Reece Black will be the youngest defending champion in East of Ireland history when Beaverstown's Gary Cullen returns to the amateur fold at the age of 42 today.
The 1999 Irish Amateur Open champion spent 18 years toiling in the professional ranks, but with back problems putting an end to his tour career, he was reinstated as an amateur in January.
"I only play once a week now, and I enjoy the walk and playing with the young lads and seeing how it's done," said Cullen, who is playing off plus two and managing American Golf in Dundrum.
"I'd still be competitive if my back wasn't at me. I lost all my discs on the right-hand side — they just disintegrated from one to five and that took me out of golf.
"But I don't worry about it any more. I played all the tours and even had a category on the European Tour in 2003 but I can still get out and play and that's the main thing. I really enjoy it.
"When I was playing I put too much pressure on myself and I just didn't believe in myself. But that's in the past. I just enjoy a good walk now and it's great."
Just five of the Irish panel teed it up 12 months ago but there are 12 in action with "The d Hotel Drogheda" coming in to sponsor the 72-hole strokeplay test at County Louth.
The big absentees are Tramore's Irish Amateur Open champion Robin Dawson and Castle's Alex Gleeson and The Island's Paul McBride, who will turn professional at US Open Sectional Qualifying at Walton Heath on Monday.
South Africa has four entrants headed by 2017 South African Amateur champion Christo Lamprecht and the country's top junior, Jayden Schaper (17).
There are also entries from Iceland, Argentina, Australia and the United States with Irish internationals Peter O’Keeffe, Rowan Lester, Conor Purcell, Tiarnan McLarnon and Caolan Rafferty leading home challenge.
The event also reverts to its traditional three-day format with the leading 42 and ties after tomorrow's second round qualifying for Monday's final 36 holes.
Black, who was 17 when he closed with a 66 last year to edge out Grange's Robbie Pierse by three shots, is looking for a big week.
"My goal this year is to finish high in the Bridgestone Order of Merit,” he said. "I started off the season okay. I finished last 16 at the West, which got me a few points. I haven’t done much since then so I’m looking to try and get it back this week and move up a bit.”
East of Ireland 2018
June 2-4, County Louth Golf Club (Par 72)
Sponsored by The D Hotel Drogheda
1st tee /10th tee
07:30/12:30 Reece Black (Hilton Templepatrick); T J Ford (Co. Sligo); Peter Kirby (Dun Laoghaire)
07:41/12:41 Hugh Foley (Royal Dublin); Hugh O'Hare (Fortwilliam); David Reddan Jnr (Nenagh)
07:52/12:52 Gary Cullen (Beaverstown); John Hickey (Cork); Alexander Wilson (Portmarnock)
08:03/13:03 Marc Nolan (Dun Laoghaire); Sam Sweeney (USA); Charlie Denvir (Elm Park)
08:14/13:14 Eugene Smith (Laytown & Bettystown); Gerard Dunne (Co. Louth); Alan Fahy (Dun Laoghaire)
08:25/13:25 Paul O'Hanlon (Carton House); Gavin Fitzmaurice (Balcarrick); Ian O'Rourke (Royal Dublin)
08:36/13:36 Conor Purcell (Portmarnock); Aaron Grant (Dundalk); Andrew McCormack (Castletroy)
08:47/13:47 Eanna Griffin (Waterford); Tiarnan McLarnon (Massereene); John Murphy (Kinsale)
08:58/13:58 Dylan Brophy (Castleknock); Fraser Carr (Kirkistown Castle); Peter O' Keeffe (Douglas)
