Preston Athletic joint-manager Paul Riley is hoping his former glories against Kelty Hearts will stand his squad in good stead ahead of tomorrow’s King Cup final.
The ex-Hibs youth player leads the Panners into their first cup final under his and Jack Lynch’s tenure at Kings Park, Dalkeith, chasing an upset against the newly-crowned East of Scotland League champions.
The Fife outfit have won all three previous meetings between the clubs this season and are strong favourites to claim a league and cup double.
However, Riley, who enjoyed a successful spell as a player with Bonnyrigg Rose in the mid-noughties, says victories over Kelty became a regular occurrence during his time at New Dundas Park.
“I’ve told the players that I am used to beating Kelty so I’m hoping some of that rubs off on the boys this weekend,” Riley, now 42, said. “When I was with Bonnyrigg, beating Kelty was just something we were used to.
“We know the calibre of the opponent but it’s not mission impossible. If they have an off day then we’ve got to make sure we capitalise. They are such a physical side but that comes from them being a former Junior club.
“We know what we’re up against tomorrow. I know the odds are stacked against us but there’s something about the players just now. I’ve got a not bad wee group here and we’ve been on a good run.”
Riley and Lynch guided Preston to a third-place finish this term following their relegation from the Lowland League 12 months ago. Although failing to land promotion at the first time of asking, Riley, who took over the reins from Craig Nisbet last April, insists his players can be proud of their efforts.
“The second part of this season has been really settled,” he explained. “We’ve been consistent with our results so I wish the season still had a few more weeks to run if I’m being honest! I’m really enjoying it. It’s been a great learning curve for myself and Jack.
“We’ve managed to finish best of the rest in the league behind Kelty and Lothian and I think that’s a great achievement. To finish above Leith and Tynecastle represents a brilliant first season. The club was a shambles before we came in last year.
“We’ve been getting 16 or 17 boys at every training session and that tells me everything I need to know. That’s when you know you’re doing something right and everyone is walking about with a smile on their face.
“But no matter what happens tomorrow we’ll all be going back to our place to celebrate what has been a fantastic season. The gulf in resources between the clubs is absolutely massive and I think their result in the semi final (8-1 against Leith Athletic) has really just hit home how big a task it is to try and beat Kelty, especially in a cup final when you’d expect them to be really up for it.”
Riley is excited by the shake-up to the league next season when 13 former Junior sides will join the Pyramid system. That said, he believes the challenge of winning promotion back to Scottish football’s fifth tier has just become even more formidable.
He said: “I’m looking forward to next year but I think they might have to have to reconsider about there being just one promoted to the Lowland League given the clubs that are coming into our league. It certainly makes our job a lot harder in trying to get up that’s for sure.
“What it does do, though, is boost the revenue for the club because there could be a lot of local derbies against Musselburgh, Tranent and Haddington.
“We’ve been planning for next season since January. We want to keep the nucleus of the squad together because we’d find it hard to get much better for the wages that we can offer them. There will be one or two new faces, though.”