“A diamond earns its sparkle from the pressure it endures,” writes African author Matshona Dhliwayo, when describing those who can handle such situations, and others who crumble under it. 

It would be fair to say that Derek McInnes will be hopeful of unearthing a few diamonds in the rough alongside his Kilmarnock recruitment guru Russ Richardson, as they collectively battle the pressure of building a team capable of kicking on to better things. 

The Killie boss essentially has a clean slate to work with as he aims to reshape his first-team squad at Rugby Park.  

The Ayrshire side survived in the Premiership by the skin of their teeth this term, avoiding the relegation play-off with a comfortable final-day victory over rivals Ross County. 

There were some dark days throughout the 2022/23 campaign for Killie though, with their top-flight status in doubt on more than one occasion. 

McInnes has let go of seven players upon the conclusion of their contracts at the club, with a further eight returning to their parent clubs after loans. That leaves only 11 recognised first-team players on the premises heading into pre-season in three weeks’ time. 

READ MORE: Kilmarnock sign Robbie Deas after Inverness departure

Robbie Deas became his first signing yesterday, having finally been confirmed on a two-year deal after his exit from Inverness. A solid start, most would agree.

However, there is plenty of work to be done in the weeks and months ahead if Killie are to push up the table, looking to achieve that top-six finish the manager craves. 

That’s where Richardson will earn his corn. And McInnes is confident he will come up trumps for Killie in the market, as they aim to avoid numerous loans. 

“Undoubtedly, we would not have got the two signings we got in January in Luke Chambers and Kyle Vassell,” McInnes said when explaining the importance of ex-Liverpool scout Richardson. “We wanted to make a couple more, but we would not have got either without Russ. 

“He is someone I have always leaned heavily on and I’ll just be leaning a wee bit more heavily on him over the next few weeks. We are under a bit of pressure with that, but I think it’s good pressure to get a lot of new players in. 

“There will be contracts out rather than just loans. Last season it was all loans. We didn’t give out any longer-term contracts because we needed to do the work. 

“So, hopefully, this time around, there will still be an element of the squad made up with some loans, but it won’t be to the same extent. It’s never healthy for any club to have eight and nine loans.  

“Ideally, we’ll limit that to two or three and get players on two and three-year contracts who are Kilmarnock players. 

“We’ve tapped into a few and we will try and source those from outwith. Work is already ongoing. Obviously, a lot of those conversations were halted because agents and players want to know you are a Premier League club before you continue those conversations. It’s just trying to accelerate that.” 

Of the players who left the club, the headline names included Alan Power, Scott Robinson, Blair Alston, and Chris Stokes. Others such as Dylan McGowan and Lee Hodson clearly had no future at Rugby Park having been farmed out on loan. 

Previous key figures such as Ash Taylor, Liam Donnelly, Liam Polworth, and Sam Walker remain in talks regarding new deals. 

It’s never nice to wave goodbye to certain players, especially those who have given a lot to the cause and helped the club get back to the Premiership and stay there.  

But the long and short of it is Killie can’t afford to rest on their laurels if they have loftier ambitions than to just remain in the division. 

READ MORE: The burning issues facing Derek McInnes ahead of Kilmarnock rebuild

McInnes added: “When I took the job last January I saw how many players there were, we just had to deal with that.  

“It has to be said from last season, there has to be an acknowledgment of the players’ work, they’ve done so well to win a title and it’s never easy coming straight back up, they deserve so much recognition.  

“We had to stay in the league, there were a lot of dark days, a lot of disappointment, but underneath it all, we thought we had enough to stay up.  

“Winning five of our last nine games helped and we started scoring more goals meaning we got the job done. Now it changes, every manager leans on their recruitment team and I’m no different.  

“Tactics are one thing, managers all have an understanding of that, how you deal with players is a huge part of success, but if you can work with good players and have the right balance in your squad then for me that’s the biggest indicator if you’re going to have a good season or not.”