Special Larne players are ready for Premiership fight, says Lynch
Larne manager Tiernan Lynch says his "special" group of players are "up for the fight" as they prepare to kick off their Danske Bank Premiership campaign.
After clinching their first title in 47 years by cruising to Championship success at the start of March, a special new chapter in the Inver Park revolution will unfold this weekend.
Larne is a town gripped by top-flight fever again, and when Warrenpoint Town visit on Saturday, the Premiership new boys are ready to prove this is where they belong.
Critics have dubbed them "big-spending" Larne, but there's quite a few top clubs in the country spending big.
The club has embraced a full-time culture and, following the backing of owner and hometown multi-millionaire Kenny Bruce, Inver Park has been given a fresh, modern look while the squad is impressive.
New signings Conor Mitchell, Albert Watson, Sean Graham, Mark Randall and Johnny McMurray are quality additions, hinting that the club's return to the big time won't fall flat.
Promoted clubs aren't usually tipped to challenge for a top-six spot, never mind Europe, but the east Antrim side have sufficient talent in their ranks to strike fear into rivals.
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Lynch can feel the excitement around the club and he's confident his boys will rise to the challenge.
"The club have been working very hard behind the scenes and Kenny has been very hands on all summer in getting the place ready," said the Larne boss. "The excitement is there and we just have to go and deliver now.
"They are a very special bunch of boys and they are up for this fight.
"The players are a special group in my opinion. There are big names like Jeff Hughes and Mark Randall, guys like Marty Donnelly and Conor Devlin who have won Premier Leagues. People come in here with a smile on their face every day and they enjoy what we do.
"We know the test will be tougher than last season and that's a challenge to the group. It's important we deal with adversity and emerge from it stronger."
Larne have heard all the positive talk but feet will be kept firmly on the ground.
They shouldn't lack momentum or self-belief following their Championship success and they can take inspiration from Crusaders' rise to the top following their re-emergence as a Premiership force.
"It's been going well, we are pleased where we are and the boys are buying into what we are trying to do," added Lynch, who is enjoying his first spell in management after high-profile coaching roles with Cliftonville and Glentoran.
"They are working extremely hard and you can never ask more from this bunch. They are now ready and raring to get going this weekend.
"We have brought in four or five new faces and hopefully they will strengthen us. We have added experience and know-how and you hope that will stand us in good stead.
"The new lads have settled in well over a split pre-season. We came back and went to Poland for a camp for a week. They have had plenty of games and seem to have bonded together very well.
"It might sound boring but I don't think about what other people say. We focus on the process, not the outcome. We don't look up the mountain because we might not get there, you have to take one step at a time.
"We are going to concentrate on our next game and not look too far ahead as we are stepping into the unknown, albeit we have a lot of experience. All the teams in the league are strong and there are no gimmes.
"We are under no illusion this is going to be one hell of a tough season.
"It's great for the game to have such a competitive league. I watched Crusaders against Wolves and they were very well organised, but you could name so many other teams, like Ballymena United, who are getting stronger.
"The teams in Europe have won matches and we all have to be a part of that. We'd love to be on that stage.
"Our targets are three points against Warrenpoint and we go again on Tuesday.
"I've heard people say we are going to do this and that and sometimes it's flattering, even perhaps unrealistic, but you have to earn victories and our total focus is on the first game."
Fans are looking forward to seeing former Arsenal midfielder Randall in action, while experienced defender Watson is a shrewd signing. Lynch, meanwhile, says he's relishing the chance to test himself against the Premiership's top bosses and he expects the Larne faithful to play a big role again.
"One hundred per cent, I'm here to test myself against the best managers," he added. "There are unbelievably successful managers, from David Healy to David Jeffrey and Oran Kearney. If you want to stay in this league and compete you have to rise to that as an individual and team.
"To be fair, from the minute I walked in the fans have been phenomenal. They come out in their numbers, get behind you and appreciate when the team plays good football.
"So far they have been superb and the whole town will stay behind the boys this season."
Manager: Tiernan Lynch
Captain: Jeff Hughes
Last season: Championship winners
Ins: Conor Mitchell, Albert Watson, Sean Graham, Mark Randall, Johnny McMurray.
Outs: Paddy McNally.
Can newcomers challenge for the premiership title?
That question won't be discussed within the Inver Park dressing room and it certainly shouldn't be given the challenge ahead. But believe it or not, many fans and players will say they can't be ruled out of the title race. That view is based on their squad, which boasts winners, leaders and experience, but it's a big ask to expect Larne to reel in the likes of Linfield. It's one thing wiping out Championship teams every week, but finding consistency in the top flight is a different ball game.