It’s the big kick off for Lisburn Distillery this weekend as the 2016/17 season begins.
The Whites face a tough opening to the campaign, with a Steel & Sons Cup match tomorrow (Saturday) away to Crumlin Star, before they travel to Bangor in their first league encounter on Tuesday night.
New boss Colin McIlwaine has spent the close season rebuilding a team following the Whites’ relegation last season.
Now his team will begin the task of trying to bounce back, however, McIlwaine has warned that his men face a ‘learning curve’ and that there will be ‘good days and bad days’.
“We have a busy period coming up, with a couple of cup competitions and the league, but everybody is looking forward to getting the season started,” McIlwaine commented.
“Our priority is the league campaign, we hope we can get off to a decent start, but it’s going to be tough,” the boss warned.
“We’ve had some really good performances and results in pre-season, and we’ve also had some wee niggly teething problems, which is always to be expected.
“We knew at the start it was going to be difficult and we had to iron out problems and hopefully we’ve done that.”
McIlwaine, however, is aware that life in the NIFL Premier Intermediate League will not be easy.
“We’re under no illusions, it is going to be tough,” he said.
“With such a small squad we need a bit of luck to keep everybody fit and fighting to be part of it, and want to be part of it.
“I just hope we don’t lose too many players early doors to injury, I want everybody hungry and battling for a place.
“There will be good days and bad days, we just hope the supporters and the club can be patient with us.
“We have a young squad, so they are still learning each other’s personalities; it’s a learning curve.”
One issue McIlwaine faces is that players will be missing for the opening matches.
“I would love to have everybody available for the first match but we have a few with suspensions from last season,” he explained.
“Crumlin Star wasn’t the best draw for us,” he said of the cup tie.
“It is a hard draw to go to Larne, it is very hard to beat them down there, but we’ll go down and try to win the game. Obviously it’s going to be very tough.
“Bangor is a very tough league opener for us. But every single league game is like a cup final for us, and we will do all we can to make sure we win as many as possible,” the boss vowed.
“We also have an Irish Cup game and a massive League Cup game at Solitude.
“The League Cup draw was always going to be difficult. Cliftonville are a massive Irish League side and it will be a special night for Jody Lynch, who played for Cliftonville. We will go there and enjoy our night.
“Myself and George O’Boyle have been humbled that people have got behind us,” McIlwaine said.
“All we ask of the club is for everyone to pull together in the same direction. We didn’t inherit a team that can win things, that will take time. We have to steady the ship and become competitive; anything else is a bonus.”