Banbridge Rangers have their sights set high thanks to the eye-catching signings that have been unveiled at Cheney Park over the summer.
No fewer than five new faces have joined the club and, with a bolstered squad, Rangers boss Richard McMinn is targeting the title.
“Retaining last year’s squad and building on it with seven new additions of quality should give us enough strength and depth to challenge for honours this season,” he said.
“I am delighted with the players who have decided to come on board this season and particularly pleased that most of last year’s squad are still part of the plans.”
He added: “Jeff Brady impressed in a five month spell last season and it was a huge boost to see a player of that quality want to come back to the club.
“A trio of players from former Intermediate A champions Dollingstown have also came on board and been impressive in pre-season.
“Neil Clydesdale needs little introduction as he was a standout player for the club before being the driving force for Dollingstown to move up to the Championship and proved his worth finishing as second top scorer for them last season.
“Striker Colin Cunningham and defender Jamie Crooks are both young, exciting prospects who also joined from the Championship Two club and will both be looking to make a positive impact this season.
“This week former goalkeeper Ivon Blevins also returned to provide competition and mentoring for Chris Davison who was a standout performer last season.
“I played alongside Ivon for over four years and he is a great character to have around the dressing room. It’s one of the most uplifting sights as Manager to see so many potential leaders out on the pitch.”
A player who has caught the eye of anyone watching Banbridge Rangers in pre-season has been Stephen Teggart, who signed from Portadown.
“At 17 years old, Stephen may prove to be one of the signings of the year,” said McMinn. “He has a footballing brain beyond his years and is able to match anyone he comes up against in centre-midfield and had the sign of a potentially great player as he demands the ball at every opportunity and has chipped in with two well taken goals.”
Rangers will also be boosted by the return of Scott Ward, who has returned to action in pre-season after suffering a broken leg over a year ago.
Rangers have played seven games in pre-season with mixed results including last week’s 3-1 defeat to Rathfriland in the Banbridge District Cup final but McMinn is pleased with their progress.
“In our opening games we have learnt so much about the team whether it is a win or defeat,” said McMinn. “Windmill Stars and Rathfriland Rangers got the better of us with Windmill giving the players a wake up call and the latter game showing the players how crucial it is to take chances when on top as we could and should have been four or five goals up at half time.
“The three wins against Bourneview, Gilford and Dungannon Tigers saw us come out of the blocks with early goals to gain the momentum in each match. Last Saturday we were 2-0 down with 20 minutes to go at Killyleagh but came back with four late goals and proved that we are always able to turn the screw and have the character to come back from a seemingly lost position.”
Banbridge Rangers begin their campaign this Saturday at home to Ballymacash Rangers and know how crucial a good start could be.
McMinn said: “Ballymacash finished second last season after having a great start and only missed out on the title by having a small squad, especially when their keeper got injured.
“That is something we are aware of and we should be confident but wary going into the tie after beating them 3-1 in Lisburn which was their only home defeat of the season.”
The standard of Intermediate A was one of the key points Richard McMinn was keen to acknowledge.
He said: “There were six strong teams in the league last season and with addition of Valley Rangers and Hanover there are potentially eight teams with an eye on the top prize plus most of the bottom half teams have strengthened significantly. It will mean that there can be no room for complacency.”
Banbridge Rangers’ game against Ballymacash Rangers this Saturday kicks off at 2.15pm at Cheney Park.