Champions Lurgan aim to star on all-Ireland stage
Lurgan have set their stall out to go one better than last season and qualify for the EY Irish Hockey League having been crowned Ulster champions for the first time earlier this year.
But they will be without two of their prize assets, Ireland U18 forward Kathryn Edgar and Ulster U21 defender Emma Quinn.
Edgar left for the United States to pursue a hockey scholarship at Temple University in Philadelphia shortly after helping the Irish youngsters stay in the top flight of the European Championship in Cork last month.
And former Banbridge Academy captain Quinn is off to University of Ulster Jordanstown to continue her studies and has joined the Ulster Elks.
However, Lurgan captain Charlene Hull is undeterred by the absence of the talented duo as she looks ahead to the new campaign which starts with the Denman Ulster Shield this midweek before the defence of their Premier League crown.
"It's obviously a blow to lose two of our top players but we wish them both well in their new adventures," she said.
"But on the plus side we have signed Lauren Wright from Armagh, who's a forward or midfield player.
"She played for Ulster U18s and won a bronze medal at the UK School Games recently, so we are certainly glad to have her on board."
Lurgan hope to hit the ground running and they have certainly been doing plenty of that in the build-up to the new campaign which started much earlier than usual.
"We began our pre-season training in mid-July and we spent a couple of weeks concentrating on physical fitness and running around Lurgan Park before we did any stick and ball work," Hull added.
"Since then we have played five friendlies and won four of them, so it has been going well and we can't wait to get up and running now.
"It was a massive achievement for the club to win the Premier League last season and anything after that would have been a bonus," she said.
"We have an additional incentive to retain the title now that the league winners from the various provinces are exempt from the first round of qualifying for the IHL.
"Obviously getting into the all-Ireland competition has to be our ambition but we expect to have some tough competition before that in Ulster.
"I think Queen's and Randalstown will both be strong this season and they will probably be our main rivals."
Queen's have made a significant signing in Ireland U18 international Jessica McMaster, who has joined from the Ulster Elks.
She has made a great start with her new club and kept up her recent goal-a-game tally with one in Monday night's 2-0 Ulster Shield win over Dungannon after an impressive pre-season campaign.