BARRY FERGUSON insists Kelty Hearts' desire to earn a shot at SPFL promotion will remain just as high in the new season.

But the New Central Park boss has acknowledged that moves in the transfer market by some of their Lowland League rivals will make their aspiration to win the title again even more difficult.

When football was curtailed back in March, due to Coronavirus, Ferguson's men were riding high at the top of the league in what was his first full season in charge since taking over from Thomas Courts in 2018.

Kelty were six points clear of nearest challengers, Bonnyrigg Rose, who they had beaten in a thriller on home turf in February, having played a game more.

Although they were still due to play their Midlothian rivals, the campaign was brought to a conclusion and, with final positions determined on a points-per-game average, the men in maroon were declared champions.

That, under normal circumstances, would have set them up for a two-legged play-off against Highland League winners, Brora Rangers, to see who would earn the right to go head-to-head with League Two's bottom club for a slot in the SPFL next season.

But, with play-off matches cancelled and their hopes of making the step up through league reconstruction having been dashed in the intervening months, Ferguson's side are set to line-up in what is shaping up to be a fiercely competitive Lowland League again next term.

While Ferguson has bolstered his squad with former Pars winger Kallum Higginbotham, and ex-Arbroath goalkeeper Darren Jamieson, some of Kelty's challengers have also been busy recruiting players with SPFL experience.

Paul Paton, who last season skippered Dunfermline, has joined ex-Livingston and Partick Thistle player Chris Erskine in going to East Kilbride, while East Stirlingshire have added former Rangers, St Mirren and Bolton Wanderers midfielder, Gregg Wylde, to their ranks.

In looking ahead to the season, which looks likely to begin in October, Ferguson told his club's video channel: "First and foremost it was disappointing that the season ended, but with the virus coming, it was going to happen.

"Of course, we all wanted to finish the league and win it in the manner which we would have wanted, and that's on the pitch, but with the virus it was going to be difficult.

"We wanted to win it fair and square on the pitch but that was impossible. We've still got the same ambitions, the same drive, the same determination when the season starts up as to try and do what we did last year and try and stay at the top of the league as long as possible.

"I've always said there's quality teams in this league; Bonnyrigg Rose, East Stirling, BSC Glasgow, and East Kilbride, who certainly are going to make a big push for it when you see some of their signings.

"There's a lot of quality players, and I've just mentioned some teams, but, even down at the bottom half end there's a lot of good players and good teams, so it's going to be an even stronger league. But we're looking forward to it."

Barry, who revealed he is in talks with a number of players, has lost Murray Carstairs, who has joined Glenrothes, and Gary Cennerazzo and Scott Linton, to retirement, in the close season.

"They were important members (of the squad), there's no doubt about that, but I've also got to understand they've got lives outside of football," he continued.

"In Gary's case, he's got a very successful business and he wanted to put all his energies into that, which I totally respect, and Scotty's the same.

"I'm disappointed to lose them but I totally understand, and it means I'm going to be even busier trying to get some bodies in to replace them.

"I'm just looking forward to getting back in and spending a bit of time with the players and getting them up to full speed.

"They'll have a plan in place in the next week, which is going to be pretty difficult on them, but I'm sure they'll enjoy it and then we can get back on the grass hopefully very soon."