TALISMANIC captain Steve McNulty has walked out on Vauxhall Motors to join Blue Square North Division rivals Barrow after months of contract negotiations broke down.
McNulty, an imposing centre-back and dead-ball specialist, played 100 games for the Motormen in just over two years as the rock on which the defence was built.
A transfer bid for the 23-year-old's services by South-port during last season failed, but subsequent negotiations with Motors have increasingly looked unlikely to be resolved due to McNulty's wage demands.
Motors chairman Alan Bartlam said: 'We are not in the bidding league of some other clubs. It is a major blow to lose Steve but he was a player prone to suspension anyway and we have had to manage through those times.
'He was inspirational and will be almost impossible to replace, but retaining the services of Joe McMahon means we are not exactly weak in defence.
'He could come back to haunt us but I hope we know enough about him to beat him next season.'
The loss of former Liverpool trainee McNulty, though expected by the chairman, will not mean a quick fix.
'There is no-one in line to replace him as yet,' said Bartlam. 'We were trying to keep McNulty until the end and so the manager (Carl Macauley) could not commit money to anyone else in case he surprised us all and signed.'
McNulty is the third high-profile departure from Rivacre Park after strikers Karl O'Donnell and Lee Furlong left last month.
In a further development this week, Motors have learned that they will be lining up against crisis club Boston United next season.
Vauxhall officials were surprised when clubs at the Blue Square Premier's AGM decided to send the Pilgrims - relegated from League Two last season - straight down to the North Division as the club's finances were not adequate to compete in the Blue Square Premier (formerly known as the Nationwide Conference).
The 'double relegation' for Boston saved Cheshire side Altrincham, who for the second successive season avoid relegation due to another club's financial problems.
Bartlam said: 'There was no whisper of this prior to the meeting. I was genuinely looking forward to renewing acquaintances with Altrincham. It is a nice club and local, so we would have got a larger gate.
'Boston is a long way away and difficult to get to so it won't be an enjoyable trip.'
* Motors have announced two further pre-season friendlies - at home to Bobby Williamson's Chester City on Saturday, July 21 and away to Welsh Premier League side Bangor City on Saturday, July 28.