1-1 draw with Kilkeel sees them finish with three wins and a draw to top Pool B.
Belfast Harlequins can join them in the last four if they beat North Down in their final game.
Three of the Linden Cup semi-finalists are also known, with Campbellians and Queen's going through from Pool A and Bangor from Pool B.
EY Irish Hockey League: Pembroke Wanderers 2 (A Sothern 2) Lisnagarvey 3 (T Cockram, J Lorimer, N Glassey); Banbridge 3 (S Dowds 2, H McShane) Annadale 1 (P McKibben); Cork C of I 4 (J Jermyn 3, P Brownlow) Cookstown 1 (K Black); Railway Union 1 (M Nowakowski) Monkstown 2 (G Watkins 2); Three Rock Rovers 4 (P Blakeney 2, R Canning, D Walsh) Glenanne 1 (S O'Connor).
Kirk Cup: Civil Service 3 (G Saunders 2, R Anderson) Instonians 5 (W Robinson 2, A Patterson, S Kelso, J Dowling); Mossley 1 (C McLean) Kilkeel 1 (D Finlay); North Down 1 (G Bailie) Raphoe 3 (A Tinney, G Patterson, P Stewart).
Linden Cup: Portrush 1 (A Christie) Queen's 11 (T Sturgeon 3, S McQueen 2, R Blair 2, A Bell, G Leckey, T Watt, C Mitchell); Cliftonville 3 (S Anderson, D Hurley, E Patterson) Antrim 0; Ballynahinch 5 PSNI 0.