09:09/14:09 Christo Lamprecht (South Africa); Ronan Mullarney (Galway); Eoin Leonard (Killiney/Wentworth)
09:20/14:20 Rowan Lester (Hermitage); Jayden Schaper (South Africa); Paul Coughlan (Castleknock)
12:30/07:30 Richard Knightly (Royal Dublin); David Brady (Co. Sligo); Sean Doyle (Black Bush)
12:41/07:41 Aaron Ryan (Thurles); William Small (Tandragee); Henning Thordarson (Iceland)
12:52/07:52 Niall Hearns (Mountrath); James Fox (Portmarnock); Shane Mc Dermott (Co. Cavan)
13:03/08:03 Jack Doherty (Carton House); Robert Moran (Castle); Christopher Moulds (Lisburn)
13:14/08:14 Conor Ryan (Dun Laoghaire); Lachlan Armour (Australia); Sean Ryan (Royal Dublin)
13:25/08:25 Peter McKeever (Castle); Robbie Pierse (Grange); Rory Williamson (Holywood)
13:36/08:36 Devin Morley (Oughterard); Paul Murphy (Rosslare); Darragh Coghlan (Portmarnock)
13:47/08:47 Alan Dowling (Hermitage); Stefan Greenberg (Tandragee); Allan Hill (Athenry)
13:58/08:58 John Greene (Portmarnock); Gary McDermott (Carton House); Jack Madden (Royal Portrush)
14:09/09:09 Robert Brazill (Naas); Stephen Healy (Royal Dublin); Mathew Kane (Larne)
14:20/09:20 Cathal Butler (Kinsale); Shaun Carter (Royal Dublin); Vikar Jonasson (Iceland)
10th tee/1st tee
07:30/12:30 David Foy (Laytown & Bettystown); Joe Lyons (Galway); William Russell (Clandeboye)
07:41/12:41 G Smyth (Clonmel); Anthony McDaid (Palmerstown Stud); Gary Ward (Kinsale)
07:52/12:52 Marc Norton (Belvoir Park); Michael Jnr Ryan (New Ross); Stephen Watts (Cairndhu)
08:03/13:03 Ross Dutton (Tandragee); Matais Lezcano (Argentina); Joseph Byrne (Baltinglass)
08:14/13:14 Eddie McCormack (Galway Bay); Sean Flanagan (Co. Sligo); Marcos Montenegro (Argentina)
08:25/13:25 Pat Murray (Clontarf); Mark Collins (Killeen Castle); Runar Arnorsson (Iceland)
08:36/13:36 Garry O'Flaherty (Cork); Colin Woodroofe (Dun Laoghaire); Daniel Holland (Castle)
08:47/13:47 Robert Cannon (Balbriggan); Jim Carvill (Banbridge); Geoff Lenehan (Portmarnock)
08:58/13:58 Jack Mc Donnell (Forrest Little); Jake Whelan (Newlands); Thomas O'Connor (Athlone)
09:09/14:09 Clayton Mansfield (South Africa); Mark Power (Kilkenny); Gary Collins (Rosslare)
09:20/14:20 Keith Egan (Carton House); Therion Nel (South Africa); Caolan Rafferty (Dundalk)
12:30/07:30 Patrick Brennan (Belvoir Park); Liam Power (Galway); Cian Feeney (Co. Sligo)
12:41/07:41 David Kitt (Athenry); Jamie Fletcher (Warrenpoint); Max Kennedy (Royal Dublin)
12:52/07:52 Gareth Bohill (Co. Louth); Luke Mills (Australia); Alex Maguire (Laytown & Bettystown)
13:03/08:03 Padraic O'Brien (Co. Louth); Barry Anderson (Royal Dublin); Mark O'Rourke (Royal Tara)
13:14/08:14 Stephen Barker (Mourne); Karl Bornemann (Douglas); Seamus Cullen (Slieve Russell)
13:25/08:25 James McVicker (Knock); Ted Collins (Dun Laoghaire); Gerard Copeland (Ardglass)
13:36/08:36 Cian Dullaghan (Greenore); Evan Farrell (Ardee); Jack Hearn (Tramore)
13:47/08:47 Alan Lowry (Esker Hills); Aaron Marshall (Lisburn); Matthew McClean (Malone)
13:58/08:58 Ryan McKinstry (Cairndhu) Jamie Sutherland (Galgorm Castle); Tyrone Clarke (Royal Portrush)
14:09/09:09 Jack Walsh (Castle); Paraic Connolly (Killeen Castle); Ben Murray (Waterford Castle)
14:20/09:20 Aaron Kearney (Castlerock); James Sugrue (Mallow); Michael Reid (Galgorm Castle)