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Premier league up to 10 teams

Ulster's Premier League is to be increased to ten teams in a big reshuffle next season.

The Branch Council has given the green light for the changes, which will also see the Anderson Cup and Kirk Cup get a facelift.

The Premier section will see Senior One champions Kilkeel and runners-up North Down getting promotion and Raphoe avoiding relegation.

Senior One will drop from twelve teams to ten, with Senior Two staying at ten.

The Anderson Cup, which was slotted in all over the place last season, will now be played midweek at the start of the season with 16 teams going into an open draw.

The Kirk Cup will retain its present format of four pools, with the winners going into the semi-finals, but will now be played on the opening Saturdays of the new season. This means that the Premier programme won’t start until later in the year.

“There was a lot soul-searching in the Council before making these changes,” admitted Branch president Raymond Hughes. “There were imbalances which needed corrected; for example, North Down played 36 games last seson whereas some Premier teams went six weeks without a game!”

Meanwhile the Anderson Cup is the final piece of silverware up for grabs in the domestic season, and each of the four semi-finalists this weekend have different reasons why they want to win the trophy.

Banbridge captain Gareth Lennox wants to see his side bounce back quickly after the disappointment and sense of injustice following their Irish Hockey League semi-final defeat against Glenanne last Saturday.

Garvey captain Mark Raphael wants to see the Hillsborough team hold on to the trophy they won last season and give his young squad a taste of what is expected from them in the future.

Instonians captain Mark Irwin wants his players to clinch their first piece of silverware of the season and give him a great send-off before he ties the knot next month.

And Annadale captain Jonny Quigley wants to see his side shake off the disappointment of missing out on the IHL semi-finals, after going into the final pool game at the top of the table.

The semis are scheduled for Saturday, with Garvey and Inst on first at 1.30pm, followed by Annadale and Banbridge, with the decider the following day at the same venue at 3pm.

Podium Anderson Cup (Havelock Park, Banbridge): Semi-finals (Saturday): Lisnagarvey v Instonians, 1.30pm (Umpires, R Johnston, D Stewart); Annadale v Banbridge, 3.30pm (Umpires, C Hutchinson, C McConkey). Final (Sunday): Lisnagarvey or Instonians v Annadale or Banbridge, 3pm (Umpires, D Clarke, C Beattie).

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