CORK City defender Ronan Hurley believes that up to five teams can win the First Division title this season.
City open their league campaign tonight in the derby game against Cobh Ramblers — the first meeting in the league between the sides since 2008 — and Hurley is aware of the importance of the game.
“I’m really looking forward to the game. If only fans were able to go to it, I could imagine the atmosphere would be unbelievable.
“I always felt that even playing Cobh at underage level, the games were very intense. It’s a Cork derby so I would expect everyone to up their game.
“They will want to beat us as much as we will want to beat them. It will be a very good game and, obviously, we hope to start the season with a win.
“There’s obviously belief in the squad this year that we can do something and push for promotion, but looking at the other teams, I feel Shels have a very good squad. They have made some very good signings Galway as well with John Caulfield, he will have them extremely fit and very motivated.
“They have signed some very good players as well. I think Bray Wanderers, have made some very good signings and they were very close to winning the league last year.
It’s probably going to be the most competitive First Division, I’d say there has ever been.
"You’d nearly say that four or five teams could win the league, so It’s hard to tell now, you just have to take it one game at a time.”
City have been impressive throughout some of their pre-season fixtures and Hurley believes that is because of the hard work manager Colin Healy is demanding from the players on the training ground.
At just 21, the City defender still has a lot of time to improve in the game, but Hurley took it upon himself in the off-season to work on things in his own game to make sure that he features regularly this season.
“Pre-season training has been tough. We’ve been doing double sessions Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, off Thursday and it depends then on if we have a game at the weekend what we would do on a Friday, it’s been very tough.
It’s the hardest pre-season I have done. It would be a bit similar to what Caulfield did.
"The pitch sessions would be tough and the gym sessions wouldn’t be easy either.
“Sometimes we do circuits, which are a blow and doing that after already having a hard pitch session, is quite difficult. But it’s a good thing because obviously, those sessions are only going to benefit us for the season ahead.
“Healers is the most demanding person ever which is a good thing. Players can’t be slacking in training because of his expectations.
“For example, in possession or small-sided games, if you are on the losing team, you will be doing running afterwards so he is building the mindset that everything we do is important and there is a willingness to win, even in training sessions.
“In the off-season, I spent a lot of time in the gym. I was trying to improve on my speed, which I did a bit.
“I just wanted to work on my power and explosiveness and not bulk up. I worked with a strength and conditioning coach as well. I’d say it’s the fittest I have been.
“About three weeks before we came back training, Healers gave us running sessions to do at home. They were short runs, but they were time trials, so you had to push yourself because you didn’t want to be one of the lads down the bottom.
“Lads were very fit coming back training; we were just missing that bit of sharpness you get by doing small-sided games and other things, that doing 2km runs can’t do.
“This season, I want to be providing more in attack and get more assists. The main thing for me is I want to play as many games as I can. There are obviously a few lads at the club that can play left-back.
“I’d be hoping to start and that’s up to me. I have to perform well when given the opportunity. It’s up to every player in the starting 11 to perform well and if you perform well you will be playing so I have to keep my standards up.”