Instonians sign top trio to bolster bid for swift return to Irish hockey's top tier
Instonians have laid down a marker in their bid to regain Irish Hockey League status by snapping up Ulster's top marksman Chris Barnes from Civil Service.
And coach Steven Redpath's squad has been further boosted by the arrival of Banbridge striker Dane Ward and Lisnagarvey defender Harry McNellis.
Barnes has already netted 24 times this season and is well ahead of his nearest rival in the goalscoring charts, and rejoins the Shaw's Bridge club after a previous spell with them.
Inst are currently sitting second in the Ulster Premier League, two points behind Bangor but with a game in hand, and they see Barnes and Ward as the men to turn the numerous chances they create into goals as they step up their title bid.
Redpath's men were relegated from the IHL last season but are determined to regain their status at the first time of asking.
Inst president Tom Reid said: "We're hoping Chris can score the same number of goals in the second half of the season. And with Ward and schoolboy McNellis also joining, it gives us strength in depth as we plan ahead."
Inst continue their Premier programme on Saturday and are expected to beat an Antrim team struggling in the bottom three.
Meanwhile, Saturday also sees another attempt at clearing up the Irish Senior Cup backlog, with three delayed second round ties scheduled along with one quarter-final.
The big game will be at Three Rock's Grange Road where Cookstown are the visitors.
The Dubliners have a good record against Ulster sides in the Irish Hockey League, having already beaten Annadale (7-1), Banbridge (4-1), Cookstown (4-1) and Lisnagarvey (3-1) when crossing the border.
That win over the Tyrone men has been Cookstown's only blip in a five-game run which has seen them beat Railway Union and draw with Lisnagarvey, Monkstown and Annadale.
Defender Dan Crooks accepts Three Rock are a superb all-round team and Town will need to be at their best if they are to progress to the quarter-finals.
"The winter break came at pretty much the wrong time for us, as we were starting to find our stride," he said.
"We've been training well over the break and have all the guys who were nursing injuries back on board.
"Three Rock implement a high press and they are better than any other team in Ireland in executing their chances, but if we can stay with them going into the last quarter, we can come away with what would be a very special result."
Queen's have a tough task too when they take on current IHL leaders Glenanne while Lisnagarvey are hoping it will be third time lucky for their tie against Railway Union, having been postponed twice already.
Five Ulster teams take part in delayed Irish Hockey Trophy ties, hoping to join Newry Olympic in the second round draw.
North Down are expected to beat Raphoe, having defeated them 3-0 at the Donegal venue last week in the Premier League, while Civil Service should edge out visiting Kilkenny.
Bangor have lost only once in 16 games this season - to Portadown - and it just happens to be the Edenvilla side who stand in their way of progress.