Kyle Vassell admits playing competitive games in July just two weeks into pre-season will take some getting used to.  

But with another trip to Hampden very much on the agenda for Kilmarnock this term, the striker insists he and his teammates will be ready for action. 

Killie take on Annan Athletic next Saturday in their first proper match of the new season, as the group stages of the Viaplay Cup get underway. Derek McInnes' side faces a tricky section with Dunfermline, Raith, and Albion Rovers their other opponents in Group F. 

Vassell, who played a crucial role in the Ayrshire side maintaining the Premiership status around six weeks ago, is not accustomed to having to gear himself up for important fixtures at such an early point in the football calendar. Although, the 30-year-old admits it’s a challenge he will meet head-on. 

“I thought we would be back a bit later but we have a few weeks to a game, which is crazy to me,” Vassell explained. “Normally you have six weeks of pre-season and the first game is in August. But I am looking forward to it. It keeps your levels high over the summer and we have all come back in good shape. 

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“It will be different but speaking to guys like Rory McKenzie he said it will be tough games. We have to be at it. They are almost like pre-season games but they aren’t. 

“We want to do well in this competition and getting to Hampden last season was amazing. It wasn’t the result we wanted but to experience it was incredible. I want to get back there and we want to go all the way. 

“The gaffer makes us believe we can win every game and that was the same against Celtic last season at Hampden.” 

It was well-documented that Vassell played the final two months of the campaign carrying an injury. McInnes revealed on more than one occasion that his top forward was absent from training for the majority of that time. 

Vassell admits despite having been off for around a month, it’s not fully healed yet. However, he and the club’s medical staff are optimistic the issue should be resolved with a little more time. 

He added: “The injury isn’t completely settled yet but it is better. It’s still a bit temperamental but it will settle down I am sure. It’s not 100 per cent but it is getting there. 

“I don’t think it will need surgery because I can run, I can do everything, it is only a few little movements that are sore. I maybe have to think about not overdoing it but that’s not my mentality. I want to give it my best every day. 

“When there is a bit of pain I try to push through it and sometimes you do that to your own detriment as the pain doesn’t go away. Hopefully, it will settle down and I will be fine.” 

The frontman has six goals in 18 appearances for the Rugby Park side so far. Having signed a new two-year deal back in April, he’s confident he can significantly add to his tally next term.  

With that said, he’s the first to admit that he will never be a Golden Boot winner, as he touched upon the unlikely scenario of being the most senior member of the current squad. 

“The new boys have bedded in really well and they look like good players,” he said. “The boys who were here before are hungry to come back and play. Training has been at such a high level. We want to make the gaffer’s life difficult and that can only help the team. 

“I want to score goals as much as the next striker. But I am not as selfish as most strikers and not selfish enough to be one of the ones who win the Golden Boot. 

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“I am a team player and there are things I do for the team that people may not see. I am happy with how I finished last season and the fact they helped us stay in the league. I want to score as many as possible, but they will care for themselves. 

“It is crazy that I am a senior player now. We do age group exercises and I was in the oldest group and was thinking ‘Where have the years gone’. I am embracing it though as I have had a lot of different experiences playing for different clubs and environments. 

“Rory has been here his whole career, where I have moved around. I am transitioning to the role where I will be the best I can be, but if I can help other boys that is something I will try to do.”