Linfield FC may have won seven Northern Irish titles in nine years but manager David Jeffrey is the last man who will allow complacency to creep in ahead of the new season.
Jeffrey, appointed in January 1997, is one of the most decorated coaches in Northern Irish history having lifted 30 trophies during his 15 campaigns at the helm. Last term witnessed his ninth league championship and a sixth domestic double in seven years at Windsor Park – now they must do it again, starting with a trip to Ballymena United FC on Saturday.
"We go again – that's my message to the players," said Jeffrey. "Our priority at the start of every season is always the league title. The achievements of the past few years have been absolutely phenomenal, but no one at Windsor Park stands still, no one rests on his laurels.
"This club demands success and expectation levels are huge. It is a tough place to be manager, but you also have to be a special breed of player to thrive here. Success demands success and that's the challenge to my players. You have to show desire and character at Linfield but this group has that in abundance."
Linfield were crowned with four games to spare last season and eventually finished 14 points clear of second-placed Portadown FC. They secured the domestic double with an emphatic 4-1 victory against Crusaders FC in the Northern Irish Cup final, but have nevertheless strengthened over the summer as they seek more of the same. Prolific striker Matt Tipton has arrived from Portadown, while Ryan Hunderson has joined from Donegal Celtic FC.
"I don't read anything into odds and so on," added Jeffrey. "Everyone will want to stop us so we know we'll have to rise to the challenge to succeed." Portadown are sure to be one of those vying for top spot, with Crusaders and Cliftonville FC also hoping to be in the mix.
A welcome addition to the division, meanwhile, are promoted Ballinamallard United FC, who are relishing their debut campaign in Northern Ireland's elite. "The realist in me accepts that the main challenge for us will be to secure our survival in the top division," said manager Whitey Anderson.
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