The women will be gunning for the title they relinquished at the hands of the Ulster Elks last term but early season form suggests the home side could be the side to beat.
Irish internationals Chloe Watkins and Niamh Atcheler have been major additions in a pair of thumping wins in the league but Wednesday night’s victory over Old Alex told more about the strength in depth.
Brenda Flannery looks adept both at the back and midfield while newcomers Caroline Hill, from St Mary’s in Naas, up front and Leah Lenehan have settled in similarly well.
Add in stalwarts like Megan Tennant-Humphreys, Caitriona McGilp and Rachel Burke – winners in 2008 – and home advantage to boot, they will take some beating.
They head up a group which features city rivals Trinity whom they have already beaten this term while they should have too much for UL and RCSI.
Queen’s likewise, though they do have Ulster Premier League experience this year to draw upon having earned promotion in 2009/10 to the top division in the province.
Hannah McMillan is their star woman, an Irish Unis and Ulster representative and her side look set to fight for a semi-final berth with Trinity.
David Bane’s women hand maiden varsity appearances to Alice Ward and Hayley O’Donnell while Maebh Horan and Caroline Murphy bring defensive stability. Finding the scoring touch will be their key task.
The Elks and UCC are the pedigree teams in the opposite group and the former have begun the Premier League up north in flying form, beating Randalstown 2-0 and Queens 3-1.
French international Philippine Berly and South African Commonwealth Games representative Roxy Turner are both named in their panel.
UCC have lost a couple of their brightest stars in Julia O’Halloran and Audrey O’Flynn but Miriam Crowley remains in what is a decent squad still.
CIT and DCU, as scratch teams, offer a mixed bag with quality like Cliodhna Sargent and Hannah Matthews scattered throughout while NUIG have the services of Orla Callanan – captain of the Colaiste Iognaid team that won the 2009 Kate Russell – to hand.
On the men’s side, one of the most interesting stories sees John Hobbs pull off the coup – certainly from a publicity front – of getting Aidan Walsh to sign up for CIT.
The All-Ireland winner and football All-Star is the marquee name among four inter-county GAA players that Hobbs – a lecturer in the institute – has convinced to try the game out, following in the stick-trails of the likes of Dublin legend Dessie Farrell (St Brendan’s/Phoenix Park) and current Dublin senior panel member Stephen O’Shaughnessy (Weston II).
Walsh could be joining a side with a serious shot at making the semi-finals with several regular Munster division one players at their disposal.
The afore-mentioned Hobbs, Malcolm Coombes, Darren Beamish, Roger Gray, Andrew Daunt and Ali Smith are all players of quality.
Their task is to tame a DCU team which has lost the possibility of calling on Alan Sothern and the Harte twins but do have ability between the posts in Stephen West.
Stephen Brownlow and Luke Hayden have division one know-how while Suttonians pair Marc Guerin and Eoin O’Reilly are also included.
UU look the early front-runners off the back of three wins in-a-row but there is not the abundance of caps available to them this year. Neil Hamilton’s corner prowess is to be feared while Peter Purcell, Greg Thompson and Greg Allen are IHL regulars. Queens make up the group.
In Group B, UCD start the weekend as clear favourites in spite of the large turnover of players. Rory O’Donoghue has the side working incredibly hard for each other with skipper Tim Hill indicative of that desire.
Ben Dobson has added an alternative goal threat – three to his name already – while Luke Chadwick and Conor Motyer bring their Wesley midfield combination to the table.
Dublin University would love to get one over their colours counterparts and could have a trick up their sleeve in Roderick Beudeker. The Dutchman had been courted by Trinity and Pembroke as he is currently on a four month exchange in the city-centre university.
However, as he was named in HDM’s Hoofdklasse squad of 20 players, his eligibility to play for either outfit was denied. Varsities, though, falls outside this remit and he will hope to bring the flicking skills which helped earn the Hague-based club into the Dutch premier league.
Cian Speers could also make his debut for the club in what is an improving side with Ian Gorman and Craig Moore still around.
UCC will contest with them for a semi-final place but their arrangement with CIT means they are shorn of a number of regular first-teamers while RCSI make up the group.
Group A: UU Elks, UCC, NUIG, DCU, CIT
Group B: UCD, DU, RCSI, UL, QUB
Group A: UU, QUB, DCU, CIT
Group B: UCD, UCC, DU, RCSI