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Ulster axe Senior One as more clubs drop to junior ranks

 

By Graham Hamilton

Ulster Hockey will be operating with just one senior division this season as several more clubs have stepped down to junior level.

The Premier League will now consist of 14 clubs, with the league programme getting under way in mid-October, although the new season actually starts this Saturday with the opening Kirk Cup pool games.

The new-look set-up has in some ways been forced upon the Branch, with a total of nine clubs now prepared to play their hockey in the junior ranks rather than retain their senior status.

And with Annadale and Cookstown stepping up into the Irish Hockey League and just Instonians coming the other way, it deprived them of another team.

The Premier League, which offers a route to the Irish Hockey League, will comprise relegated Instonians and last season's Premier teams Kilkeel, Belfast Harlequins, Civil Service, Mossley, Portadown, Newry, North Down and Raphoe as well as Queen's, South Antrim, Antrim, Bangor and Cliftonville who all competed in the now defunct Senior One last season.

The Kirk Cup has been divided into two pools of five, with Kilkeel, Newry, Mossley, Portadown and South Antrim in one and Belfast Harlequins, Instonians, Civil Service, Queen's and North Down in the other.

The Linden Cup starts off as a round-robin six team affair, comprising Armagh, Antrim, Ballynahinch, Bangor, Raphoe and Cliftonville.

With the new Irish Hockey League Division Two due to start in the 2018-19 season, Ulster Hockey may have to revise its structure again.

That's because the three teams who make it to the All-Ireland set-up would have to play that lengthy programme alongside their Premier League programme, which could entail around a massive 40 games.

That might mean persuading some of those playing in junior hockey to return to a new-look Senior One.

However, that's further down the line, and the new domestic season gets under way on Saturday with the Kirk Cup pool games, with the All-Ireland league starting a week later.

Last season's Kirk Cup finalists Annadale and Cookstown aren't involved this time as they are now back in the IHL, and so it gives others a chance to reach the Boxing Day showpiece final.

Kilkeel, who reached the Anderson Cup final last year, have their sights set on the Kirk Cup this time but have a tricky start at Mossley.

However, they have looked lively in pre-season, including a comfortable win over Weston when they opened their new pitch last week, with Jonathan Aiken grabbing a brace of goals.

Saturday's fixtures:

Kirk Cup Pool A: Mossley v Kilkeel (The Glade, 2.30pm); Portadown v Newry (Edenvilla, 1pm)

Kirk Cup Pool B: Belfast Harlequins v Instonians (Deramore, 2.30pm); Civil Service v Queen's (Stormont, 2.30pm)

Linden Cup: Raphoe v Cliftonville (Royal & Prior, 2.30pm); Armagh v Antrim (Ardmore, 1pm); Ballynahinch v Bangor (St Colman's, 1pm)

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