The Isle of Man return to action after a 10-month lay-off at the weekend when they take on non-league sides Hyde and Stalybridge Celtic.
The mini-tour of Greater Manchester will be the senior island squad’s first games since last June’s FA International Shield in Gibraltar and will also mark the first game of island coach Steve Burns’s managerial reign.
Burns took over from long-term incumbent Kevin Manning in September, but because of a lack of fixtures he’s had to wait until now to lead the side on the pitch.
Speaking at the launch of the side’s new Celton Manx-sponsored kit on Saturday Burns said it’s nice to finally get the ball rolling.
‘It’s great to kick-start everything off. We’ve had a busy four months preparing the players, bringing in a few new faces.’
Mark Wolfenden (Laxey), Karl Clark (St Mary’s), Chris Cannell (Corinthians) and Matthew Woods (Peel) are the newcomers in a squad that remains largely made up of the line-up that made it to last season’s Inter-League Cup final.
The former Corinthians coach has been impressed how the new additions have mixed into the existing squad: ‘The new lads have blended in fantastically well.
‘Having the development/ under-23 squad whatever you want to call it has really helped with that.
‘We worked with them close up between September and December and it was interesting to see how they coped with the way we work and how they coped with the challenges they were set.
‘It was a really good test to see how they would then fit in with the main squad, which those that have moved up have done really well.’
Rushen duo Adam Cregeen and Stephen Riding also earn recalls as does Peel’s mercurial midfielder Daniel Bell.
The 20-man squad will face a stern examination against two streetwise non-league outfits.
Hyde finished mid-table on their return to the Conference Premier, while Stalybridge also finished middle of the pile in the Conference North.
Burns agrees both games will be hard going:‘I think both games are going to be very tough.
‘It’s going to be a huge step up from Inter-League Cup standard. The fact we’ve managed to secure these two very tough games shows what we’re all about.
‘We want to test ourselves, we want the challenge. The only way we can get better is to play superior opposition.
‘I’m sure, however, our lads will equip themselves well.’
Burns, who has been involved with the island set-up since 2007, has said that the door is open for selection ahead the island’s Inter-League Cup campaign which begins at the start of next season.
‘I told the squad when we first got together in January that it would constantly evolve.
‘After this weekend’s games we effectively dissolve the squad and I’ll announce another 26-man squad in July.
‘That might be all of this squad, it might be half of them, there might be some new faces in there as well.’
‘I think it’s vital the boys have a break over the summer. We’re leaving two players behind, Brian Crellin and James McStay, because they need the rest. The squad as a whole has had a few niggling injuries this year so I think it’s vital they take the summer off to recharge.’
Reflecting on his first six months in the island’s top job Burns added: ‘The FA have backed me fantastically well. I can’t thank them enough.
‘One of the things Tony Jones [Isle of Man FA president] said to me when I took the job was “What can we do to help you?” I said: “Support us.” They’ve done that to the hilt.
‘We’re just looking to get some games under our belts now.’
l Watch Steve Burns’s full interview online at iomtoday.co.im