Rivals will boldly go in search of Kirk Cup glory
Instonians are hot favourites to do the domestic league and cup double this season ... not a bad start for Steven Redpath after just four months as coach.
They go into Boxing Day's Kirk Cup final against Mossley at Stormont (3.30pm) with a perfect record to date, but appreciate it won't be easy as they struggled to see off the Newtownabbey side in last week's dress rehearsal in the league.
And as regards winning the Premier League, Redpath accepts that if his side were to go on and land the title, gaining access to the Irish Hockey League is by no means a shoe-in ... for they would have to face an EIGHT team play-off to join the elite clubs.
It's not widely known in Ulster circles that such a large provincial play-off scenario exists, for many had assumed it was a case of the three provincial title winners playing off.
But in fact it will be the top three in Ulster, the top three in Leinster and the top two in Munster being split into two pools of four and playing a round-robin series one weekend followed by semi-finals and final the following weekend.
Only then will the overall winners get their ticket to the IHL, with the runners-up going into a further play-off against the second bottom team in the IHL to decide the last place.
"That's a big series of games to determine who goes up," admits Redpath, "but at the moment we are taking one game at a time, and aren't thinking that far down the line.
"First up is the Boxing Day Kirk Cup final and a chance for us to get our hands on the trophy for the first time since 2004. We'll start thinking about the IHL when we see where we are come March.
"We are under no illusions how hard it will be against Mossley. They are difficult to play against, are hard working, concede few goals and have an experienced coach who knows all about Kirk Cup finals.
"Their league position might not be great but they have games in hand, and they have shown that they are good in one-off games - they took IHL side Glenanne to penalty strokes before losing out in the Irish Senior Cup.
"The encouraging thing for us is that we have shown consistency all year and that has given us confidence and belief."
Inst's record this season certainly has been impressive. They romped through their four Kirk Cup pool games scoring on average six a match and also hit four in their semi-final against Harlequins.
In the league they have reached the half-way stage by winning all nine games, scoring 42 and conceding just four, and have the league's top marksmen in Stephen Kelso and William Robinson who have each 17 to their credit already.
Compare that to Mossley who are still awaiting their first league win of the season, although admittedly Fergie Cosgrove's lads have played three games less and have to play most of the teams around them twice yet and so are expected to climb the table soon.
The loss of international Neal Glassey to Lisnagarvey over the summer was a bad blow but Jordan Robinson has been an inspirational skipper to the young players around him.
"We have been performing well in cup competitions this season but we need to score a few more goals if we want to climb the league table," says Cosgrove.
"The final is a big thing for the club and everyone is looking forward to the occasion.
"The players did well to reach the semis last year but were taken apart by Banbridge and their top scorer Stephen Dowds.
"Hopefully they can make amends this time."
INSTONIANS: Paddy Guy, Stuart McWilliams, Andrew Corry, Ben Palmer, Matthew Johnston, Andrew Coulter, William Robinson, Matthew Martin, James Dowling, James Corry, Chris Kirk, Stephen Kelso, John Watson, Stuart McNeice, Jack Cliff, Rob Cummins, Alan Patterson, Josh Irwin, Spencer Pinion, Ross McKnight.
MOSSLEY: Ben McMillan, David Glenny, Stephen Clarke, Alan Mullan, Ross McIvor, Colin McLean, Richard McClintock, Philip Kane, Matthew Sullivan, Philip Hamill, Joel Cathcart, Aaron Boyd, Jordan Robinson, Tim Moreland, Mark Moreland, Jordan Barr, Adam Monahan, Sam Campbell, Will Aston, Owen Doole.
Kirk Cup Final Boxing Day, Stormont, 3.30pm