Bonnyrigg Rose boss Robbie Horn reckons more clubs will fancy their chances of Super League title success this season with big-spending Kelty Hearts having made the move to the East of Scotland league.
Rose, who finished runners-up to Kelty last term, have been instilled as favourites for the league crown ahead of the new season which gets underway this weekend.
They drove the Fife outfit all the way last season, despite combining league duty with a stunning William Hill Scottish Cup run – the highlight of which was a memorable win over Dumbarton in the third-round to set up a glamour tie against Hibs – and reached the semi-finals of the Junior Cup.
Without the added distraction of the Scottish Cup, it’s easy to see why Rose, who finished 14 points clear of third place Bo’ness United last season, are strong favourites to regain the title they won in 2015/16 having strengthened over the summer.
Dean Brett, who initially signed with League Two Montrose at the end of last season, has re-joined the New Dundas Park men after finding the travelling to the Angus town too much. He’s been joined by former Newtongrange Star captain Lee Currie who adds further quality to an already fine midfield crop, with ex-Edinburgh City player Mark McConnell, and Ross Gray, formerly of Linlithgow Rose, also boosting their ranks.
It’s the retention of two key players last season which could be key to Rose enjoying a fruitful campaign, however. Centre-back Kerr Young, who caught the eye of several clubs last season, has signed an extension but what could prove to be Horn’s best bit of summer business was persuading striker Wayne McIntosh, who pondered retirement, to sign on for another year.
“It’s been a short summer, there’s not been much of a break for the players,” said Horn. “We’ve tried to watch what we’re doing a wee bit because you can’t batter them like a normal pre-season because we’ve not had that much of a break.
“The new signings have been good and they’ve done well. I think we’ve strengthened the squad, we’re maybe looking for one more body but as it stands at the moment I think we’ve got a strong squad.
“Mark [McConnell] can play in a few different positions, he can play in midfield, he’s played upfront and out wide as well, so he gives us different options. Cuzza [Lee Currie] has come in and done really well also and we’ve got wee Ross Gray who can play in the hole – we’ve got lots of different options. We’re looking quite strong but it’s a case of seeing how we are when the first game comes around.
“Wayne was obviously talking about retiring but he’s decided to stay on another year and he’s been scoring goals in pre-season. We lost Ruaridh [Donaldson] which was a blow, but Neil Martyniuk has come in and Dean Brett has come back to us. Neil is only 20 and he could be a real top player if he keeps developing.”
Expect Linlithgow Rose to push Bonnyrigg all the way in the battle for top spot with Mark Bradley having returned to the club as manager at the end of last season.
The Prestonfield men flirted with relegation to the Premier League at one stage last season, but with Bradley back at the helm, the fans’ favourite crucially has the backing of the club’s supporters and he’s brought back a much-needed winning mentality, with Rose looking strong going into the new season.
An identity has been missing from Rose for the last few seasons but Bradley has recruited familiar faces which served him well in his previous spell as manager. He’s persuaded the MacLennan brothers, Roddy and Ruari, to re-join the club after a sour exit last summer, which saw them cross the divide and make the unprecedented move in joining fierce rivals Bo’ness United, with striker Colin Strickland also returning alongside Robert Sloan, the ex-Hearts midfielder having ended his four-year spell at Bo’ness.
Despite age not being on their side, with Strickland and Tommy Coyne leading the forward line for Rose promises to bring goals for Bradley’s men.
Bonnyrigg boss Horn expects Linlithgow to be up challenging with his side, who, he reckons are able to handle their title favourites’ tag after a demanding campaign last season.
He continued: “Looking at other teams I think Linlithgow will be strong, they got a lift with Mark Bradley coming in towards the end of last season. You can also never write off Bo’ness, they are always there or thereabouts. I think Broxburn and Dundonald will be strong again, and the Dundee teams, Lochee and Broughty will be up there again. You’ve also got Penicuik, so it’s going to be tough – it’s a tough, tough league. The teams who are always around the bottom of the table make it difficult for you; there’s never an easy game in the Super League. It will be hard league and competitive again.
“We became a huge scalp for everybody last season after our run in the cup; everybody raised their game that we bit more. The players have to deal with that, it’s the pressure that comes with being a successful team.
“We’ve been made favourites which is probably on the basis of the last couple of seasons, but we’re under no illusions – it’s going to be really tough. There will be a few teams that will fancy their chances of winning it, so I think it’s fairly open.”