INSTITUTE: Captain Stephen O’Donnell ready for title assault

Institute captain Stephen O'Donnell holds aloft the Intermediate Cup, after their victory over Ards, in Monday night's final at Windsor Park. Picture by Matt Mackey/Presseye

Institute captain Stephen O'Donnell holds aloft the Intermediate Cup, after their victory over Ards, in Monday night's final at Windsor Park. Picture by Matt Mackey/Presseye

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Defender Stephen O’Donnell has been through the ups and downs at Institute in his four seasons with the club and he believes the current squad is good enough to win the Championship.

After just missing out on promotion only a number of weeks ago, O’Donnell is determined to put things right this campaign.

“I think from being through a league winning team and then also playing in a side which was relegated and I have been able to see the difference in how important a good team spirit is” he said.

“The season we won the First Division the spirit was excellent, there was a lot of boys who were digging in for each other and we had a lot of quality players.

“This pre-season the changing room has been as close too if not better than it was the year we won the league.”

The ex-QPR trainee like his teams can’t wait for the action to get underway and that stoppage time heartache at Ballinamallard United in June is something of a motivational tool.

This pre-season the changing room has been as close too if not better than it was the year we won the league

Stephen O’Donnell

“We have had a good pre-season, it has been hard and it has been short and rightly so, the manager has planned that because of the way last season finished, but the boys are absolutely bouncing in the door to training every night and they just can’t wait to get this league campaign up and running.

“We obviously start with a tough run of games so picking up points will be very important but I think with the quality we have in the squad and no disrespect to anyone else in the league, but we have some of the best players outside of the Premier League, so I think we are well equipped to go ahead and try to win this league.

“That motivation to go one better than last year has been spurring us on and I think with the spirit in the squad with what we have got and the quality we have got then we have a chance.”

The 24-year-old concedes that trying to win the Championship league has been talked about and trying to make sure they avoid another play-off.

“Aiming for the title has been spoken about a few times at the start of pre-season and although last year was a wonderful season in terms of winning the Intermediate Cup, at Windsor Park and the form that we showed since Christmas onwards, but at the end of the day it wasn’t good enough,” he stated.

“Our aim was obviously to get promoted and it didn’t happen, we lost out in the play-off; so pre-season has been the basis of us putting in the hard work and making sure that there’s no stone left unturned and we go ahead to give ourselves the best platform to go and try to win the league.”

With Donegal native Shane McGinty now departed for Ballinamallard United, O’Donnell believes that midfielder Niall Grace could be the man to replace last season’s top scorer.

“Yes Shane leaving will be a loss to us, but what I seen in pre-season I think we fingers crossed with have enough cover,” he added.

“Niall Grace has been in great form, in fact he scored five goals in one of our pre-season games and I’m hoping he could be a big player for us this season. But as I said we have a lot of quality players in the squad and we just can’t wait for the season to start.”