Stuart Findlay was part of the 'Steve Clarke machine' at Kilmarnock who put both Celtic and Rangers to the sword as they finished third in the Premiership two seasons ago.

Now under Clarke's former number two at Rugby Park, Alex Dyer, the defender believes his side can do the same again in the first handful of fixtures of the upcoming season. Killie have been dealt a difficult hand by the SPFL in terms of their opening fixtures from August 1 where they'll play both Glasgow giants as well as a tough trip to Hibs and a sticky visit to Ross County.

But rather than fear the worst and a slow start, Findlay - who signed for the club five years ago to the day yesterday - reckons he and his teammates can register some early points, even in the big clashes. "The first five games are interesting to say the least," he said. "I think we've got Celtic, Rangers, Hibs away and a nice night game up in Dingwall as well.

"That's the way the cookie crumbles, everybody plays everybody and, it's a start, that there's no team in the league we don't have the belief we can go out and beat on our day. We've shown it in the last couple of years that we can play anybody on our game.

"No matter what the start is you take it on the chin whoever you are, whatever circumstance you're in and try and get as many points on the board as early as you can to give yourself a foothold moving forward in the season."

Findlay has been open and honest about his career in the past and still feels grateful to Gary Locke and Killie for taking a chance on him five years ago. Having failed to make the grade at Celtic, he moved south to join Newcastle before Kilmarnock snapped him up on his return to Scotland.

The 24-year-old still remembers being equal parts surprised and delighted that he was wanted in Ayrshire. He still feels he did not do himself justice during his first loan stint. However, since establishing himself as a top player for the club, he has played himself into international squads, scored for his country and played in Europa League qualifiers. So he's more than repaid the club.

"I've been quite open about this," he said. "When I first signed I sort of let myself down a little bit, I don't think I performed anywhere near what I knew I could've done. A lot has happened since then, I went down to Newcastle and came back up. I was lucky enough to fall into the Steve Clarke machine that took over for a couple of years and my career turned around at Killie.

"I've always been thankful for them because they gave me a second chance and I think, personally, I didn't really do well enough to deserve it. But they also had a bit of belief in me and I hope I've repaid that in the last two or three years where I've started to show a bit about what I'm capable of and hopefully I've made the club proud with what I've done for them."

With the season ready for an August 1 return officially, now, Findlay is preparing himself for match day. Albeit preparations have been understandably different. As will the games themselves, at least initially. Supporters are unlikely to be allowed inside stadiums for the kick-off to the new season, which will bring a different atmosphere to things.

But Findlay isn't too fussed. He's only focused on picking up points for supporters to ensure they have a successful squad to cheer on whenever they are allowed back into stadia.

He added: "Once the new season starts, I don't know how long it'll be for, but it'll be a very strange experience for everybody to play in front of no fans. Hopefully they'll all get to watch the games on one of the many outlets Kilmarnock are offering for the fans, season tickets holders and things. Hopefully we do enough in those first games that when we do get the crowd back, they come in their numbers because we've given them a good start to the season to get behind.

"We're all chomping at the bit to play a game. I don't think anyone is going to need a second invitation to go out all guns blazing and show what they want to do. Apart from that, whether there's a crowd there or not, there's three points up for grabs and it's vital you get off to a good start. We've seen what can happen if you get off to a good start, you ride the crest of that wave, we've done it before at Kilmarnock and finished the league very high up.

"Obviously it's gutting not to have the crowd there at Rugby Park to support us but, at the same time, it's pivotal we get off to a really good start. I'm sure we'll be able to go out all guns blazing and put a couple of good results on the board early doors."