Warren: Getting mentality right will be key to success
The warrior spirit has not left Warren Feeney. It's the same one that he displayed on 46 occasions for Northern Ireland and all the clubs he played for around the UK.
He hasn't changed in all the years I've known him. Passion oozes out of Feeney and there's a pride too in being manager of Linfield, the club he supported before he could walk. "Linfield will always be my team," he says, during our conversation in an east Belfast restaurant.
Right from the moment the 34-year-old became boss at Windsor Park he was under pressure. Goes with the job.
And within days he had made a massive decision, ruling that club captain Michael Gault and a few other popular players could move on to pastures new. He was going to do it his way.
"There were big calls made in the summer, but I think people can see the other side of it now and that I was right," he says.
On Crusaders winning the title ahead of the Blues, he states: "Crusaders have been fantastic. Their manager Stephen Baxter has said that it has taken him 10 years to get them to this point. I know I will never get that time but I believe that I can take Linfield to the title, even though everyone wants to beat us more than any other side."
To that aim, Feeney has already started building for next season, recruiting experienced defender and long-time Linfield target Mark Stafford and fiery midfielder David Kee from Ballinamallard. More will follow from the Irish League and across the water, with the Blues boss using his many contacts.
"I'm not bringing players in to just sit around. They have to be as good or better than what we have got. Mark and David are in that category," he said.
It's no secret though that Feeney has missed out on some of his transfer targets in the last year.
His answer to that is as forceful as he was when he acted as a foil for David Healy in Northern Ireland's attack.
He says: "Probably 95% of the players here would have run to Linfield Football Club five or six years ago but now if they get paid a pound more from other clubs they will go there. I have found that difficult to understand given the size of Linfield.
"What I want are players who are fully committed to the club. One thing I'm pleased about is that our club does everything right, the board have been great and professional and we'll keep it that way. What I must do is deliver success on the field and I'm confident that will be done."
Having been in the professional game for 15 years, Feeney would love Linfield to go full-time but knows that won't happen. Instead he will focus on encouraging his team to "play good football in the right areas and ensuring the mentality is right, that is key to success".
He fully expects to challenge for the league title next season and believes Crusaders, Cliftonville, Glenavon and Portadown will be up there too. He respects Glentoran's style of play and adds that Ballymena United will make a real run at the top six next season.
Just like he did, he wants to see Cliftonville's free scoring Joe Gormley and young Crusaders whizzkid Gavin Whyte given a chance in full-time football, but warns: "People don't realise how hard it is to make the grade in England now because the competition is so great. If it was easy, there would be many more players from Northern Ireland shining over there.
"It is a massive step but I'd love to see Joe or Gavin get their shot. My worry is that you hear figures like £100,000 touted around for Irish League players. English clubs will look elsewhere when they hear that."
Straight talking and up front, it's hard to imagine Feeney ever losing that warrior spirit.