FRASER AIRD today welcomed the prospect of more intense competition for his place in the Rangers starting line-up next season.
Teenage winger Aird became a regular starter for Ally McCoist's side during the second half of the 2013/14 campaign.
His pinpoint crossing and searing pace were both important weapons for the Ibrox club as they went undefeated in SPFL League One.
However, the youngster knows that he can ill afford to sit back and reflect on his success with so many of his team-mates vying for a game.
Barrie McKay, who spent last season on loan at SPFL Championship club Morton, has returned to Rangers this summer and looks a man reborn.
He was certainly highly impressive in the pre-season friendlies that the Gers played against Buckie Thistle and Brora Rangers last week.
In addition, Robbie Crawford, Dean Shiels and David Templeton, who missed the tour of the Highlands due to injury, can also feature out wide for the Light Blues.
With McCoist hoping to bring in another midfielder in to bolster his squad - and Scotland cap Don Cowie remains a target - opportunities could become fewer.
However, as a lifelong Rangers supporter Aird understands only too well that he has to maintain his high performance levels if he is to continue to feature.
He said: "Barrie has done brilliantly since he came back to Rangers from his loan spell at Morton. He has looked sharp and dangerous in pre-season.
"But I think that every player needs somebody snapping at their heels, needs some competition for their place, if they are to play well consistently.
"If that isn't there then you can switch off and relax. You form dips and the team ultimately suffers. So it is good to have somebody to keep you on your toes.
"That is how it should be at Rangers anyway. Nobody has the right to play in the team. I know I have to continue to work hard if I am going to play.
"It isn't just Barrie who will be challenging me for a place either. We have David Templeton, Robbie Crawford and others in the squad pushing for a start as well.
"But my intention is certainly to pick up where I left off last year. I will work hard and hopefully the gaffer will continue to give me the chance to play in his side."
Aird added: "We all know that is going to be a far harder challenge to win the league in the coming season than it has been in the last two seasons.
"We will be up against full-time teams in the Championship, including Hearts and Hibs. We played a few of them last season and they performed at a decent level.
"Of course, we lost the Challenge Cup final to Raith Rovers at Easter Road. So nobody in the Rangers squad is underestimating the task that lies ahead of us."
The success that Aird and his close friend Lewis Macleod have enjoyed at Rangers exposes the misconception that McCoist does not promote youth.
That accusation has been levelled at the Gers manager several times the summer with starlet Charlie Telfer leaving to join Dundee United.
The signing of experienced strikers Kris Boyd and Kenny Miller, who are 30 and 34 respectively, has not done anything to dispel the notion that kids do not get a chance.
Aird, who broke through when the Gers were in the Third Division, was bemused when he read about the claims because they do not tally with his own experience. Nor, for that matter, with those of Crawford, Seb Faure, Calum Gallagher, Macleod - who has recovered from the virus that sidelined him last term - or Andy Murdoch.
Aird said: "If the gaffer sees a boy who is doing well in training who he thinks deserves his chance in the first team then he will give it to him. Simple as that.
"That is certainly what has happened with me. I got into the side midway through last season, did well and stayed involved. I am sure if I do the same this season I will.
"It isn't easy for the young players to break through at Rangers. There is a lot of expectation on your shoulders here. You have to win every game you are involved in.
"That can be hard to deal with. But, personally speaking, I think having that sort of responsibility, playing in front of tens of thousands of fans every other week, is good for you.
"It means that you have to play well every time you take to the field. As far as I am concerned, that is no bad thing for a young professional to learn how to deal with."
Aird added: "I played pretty much every week after breaking back into the side last season and I think that took its toll on me physically and mentally.
"But I had a good break during the summer and am feeling refreshed and raring to go ahead of the new season. It will not be easy to get out of the league we are in, but I am looking forward to trying.
"It will be good heading over to Canada and the United States with the Rangers squad. I am sure I will have a few family and friends coming to see me. Hopefully we can push on as a squad."