Irish League fans’ focus may centre on the first fixture of the season following confirmation of the Danske Bank Premiership dates but Colin Coates has another first in mind.
“That first tackle will be the one I’m thinking about as a chance to test my ankle,” said Coates, who is aiming to clock up some welcome minutes this weekend when the Crues play host to Bala Town of Wales. “Once the fixtures come out you always look for certain games and it is exciting to be back thinking about the Irish League.
“But for me I just want to get playing time under my belt and that first tackle as a marker moving forward.
“I had the operation about 10 weeks or so ago and running initially gave me discomfort then that went away so it is about the different steps of recovery.”
Coates’ absence due to the complicated ankle injury sustained last November against Ards was considered a significant setback within Crusaders’ unsuccessful bid for a title hat-trick.
Now Crusaders will kick off the fresh campaign away to Ballymena United before two home dates in five days against Warrenpoint Town and Coleraine.
“It’s funny, before winning league titles in my time here it was considered a success to finish as runners-up but then last season has been seen by many as a disappointment,” said Coates. “I do not think any of us feel it is about making amends for what happened last season but there is definitely an excitement about the new season as we all want to help the club continue to challenge and win trophies.
“To miss out on everything last season went against the expectations we now have at Crusaders so this squad goes into every game and season trying to win silverware.
“Our progress in recent seasons means it is a completely different club now and we have found the European football can give us that extra sharpness for the league season.
“In fact, if you progress into another round it ends up your July schedule is taken up with competitive games and that really helps you get ready for the domestic fixtures.”