Jamie Mulgrew, having spent the majority of his high-profile career at the centre of the spotlight associated with the Irish League’s biggest club, enters another season drawing main motivation from within.
As Linfield captain, Mulgrew is willing to embrace the responsibility associated with the Windsor Park armband on and off the field in service to the club cause - in balance alongside an individual focus required to keep any 33-year-old midfielder the heartbeat of the side.
The boyhood Linfield fan has always been keen to shape those dual demands into an internal drive and that desire to continue moving forward stands central to ambitions of back-to-back Gibson Cup honours.
“With Linfield, no matter how well the club is doing or what position you finished the previous season, everyone seems to want a piece of you and then you add on top the tag of defending champions,” said Mulgrew. “This is shaping up to be the most competitive league season I’ve faced but we failed miserably in our previous title defence so will be doing everything possible to retain the Irish League crown this time around.
“You look at the investment in Larne and Glentoran, Oran Kearney coming back to Coleraine, the benefits of European runs on top of the track records of clubs like Cliftonville, Crusaders and Ballymena United and the consistency of Glenavon.
“But this is the strongest squad at Linfield in a number of years and we go into the campaign off the back of a brilliant pre-season, so everything is in place.
“The nucleus of the players involved in our disastrous season when last trying to retain the title went on to help the club win it last season so to come back from such a low feeling says something about this group.
“We’ve added players who will strengthen us and it is up to us to do our talking on the pitch and maintain the standards set.”
Mulgrew’s 14-year Linfield career serves as something of a bridge between old-school values and modern methods.
“Clubs have become much more professional and taking on board fresh thinking has certainly helped as I get older,” said Mulgrew. “I love our league and was lucky to come up with players who schooled me in certain principles that I have, hopefully, been able to pass on to other players.
“I may be captain but at Linfield it is the responsibility of everyone to accept the standards expected but this is a great group and certainly not in need of baby-sitting.
“I think our league is respected more than ever and players now have opportunities maybe some in the past didn’t have to go across the water but it is great for the game.
“Clubs are now constantly evolving and rethinking and it helps keep everyone sharp and pushing forward.
“It is not so much about pressure at Linfield for me, I consider it a privilege to play for this club and to wear the armband.
“That helps to motivate me, I’m as hungry as ever and enjoy playing here so much I just want to keep on helping Linfield to success.
“But the drive also comes from accepting reputation or the past alone does not guarantee me a place and I’m under no illusions I have to continue to perform at a high level.
“Those expectations, however, match my own and it has been an honour to represent a club like Linfield over 550 times.”