Warrenpoint boss relishing Town's opportunity to crash Larne party
When the Irish League fixtures were set to be announced, most managers would have hoped to avoid a trip to Larne on the opening weekend.
After all, they would know that Inver Park would be packed with expectant home supporters, high-profile new signings would be keen to impress and full-time Larne on the back of promotion would be confident of victory.
Stephen McDonnell is not most managers. He became boss of Warrenpoint Town at the age of 26 and in his first full season led the club to a record tally of points in the top flight, cruised to safety and reached the semi-finals of the Irish Cup.
Rather than avoid Larne early on, McDonnell spoke to his coaching staff ahead of the fixtures announcement and declared that he would relish a shot at Tiernan Lynch's side.
Wish granted. Saturday at Inver Park promises to be some occasion and McDonnell and his players are aiming to spoil the party.
Last season on their way to a 10th-placed finish in the table, Town secured stunning victories away to Ballymena United and Glenavon, who finished second and third respectively.
Warrenpoint were also unlucky not to beat champions Linfield at Windsor Park, outlining that reputations matter little to the Milltown club.
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"Sitting down with the coaching staff thinking who we would like, we said we'd love Larne just because we know the focus on the game will be big," said McDonnell, who has increased training nights at Warrenpoint to three per week.
"They have a star-studded team and I have no doubt they will do very well but they still have to make the jump from one level to another.
"They have obviously been away on a pre-season tour, which every club would love to be able to do, and played good pre-season games, but they don't replicate the league games.
"We will have to go with a plan and respect that they are going to be a force to be reckoned with, but I'm quite pleased to have them first up.
"We are going to a surface that will suit us because both teams will want to play good football. Having gone to three nights per week it will be interesting for us to test ourselves against a full-time team and see what that extra night did for us."
Last season, Warrenpoint started with six league defeats in a row before things started to click. After they face Larne on Saturday, they will play last season's top five, so it promises to be another challenging opening.
"It's a tough start but we are not complaining. We are embracing it and will be ready for it," said McDonnell.
"I prefer it this way for the reason that we had so many big games at the start of last season and this will be a chance for us to measure ourselves one year on and see what we have learnt and how we have improved."
Manager: Stephen McDonnell
Captain: Fra McCaffrey
Last season: 10th
Ins: Dermot McVeigh, Gavin Smith, Evan White, Jake O'Connor, Kaleem Simon, Eamon Scannell (on loan).
Outs: Simon Kelly, Lee Duffy, Conal McGrandles, Stevie Moan, Seanna Foster, Joshua Lynch, Jared Thompson, Hernany Macedo Marques.
Last year's big performers need to repeat the trick
Stephen McDonnell and his team deserved all the plaudits they received last term for their entertaining and enterprising brand of football. In many ways, under McDonnell they were an unknown quantity. Players like Danny Wallace, Fra McCaffrey, Philip Donnelly, Ciaran O'Connor, Matty Lynch and Alan O'Sullivan all made big impressions. The question is, can they do it again to keep Town out of trouble?