Graeme Stewart believes Buckie Thistle are among six teams capable of challenging for the Highland League title this season.
The Jags finished eighth last season with a series of long-term injuries to key players doing little to help their chances.
But Buckie boss Stewart reckons the 2017 champions can get in the mix this season.
He said: “I think that there are five other teams and ourselves with a realistic chance of lifting the title in April.
“It’s good for the league that it’s going to be opened up now that Cove Rangers have won promotion
“Don’t get me wrong, I always enjoyed facing Cove and if you were able to beat them you knew you were a good side.
“As well as ourselves, I think Brora Rangers, Formartine United, Fraserburgh, Inverurie Locos and Forres Mechanics will be competing for the title.
“In addition, Wick Academy could come out of the pack and other clubs, such as Rothes, could also have a good season.
“Brora Rangers were unlucky last year. They had the strongest squad after Cove and they will probably start as favourites to win the league.”
Stewart hopes the fierce competition to start in goal for the Jags will be beneficial with Scotland schoolboy international Lee Herbert and the experienced Daniel Bell both vying for the number one spot.
He said: “Lee did very well last season but Daniel has now recovered fully after his cartilage operation, which is massive for us.
“It’s great to have two quality goalkeepers competing for the gloves, that’s a first for me as a manager.”
Stewart also hopes the 2016-17 Highland League top goalscorer John McLeod can return to action this season following a lengthy absence.
He added: “He is an important player for us.
“He has had two operations on his hips and it would be a bonus for us to get him back.
“Our fingers are crossed but there is no guarantee.”
- Ground: Victoria Park
- Colours: Green and white hoops
- Honours: Highland League champions 1919-20, 1926-27, 1927-28, 1933-34, 1936-37, 1953-54, 1956-57, 1957-58, 2009-2010, 2010-2011, 2016-2017; Scottish Qualifying Cup 1952-53, 1953-54, 1958-59, 2003-2004; Highland League Cup 1953-54, 1955-56, 1956-57, 1957-58, 1960-61, 1979-80, 1986-87, 2011-12; Aberdeenshire Cup 1936-37, 1938-39, 1945-46, 1952-53, 1953-54, 1954-55, 1956-57, 1984-85, 1986-87, 2005-06, 2007-08, 2009-10, 2016-17; Aberdeenshire Shield 1992-93, 2007-08
- Manager: Graeme Stewart
- Season 18-19: Finished 8th
Experienced Buckie Thistle defender Craig Dorrat hopes the Victoria Park club can get back where he feels they belong this season.
Dorrat, part of Jags’ 2016-17 title-winning side, said: “We finished eighth last term but this term we are looking for top four.
“With Cove Rangers being promoted into League 2, we would love to claim top spot again as we did three years ago but top four is our realistic aim.
“We had a lot of players who were due to come back from serious injuries last season and some did but then suffered setbacks.
“Hopefully players such as Sam Urquhart and Kevin Fraser will be fully fit this season.
“Hopefully John McLeod, our top scorer from our championship season, will also be able to get back after his two hip operations.
“They are three huge players for Buckie Thistle. If we get them all back to full fitness we have a good chance of competing.”
The 30-year-old former Huntly and Keith player added: “Our midfield powerhouse Cieran McLean is also recovering from an injury and he would really add a bit of solidity and bite in the middle of the park.
“Hamish Munro missed most of last term as well, although he did make his comeback toward the end of the season. Hopefully he will benefit from getting a good pre-season under his belt.”