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Belief can carry Caley Thistle far as new opponents lie in wait in Championship

Barry Wilson, left, with Inverness head coach Billy Dodds.
Barry Wilson, left, with Inverness head coach Billy Dodds.

Barry Wilson welcomes three new opponents into the Championship – but insists it’s up to Caley Thistle to believe they can become the champions by the end of the season.

The Inverness first-team coach is looking forward to helping the group get the new campaign off to a flying start.

Their bold promotion bid fell at the final hurdle last month when they lost out at St Johnstone in the second half of the second leg after getting past Partick Thistle and Arbroath in their first two play-off ties.

Dundee dropped down from the top-flight, with Gary Bowyer replacing Mark McGhee in the Dens Park hot-seat.

And two former Ross County managers are also taking League 1 teams into the second-tier.

Jim McIntyre has replaced Paul Hartley at third tier-winning Cove Rangers, after Hartley moved on to boss Hartlepool, while Owen Coyle is the head coach at impressive play-off winners Queen’s Park.

New Cove Rangers manager Jim McIntyre.

Cove, who have made stunning progress since winning the Highland League in 2019, join the Championship for the first time.

And it has been a 40-year wait for the Spiders, who were part-timers until 2020, to return to second-tier level.

In terms of clubs leaving the division, Kilmarnock stepped back to the Premiership as champions, with Queen of the South and Dunfermline Athletic relegated from the Championship.

‘Refreshing’ new rivals for Caley Jags

While Wilson would rather be getting set for life back in the top-flight for the first time since 2017, he is looking forward to facing new Championship opponents in 2022/23.

He said: “It will be an interesting Championship, with three new opponents for us. It’s refreshing for the league.

“Cove Rangers and Queen’s Park are two new clubs at this level, which adds to the interest and we have Dundee coming back down. We had a few good battles with them a couple of seasons ago.

“You would imagine they will be up there fighting again and it is up to us to make sure we’re right up the challenging.”

Having come so agonisingly close to going up last term, Wilson reckons the players will be determined to lead from the front and take top prize this time.

He said: “We finished behind Arbroath, although we got past them in the play-offs, so they will be confident of being right up there, too.

“Our boys have got to believe in themselves after going to close last season. Part of our job, as coaches, is to give the players that belief.

“If they don’t get it from last season, they never will, so we begin with confidence.”

Play-off route ‘verging on ridiculous’

Wilson has voiced his opinion fourth-placed Championship sides should not gain a play-off place come the end of the season.

ICT finished third last term, meaning a six-match bid in their hunt for promotion.

The former winger still feels the path to the Premiership is far too tricky and needs to be looked at by Scottish football chiefs.

He said: “I said last season I never felt fourth-placed clubs should qualify for the play-offs. It’s too much for clubs.

“I do wish they (the SPFL) would look at it, because I don’t think it’s fair. I think any coach or manager in the Championship would say the same.

“The maximum you should play is three or four ties at the end of a long league season. It’s verging on the ridiculous.”

Sharpness will build up in friendlies

ICT face Clach at Grant Street Park, Inverness, on Wednesday before a trip to Brora Rangers on Saturday.

It is all gearing up towards beginning their Premier Sports Cup group section away to League 2 champions Kelty Hearts on July 9.

Wilson admits it might take until beyond that date for the team to be fully firing, with their league season starting on July 30 against Queen’s Park.

He added: “We have two or three friendlies before we play Kelty in the cup.

“We aim to get the boys up to speed and they will all get 45 minutes against Clach and then progress that when we play Brora on Saturday.

“We won’t be 100% ready for the Kelty game. You never would be, because this competition comes too early.

“You want to be 100% ready for the start of the league season and we were last year.

“Most teams will be the same as us in that regard, although it would be nice to progress.

“It’s been a few years now since we, as a club, got out of the group stages, although it is a tough section we’re in.”

After taking on Kelty in the League Cup, ICT face Livington away on July 12, host Albion Rovers on July 19, and tackle Cove Rangers at home on July 23.

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