German owners; arguably the toughest third tier in recent memory; the Maroon Machine revving up for a title race — it promises to be a breathless campaign for Fife’s SPFL representatives.
Dunfermline, Raith Rovers, East Fife, Cowdenbeath and Kelty Hearts all begin their league seasons on Saturday and, despite differing challenges and expectations, there is always that frisson of hope that it could be a special one.
Here, Courier Sport analyses what lies ahead for the clubs in the Kingdom.
It is a new era at East End Park, on and off the pitch.
Positivity abounds following the DAFC Fussball GmbH, the German consortium committed to providing capital, strengthening infrastructure — including the a new training ground and youth academy — and putting a successful side on the pitch.
While there will be no repeat of the irresponsible days of boom-and-bust which led to administration in 2013, there is no doubt the influence of the new majority shareholders helped to get Graham Dorrans in the door this week.
He is one of nine fresh faces, following the signings of Deniz Mehmet, Nikolay Todorov, Dan Pybus, Fraser Currid, Reece Cole, Ross Graham, Kai Kennedy and Rhys Breen.
And, under the watchful eye of new manager Peter Grant, the Pars are already playing some super stuff, with their fluid, aggressive 3-4-3 resulting in 13 goals from four Premier Sports Cup group games.
Given this is still early days, if Grant’s methods click, and his arrivals hit the ground running, this could finally be the year Dunfermline end their nine-season hiatus from the Premiership.
One of Scottish football’s surprise packages last season, Rovers’ biggest challenge this term may be that all of their rivals know exactly what to expect: possession-based, up-tempo football, high-full-backs and inverted wingers.
Allied with the exits of key men such as Regan Hendry, Dan Armstrong, Kieran MacDonald and Kai Kennedy, John McGlynn has a challenge ahead.
However, the Rovers boss has never shied away from those.
He has replaced his departed starters with Christophe Berra, Liam Dick, Tom Lang, Blaise-Riley Snow, Dario Zanatta, Aidan Connolly, Matej Poplatnik, James Keatings and, most recently, Dundee United prospect Kai Fotheringham.
And this new-look Raith side breezed through to the last-16 of the Premier Sports Cup without conceding a single goal — a real positive given defensive stoicism was rarely something they were lauded for last term.
McGlynn has also tinkered with a 3-4-3 and a 4-4-2 diamond this season, ensuring that, along with their preferred 4-3-3, Rovers have versatility and an ability to adapt to their opponents.
The Kirkcaldy club’s budget should, in all likelihood, have them targeting mere survival in the Championship but McGlynn can work his magic once more and get them in the playoffs.
Darren Young is a fine burgeoning coach and has seen his name linked with the Dunfermline job in the past, such is the solid job he continues to do with East Fife.
However, this could be one of the toughest campaigns yet for the Bayview club. The selection of ambitious, big-spending and full-time clubs in League One is simply as strong as it ever has been.
Cove Rangers are dishing out multi-year deals to the likes of Shay Logan and Iain Vigurs, Falkirk and Alloa see themselves as Championship clubs, Queen’s Park are seeking to soar through the divisions and Airdrie just swept Motherwell aside.
That is before one mentions Montrose, who secured a playoff place last term.
East Fife’s summer business has been modest, albeit Scott Mercer is a fine signing and ex-St Johnstone defender Aaron Steele has promise, and they lost all of their Premier Sports Cup group phase matches.
Mid-table safety, in the circumstances, would be a good effort for Young and his coaching team.
The Maroon Machine are the favourites for the League Two title and it is hard to argue with the bookies’ assessment when you look at the business carried out at New Central Park.
Their most recent signing, Thomas O’Ware, boasts more than 250 appearances in the SPFL with Morton and Partick Thistle, Joe Cardle is a remarkable coup and Jordan Forster has ample Premiership experience.
Along with the captures of Jamie Barjonas, Alfie Agyeman, Andy Black, Botti Biabi and Reis Peggie — and with Nathan Austin and Kallum Higginbotham already on the books — Kelty are tooled up for a title charge.
The appointment of Thomas also speaks volumes. He has been tempted from a position within Rangers’ coaching structure and, allied with running his own academy, is a young manager of some potential.
This may be Kelty’s first season in the SPFL but they are a club in a hurry to climb the ladder.
When Gary Bollan grasped the reins at the Blue Brazil in November 2017, he took over a club fighting for survival in League Two and, in all likelihood, fighting for its survival.
Cowdenbeath prevailed in the SPFL pyramid playoff final against Cove Rangers at the end of that season, and since then, Bollan has ensured relegation has never been a serious threat.
In his three full campaigns in charge, the Central Park men have finished sixth, fourth — albeit in a season which was curtailed due to Covid — and ninth.
Seeking to build upon that most recent, and rather disappointing finish, Cowden have done some cracking business over the close season.
The prodigal son, Liam Buchanan, has returned, while Kyle Hutton, David McGurn, Craig Thomson and Bobby Barr are super signings. Teenagers Luke Mahady and Quinn Coulson have arrived on loan from Fife neighbours Raith Rovers and are considered fine prospects.
Wins over Brechin City and Alloa in the Premier Sports Cup group phase — allied with taking the lead against Livingston before slipping to defeat — are an early indication of their promise.