Ireland hero Paul Gleghorne is ready for Lisnagarvey debut
Paul Gleghorne, one of the stars as Ireland clinched bronze medals at the recent European Championships, is finally set to make his Lisnagarvey debut this Saturday when the new all-singing, all-dancing, fully-fledged EY Irish Hockey League hits off.
Gleghorne suffered a bad shoulder injury during that European campaign but carried on manfully as the Green Machine finished third in a competition in which four of the top five nations in the world were taking part.
Since then, however, the former Instonians defender has been undergoing rehabilitation and missed Garvey's pre-season build-up as he gained strength.
But it's looking likely that coach Errol Lutton will have his new signing fit enough to take his place in the line-up when they make the first of five trips to Dublin for Saturday's opening game against Pembroke.
And Lutton might also be able to give some pitch-time to his skipper Jonathan Bell, who has been sidelined throughout the summer and missed out on Ireland's European adventure.
Bell has been going through intensive rehabilitation but reckons he is still a few weeks away from being fully fit.
"The most optimistic prediction is that I might be able to play some part in the game as further build-up to a full comeback," said Bell.
"But we have a competitive squad and are hoping to make an impact. The addition of Paul Gleghorne and Neal Glassey adds a new dimension and freshness to our squad, so now it's all about hitting the ground running."
However, Bell accepts that won't be easy, as Garvey have been handed arguably the toughest opening-month schedule - after this week's visit to Dublin to take on Irish Senior Cup finalists Pembroke, they then host current IHL champions Monkstown, go to Ulster champions Banbridge and then welcome IHL semi-finalists Three Rock Rovers.
"It's a very competitive league, but that's what it's all about - getting tough games each week. It's all part of the excitement of the fully-fledged IHL," added Bell.
Altogether there are four Ulster clubs involved in the IHL, and two of them meet at Havelock Park on Saturday (5pm) with Banbridge taking on Annadale.
Bann had a tremendous season last campaign, with Mark Tumilty's lads suffering just one defeat - in the final game against Monkstown in the IHL decider.
And they can be expected to be in the frame again, providing they start with a win against the Dale, whose new signing, Australian Robbie McGuire, won't be available until next week.
Bann's vastly experienced midfielder Eugene Magee - who has played in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany and is Ireland's most capped player - said: "This league mirrors the domestic league structures in these hockey powerhouses, and I'm hoping the same will apply here, especially with the massive buzz that this league is creating."
Finally, Cookstown make the long trip to Cork C of I and are hoping to return with full points as they attempt to make an impact on a tournament in which they haven't had a good record.
There is also the fourth round of Kirk Cup and Linden Cup pool games on Saturday, with some last-four spots likely to be filled.