DARREN SMITH cannot wait to report back to pre-season training on Thursday.

The new Whites keeper, who has signed for this coming season to compete with first-choice veteran Paul Hyde, is eager to make the Dover No 1 jersey his own.

He said: “I want to get that shirt. I haven’t played since February when I left Heybridge – so I’m aiming for a good pre-season and getting myself fit.

“Then I want to challenge for a place in the side and, once in the team, keep my position between the sticks. I’ve faith in my ability.”

Smithy, 26, signed Ryman League forms for the club in February to provide manager Clive Walker with some cover for Hyde and Kevin Readings last season. He sat on the bench away against Wealdstone as Whites won their penultimate game 1-0.

The likeable Chelmsford-based keeper has committed himself to the cause for this coming campaign and hopes to play a part in helping Whites win the Ryman League Division One title.

But he warned that is not going to be a stroll in the park for Whites despite being installed as the 5-4 bookies’ favourites to lift the title.

Smithy said: “I’ve played at this level before and it’ll be a tough test for us. Being the favourites always brings pressure and a lot of teams will want to beat us this year.

“There are some reasonably good grounds in this division – but there will be a few cowfields too. I can ensure Dover fans that when some of these teams visit Crabble, they’re going to be so up for it. They’ll love the ground and the fact we’ve got good support – and it will make them want to turn us over.

“But we’ve got a great chance of doing well this season. I know Craig Wilkins really well from my time at Gravesend, when we were team-mates, and Lee Spiller and Tony Browne too. They’re three very good players.”

Smith, who has played for Gravesend, Aveley, Chelmsford and Heybridge Swifts, insists Wilkins is going to be the key player for Dover.

He said: “I’ve never seen anyone jump like him. He reminds me of Les Ferdinand. He just jumps and hangs in the air for ages. He should score bundles of goals in this division.”

The keeper is also impressed by Walker – although he has only seen him in action as manager away at Wealdstone. He said: “I don’t know him that well but, from what I saw in that one game, he is a great motivator and has great tactical skills. He is certainly someone to look up to.”