NCU Challenge Cup holders CIYMS will host Carrickfergus in the first round of the Gallagher Challenge Cup, which is due to return after a break of 22 months.

With all 50-over club cricket cancelled last year because of the pandemic, the NCU took the decision to abandon their premier cup competition, but with hopes that the longer format can resume in June at the latest, the usual two preliminary round games are down for decision on Saturday, June 12.

They take place between the four lowest-ranked teams in Section One, with the other six teams plus the eight Premiership sides beginning their quest for the cup on Saturday, July 3.

CIYMS have dominated the Challenge Cup for the last five editions, winning it three times and beaten finalists in 2016, and will be looking to maintain their sequence of winning in every odd year since 2015.

Instonians, remarkably, have been beaten finalists every odd year since 2013, so Andrew White’s side will be looking to go one better this year while maintaining their sequence of final appearances.

The Shaw’s Bridge side start this year’s campaign at Eaton Park against Ballymena, one of four Premiership sides who are away to Section One opposition — always the best chance of a cup upset.

Cliftonville Academy and Bangor will play for the right to host North Down, who haven’t been in a final since 2012, and the winners of Saintfield and Armagh, the other preliminary round game, will entertain 2016 winners Civil Service North.

The holders’ game is the only all-Premier League tie, while Muckamore and Cregagh — two sides who will certainly have Premier League ambitions — will guarantee a Section One team in the last-eight after their meeting at Moylena.

Gallagher, who have sponsored the Challenge Cup since 2016, have renewed their sponsorship for another three years.

The quarter-finals will take place on Sunday, July 18, the semi-finals two weeks later and the final is scheduled for Comber on Friday, August 13.

Preliminary round draw (Saturday, June 12): Cliftonville Academy v Bangor, Saintfield v Armagh
First round draw (Saturday, July 3): Saintfield or Armagh v Civil Service North, Lisburn v Donaghcloney Mill, Muckamore v Cregagh, Woodvale v Templepatrick, CIYMS v Carrickfergus, Derriaghy v Waringstown, Cliftonville Academy or Bangor v North Down, Ballymena v Instonians