Cumbernauld Colts are about to embark on their second season as a senior club - with co-manager Craig McKinlay expecting things to be even tougher this time round.
Colts finished a highly promising fourth in their debut Lowland League campaign, earning them a place in the Irn Bru Cup, and also enjoyed a decent run in their Scottish Cup debut.
But the growing reputation of the Lowland League and its ability to attract players of a higher standard is raising the bar for Colts and other clubs.
Nevertheless McKinlay is hopeful that Colts can build on solid foundations laid down last year and continue the club’s development both on and off the field.
He said: “For our opening campaign I think we can look back and take a lot of pride.
“We didn’t really know what to expect and it was quite tough going initially.
“But once we found our feet we competed really well throughout the season.
“To finish fourth became our aim once we knew it would earn us a place in the Irn Bru Cup and we have to be very satisfied with that first year.
“We now have to build on that but we know it’s going to be very difficult. We expect teams to be stronger than they were last year.
“There are lot of new players coming in, guys with senior experience.
“The way the teams from the Lowland League - the likes of East Kilbride and Edinburgh City for example - performed against senior teams showed the strength of the league and that’s the way it should be in the pyramid system.
“We have given ourselves a great start with what we achieved last year but we have to look to improve, even though we know it will be tough.”
The relatively sudden nature of Colts’ ascension into the pyramid set-up last summer meant that a fairly extensive overhaul of playing staff was needed.
Things are a little less frantic this time round though and McKinlay and co-boss James Orr have been able to tweak rather than rebuild.
McKinlay said: “We have still retained the bulk of the squad from last year.
“Michael Oliver has moved on to Clyde - we are very pleased for him and he goes with our best wishes - and Robbie Duncan, Paul McDonald and Blair Munn have all left.
“We’ve brought in Mark Batchelor from Rutherglen Glencairn. I have worked with him before - he was my captain at Dunipace Juniors - so we know what he will bring.
“Craig Murray has joined us after leaving East Fife. He began with Aberdeen and is a midfield player who, although he’s only 22, already has a lot of experience and first team appearances at senior level under his belt.
“Similarly Reece Glackin was with Clyde last year and previously played with Airdrie.
“Sam George was on loan to us us from Queen’s Park last season but has since left them and now has signed on for us permanently and that will give competition in the goalkeeping department with Chris Fahey, who has done really well for us since coming in, and Kenny Giles from the under-20s squad.”
Cumnock Juniors winger Owen Ronald and ex-East Kilbride centre-half Michael Morris have also been recruited.
The club’s under-20s enjoyed success last year, lifting the Lowland League Development Cup.
And McKinlay is hopeful that the likes of Jordan Pirie - who made a number of appearances for the senior side last season - and other can continue to flourish and move along the pathway from the development side to the senior set-up.
Colts kicked off their campaign against Gretna 2008 on Saturday and face Hamilton Accies’ under-20s in the first round of the Irn Bru Cup - the revamped Challenge Cup - at Broadwood tonight (Wednesday).
And with a hectic schedule continuing over the initial weeks of the season McKinlay is fully aware of the need to hit the ground running.
He said: ““It was all new to us last year, we weren’t sure what the standard would be like and the guys had to get used to playing at our home park.
“It’s important that we try to get off to a good start, especially with the game coming thick and fast.
“The Lowland League is getting more coverage and growing in reputation. I think that’s going to continue and it’s exciting to be part of it.”