Andy Kirk out to prove striking prowess as Dunfermline host Buddies in top-flight return

Dunfermline Athletic return to the Clydesdale Bank Premier League tonight with a mixture of youth and experience in their squad but one of the players with top-flight experience, Andy Kirk, recognises that they all have to prove they can rise to the challenge.

Kirk had five years at Hearts early in his career following a move from Glentoran and struck 30 goals for the Tynecastle club.

After spells with Boston, Northampton and Yeovil, the Northern Ireland international had the chance to go straight back to the SPL when he returned to Scotland in 2008, but he opted for Dunfermline in the hope of getting there with the Fife club.

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Perhaps later than anticipated, Kirk has got back to Scotland's highest level and is determined to make his mark as Jim McIntyre's side prepare for their opening match against St Mirren at East End Park this evening.

"It's seven years, a long time," Kirk said. "I had four years down in England and that was a totally different set-up. I've had three years of trying to achieve SPL status and we've got there.

"I had the chance of possibly going to the SPL before going to Dunfermline but since I spoke to the gaffer and heard what he had to say, I felt it was the right club to go to. Although they weren't in the SPL at the time, I knew from playing against them that Dunfermline were a good club. The manager had high hopes of achieving promotion and we're here now."

When asked if he was coming back to the SPL a better player, Kirk said: "I'm a lot more experienced. When I felt in 2004 I was younger, I had played for a while in the SPL, but you get experience from playing more games.

"It's a challenge, not just for the young boys who haven't played there before, but for myself and some of the other boys who have played in the SPL. You still have to prove you're capable of playing at that level."

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• SPL team guide: Dunfermline Athletic

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Kirk, who signed a new two-year contract in the summer, was the club's top goalscorer last season and he wants to maintain his strike rate.

"I always set myself personal targets with regards to goals," the 32-year-old said. "I keep them to myself and plug away throughout the season and hopefully hit them.

"I have scored 55 goals in three seasons for Dunfermline, it's not a bad return in just over 90 starts. I hope I can hit the ground running and continue to score goals for Dunfermline."

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Reflecting on the feats of last season, Kirk admits that not securing promotion to the top-flight would have been a massive blow for the club.

"We knew last season was a big, big year for us and a big year for the club. Raith Rovers pushed us the whole way but over the course of the season I think we deserved it," he said.

"We had a flat patch around the middle but we finished very strong and I think you need that because it's a tough, tough league to get out of.

"We were delighted we finished the season ten points clear, which, for us, proved we were the best team in that league to go up. It was a long, hard season but we got the benefits of it.

"It would have been a massive blow if we hadn't got up and it would have been a massive blow for the club in general. You only have to look at Raith Rovers not going up and then releasing 13 or 14 players. Financially, if we hadn't gone up it would have been a big blow for the club."

St Mirren manager Danny Lennon, meanwhile, feels he has the right balance of silk and steel as he sets about the difficult challenge of improving the club's position and style of play.

Lennon has been encouraging his players to pass the ball throughout pre-season as they begin their SPL campaign at Dunfermline initially free from the spectre of relegation that accompanied them throughout most of last season.

Optimism is high at St Mirren Park that the club can get out of the bottom three for the first time since their promotion in 2006, after Lennon brought in technical players such as Gary Teale and Nigel Hasselbaink.

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But Lennon knows his team needs the substance as well as style and signings such as Steven Thompson give him players who can do battle and play in equal measure.

Lennon explained: "When the pitches are all like bowling greens, then that's the style to play.

"We've brought players in who are all technically good, and can handle the ball well, they have great work ethic and group dynamic.

"But I also have players who can roll their sleeves up and do the ugly side of the game.

"We know we have to go out there and earn the right to play. We have to win those individual and collective battles and then have our influence on the game.

"I have a group of players who will do that ugly side of the game very well.

"There are a lot of teams out there who will come and upset you, so you have to get the balance right.

"Whether it's a passing game or a longer passing game, you have to have a winning performance."