Ineligible Bangor trio ruled out of Linden final
This afternoon's Linden Cup decider between Bangor and Raphoe at Deramore (2.30pm) will go ahead as planned despite being thrown into disarray over an ineligible issue.
Two Bangor players - brothers Philip and Stephen Hamill - have been informed they cannot play in the decider while Cody Walker falls into the same category, although his name wasn't highlighted by Ulster Hockey officials.
The trio previously were on Mossley's books and played in the Kirk Cup early rounds but as this is a different competition from the Linden Cup, Bangor believed that they would still be eligible.
They sought, and received, confirmation from Ulster Hockey that everything was in order but just five days before the New Year's Day showpiece a second statement from the governing body pointed out there was in fact an ineligible issue.
Their reasoning is that rules state if a player transfers during the season, he then isn't permitted to play for two clubs in any non-league competition - which effectively means any other cup competition.
Oddly, it's understood that this could be the first instance this rule has had to be applied.
"It's very disappointing for the players and coming so late it has disrupted our preparations for the big game," said Bangor coach Scott Parker.
Philip Hamill admitted he is devastated, but in particular for younger brother Stephen and Cody Walker, as both are just 16 and were particularly looking forward to their first cup final.
"I've played in finals before, therefore I feel more for them than me, but it's very disappointing and it would have been nice to play alongside my brother in a decider," he said.
Bangor go into the final as favourites despite the absence of those players, as they have suffered defeat just once this season and are sitting proudly at the top of the Ulster Premier League.
They have potential matchwinners in Rhys Cunningham and Ryan Burgess and along with David McClune have scored the bulk of their team's goals.
Raphoe, though, have yet to chalk up a win in the league but their run in the Linden Cup has given them some optimism for the long trip from Co Donegal.
Coach Richard Eaton had to do some rebuilding over the summer but still has the nucleus of a good side with quality players, including skipper Simon Goudie, William Wauchope, Alan Meehan and William Kilpatrick.
Meanwhile Bangor's lead at the top of the table has been cut, with Instonians and Kilkeel taking full advantage of their rivals having no game on Saturday by chalking up wins.
William Robinson struck twice - one from open play and the second from second phase penalty corner - to give Inst a 2-1 win at Portadown.
And William Annett hit two as the Mournemen, fresh after their Kirk Cup success on Boxing Day, won 6-0 at home to Antrim.
Inst are now just two points behind Bangor with a game in hand while Kilkeel are five adrift with two games in hand.
And next up in the league just happens to be Bangor against Kilkeel this Saturday.
Belfast Harlequins faltered a little in their quest for title honours when they were held to a 1-1 draw at Queen's.
Michael McKenna's penalty corner conversion gave them the lead but Callum Anderson levelled matters and thereafter it was a case of two fine goalkeepers in Sam Shepherd and Iain Kelly keeping the scoreline down.
Ulster Premier League: North Down 3 (J Gilmore, Shannon, Speers) Cliftonville 1; Queen's 1 (C Anderson) Belfast Harlequins 1 (M McKenna); Portadown 1 (M Beattie) Instonians 2 (W Robinson 2); Kilkeel 6 (W Annett 2, D Rae, Stevenson, J Aiken, G Niblock)