Poppies goalkeeper Paul White believes the newly-promoted Kettering Town squad are ready to show they belong in the Vanarama National League North.
The Poppies return to step two football this weekend when they take on AFC Telford United in the season-opener at Latimer Park this Saturday.
Just under four months have passed since Kettering romped to the Southern League Premier Division Central title to secure a return to the National League North for the first time since 2008.
But it has still been a summer of change with title-winning manager Marcus Law surprisingly leaving the club and Nicky Eaden returning to Kettering as his successor.
However, the vast majority of the squad that clinched the crown back in April has remained intact, while The Poppies have added to it with a degree of patience during the pre-season.
And, as one of those who helped secure title glory last season, stopper White believes he and his team-mates deserve the opportunity to show what they can do at the next level.
“I think there was a bit of negativity around the fans in the first few weeks of pre-season because the squad was a bit thin,” the popular Irishman said.
“You are always trying to manage expectations here and I think people were over-thinking things a bit too much.
“Pre-season is always a bit of a grind for managers and players.
“It’s all about being ready for the first game of the season and now we are at that stage and we want to get off to a good start.
“The majority of this squad have been together for two years. We have lost a couple, but that’s what happens in non-league football, players do come and go.
“But we have got the core of the squad still here and I think that’s a good thing.
“I have been in pre-seasons where there have been 15 or 16 new players all being thrown together and you never really know how people will react in that situation.
“When you have a core of a squad there, I think it makes it easier for those new boys coming to fit into it.
“It’s a step up for this squad but I think we all deserve the opportunity to have a go at the next level.
“It’s now up to us to show that our convincing title win was merited and that we are capable of moving up to the higher level.”
White feels The Poppies players can feel confident as they head into what is regarded as an extremely tough division.
And while there is plenty of excitement around Latimer Park, he knows a tough campaign lies ahead.
“It’s important to be realistic,” White added.
“We won the league at a canter but this division has a lot of ex-Football League clubs and full-time teams, so it’s going to be hard.
“That’s not to downplay ourselves because you never know what will happen.
“We have to have confidence in ourselves and I think everyone here has the right to feel excited.
“We have done the hard yards of going to places like Dorchester and Tiverton to get to this stage and now we have to make that step up and make it count.”