The start of the Highland League season is just six weeks away.
In this strangest of years Britain’s most northerly senior league has been on hold since March.
Much about everyday life has changed in recent months, but as the 16-fixture campaign looms the desire of north-east clubs to stake their claim for Highland League glory remains the same.
Fraserburgh were second on a points-per-game basis behind champions Brora Rangers last term.
Having improved their placing in each of the last four seasons Broch striker Paul Campbell hopes the Bellslea outfit can continue that upward trajectory.
He said: “I think it makes it exciting for most teams in the league because if you get a bit of a run going 16 games doesn’t seem as difficult to stay up there as it would be in a normal season.
“The top teams will probably only slip up once if you’re lucky this season, it might even be that the winner ends up having to win every game.
“One thing is for sure – anyone who wants to challenge will need to be at their best from the very start.
“Over the last three or four years we’ve finished quite high and I think we’ve got better each time.
“We’ve been fifth, fourth, third and then second, so hopefully that trend can continue and we can be up there at the end of the season.
“But I’m sure there will be a lot of teams who like the sound of this new structure and will fancy themselves to win the league. For neutrals it should be very exciting to watch.”
Inverurie Locos were sitting second when the season came to a halt in March, but once the final standings had been worked out on points-per-game they ended up in fifth.
Harlaw Park manager Andy Low was disappointed that their challenge faded last term, but feels they are now better equipped for a shot at glory.
Low said: “A good start will be key and a lot of teams will be looking for it. I don’t think you can afford four games to settle into the season because that’s a quarter of the season gone and you couldn’t afford to lose too much ground.
“I’m looking forward to it and it feels like it will be an extended cup competition where every game is a must win.
“I think it will be good to watch with a lot of attacking football. I don’t think teams will play for draws, because they’ll need wins.
“The target for me every year is ultimately to win the league, that’s what I want to do as a club.
“I’ve said that we were a bit short last year and I didn’t think we were quite good enough for it.”
Formartine United will again seek their first Highland League crown after finishing sixth last season.
Other than six months with Brora in 2015, defender Craig McKeown has been with the Pitmedden side since 2012 and part of a number of near misses.
Now aged 35, McKeown knows he is running out of time to deliver the title to North Lodge Park, but hopes for a change this season.
He said: “We’ll be no different to Brora, Fraserburgh, Buckie, Inverurie, Rothes, Forres or Wick; we’ll feel we can compete for it.
“There are plenty of teams there that will feel they can win the league.
“Every year we’ve gone into the season with an optimism to win the league, we’ve come up short every time.
“But hopefully we can get over the line and it can be this season.
“Personally I’m probably running out of chances to do it and that’s probably the same for a few members of our squad.
“We’re hoping to get our hands on the title and we’ll give it our best shot, but there’s probably another seven teams thinking the same thing so it should be exciting.”
Buckie Thistle won 11 of their first 12 league fixtures last term before finishing fourth.
Player-assistant manager Lewis MacKinnon would be eager to replicate such a start and be in the title mix.
MacKinnon said: “This format gives everyone a chance.
“I think we started last season on a very good run and then we lost in the Scottish Cup at Bonnyrigg Rose and had a few downers after that.
“But if you can get off to a good start like that it gives you a great chance.
“If you win 11 or 12 games, you’ve only got a few games left and you’ve got a great chance.
“Rather than a marathon, it will be more like a sprint.
“The fixtures will play a part as well depending on who you have home and away.
“I think a very good start is going to be crucial for all the teams that want to challenge for a league title.”