THIRD TIME LUCKY; DIVISION ONE SPOTLIGHT... Dundee chief MacKinnon desperate to clinch place in SPL after two years of heartache at Dens Park.
DUNDEE chief Dave MacKinnon insists the Dens Park club will silence the snipers - by making it third time lucky in their promotion quest.
The defiant Dens Park chief executive is convinced Alex Rae's side will be celebrating a dream return to the SPL next summer despite cynics suggesting they missed a golden opportunity last season by being pipped to the promised land by Hamilton.
Some say the loss of stars such as Gavin Swankie, Paul Dixon, Scott Robertson and Derek Lyle will put paid to their hopes of another championship charge next season.
But MacKinnon is convinced they're right on course to fulfil their three-year pledge to bring top-flight football back to Dens Park.
He said: "I've said all along it was a three-year job to take Dundee back into the SPL.
"Now we're going into our third year and we'll be judged at the end of that.
"I know some people have said that last year was maybe our best chance to get back into the top flight when we finished runnersup to Hamilton.
"But I don't go along with that at all. I believe deep down this can be our year. I know we've lose some players the fans might be disappointed to see go.
"But I really believe the players we're targeting as their replacements can help us make the next step up. For that reason I'm confident we can get the promotion the club is striving for."
MacKinnon has sacrificed much in his stint at Dens, so much so he's denied himself a well-deserved break to work round the clock for the Dark Blues' cause.
He was instrumental in the arrival of Mark Gilhaney, the 23-year-old winger from SPL new boys Hamilton, earlier this week and won't rest until the first-team squad has been further strengthened.
MacKinnon said: "I've not had a summer holiday in three years because it's been hectic since coming here.
"Bob Brannan, the chairman, and the other board members have actually been a bit concerned and have said to take some time off in the close season.
"On Tuesday I left my house at 6.15am to be at Dens Park and didn't get back home until 10.30pm that night after taking in the Scotland Under-21 game at Rugby Park. They were worried I would run myself into the ground so I'm going to take their advice at last.
"But that will only be after I've helped organise an oversees training camp.
"And of course there's another couple of signings to make before I can relax."
Dundee have laid down a marker for an SPL return by re-signing influential defender David Cowan and former Hibs striker Mickael-Antoine Curier as part of their summer spree in the hope of stealing a march on their promotion rivals.
And MacKinnon reckons a pre-season training camp abroad can raise the feel-good factor even further.
MacKinnon said: "Alex is in Hong Kong, Davie Farrell is in Spain and I'm phoning them from Scotland. We're in contact nearly all the time, bouncing ideas back and forth like any management team.
"But I obviously can't do anything without Alex's consent so everything has to be run by him. I remember going abroad with Rangers when I was a player and as far as team bonding goes it's different class.
"It gets the new guys to mix with the established players and the benefits can be seen when they're mucking in for each other."
Some scoffed when Rae was appointed as Alan Kernaghan's successor in May 2006.
The midfielder had just finished his playing career at Rangers butMacKinnon believes Rae has one of the brightest futures in the Scottish managerial scene and is destined to succeed because of his love for the game.
MacKinnon said: "Alex is gaining valuable experience all the time and after last season's events, no matter how disappointing things turned out, will stand him in good stead.
"When we appointed Alex a lot of people said we should have gone for a more experienced manager.
"But you can go for the most experienced guy in the business and he's still not the man for the job.
"We went for Alex because he's what Dundee needed - a young, ambitious boss. I know he's relishing next season as much as anybody.
"We're all in it together. We've come a long way since the club finished seventh before we arrived with a wage bill that had to be slashed quite considerably.
"Now, provided we can get promotion, it will see us complete our journey."
If the fans' response is anything to go by, Dundee can count on their loyal support for next season's campaign.
MacKinnon can't thank them enough and admits they deserve to see their favourites rubbing shoulders with the best after a lengthy absence from the top league.
He said: "Our fans have been absolutely marvellous. Season tickets only went on sale three weeks ago and we've sold double the amount we had this time last year.
"With the fans right behind us as ever it can only give us extra confidence and they'd love to see the likes of the Old Firm back at Dens on league business.
"We've still had no bids for Kevin McDonald despite all his admirers out there.
"We don't want to sell any player - especially someone of Kevin's ability - so to have him still here for next term would be a huge boost."
'I've said all along that it would be a three-year job to take Dundee up'
BRIGHT FUTURE: Mickael-Antoine Curier and Kevin McDonald can help lead Dundee back to the SPL; RAE OF HOPE: Rae takes over in 2006, above, and MacKinnon backs him to lead Dee back to the SPL