THEY are too professional to admit it, but you can bet your bottom dollar that Craig Conway and Rudy Gestede will have extra fire in their bellies for tonight’s season opener at home to Cardiff City (7.45pm).
After all it was Cardiff who allowed the duo to drop back down into the Championship and join up with Blackburn Rovers in January after denying them the chance to prove they could cut it on the biggest stage in English football.
That must have been tough to take as both players, but particularly Conway, had played big roles in helping the Bluebirds back to the top flight for the first time in 51 years.
As it transpired Conway and Gestede would soon be reunited with their former employers.
Cardiff’s stay in the Premier League, amid a backdrop of confusion and chaos in the Welsh capital, was a brief one.
And long before Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side’s relegation was confirmed Conway and Gestede were already demonstrating that their old club’s loss was very much Rovers’ gain.
Both players, but again particularly Conway, became integral members of Gary Bowyer’s starting line-up and that is why he insists the pair will have nothing to prove when they step out on to the pristine Ewood Park pitch tonight for the start of the 2014-15 Football League campaign.
Rovers boss Bowyer said: “As far as I’m concerned they haven’t got anything to prove because they are not Cardiff City players any more.
“They are Blackburn Rovers players and they proved last season what massive assets they are to the football club.”
Bowyer is not exaggerating.
In 18 games Conway scored four goals and made 13 others – an incredible return meaning he finished top of the Championship assists standings – while striker Gestede netted 13 times with nine of those strikes coming in a blistering nine-game run to round off the campaign.
Of the two Conway is certain to start tonight.
And Bowyer said: “Obviously the expectations are high of Craig but he’s a cracking lad who just wants to get better.
“He’s last off the training pitch, he just wants to improve, and we’re excited for what could be a heck of a season for him.”
Bowyer is also relishing the prospect of working with Gestede for a full campaign for the first time. But firstly he must make the decision whether to start his towering target man tonight.
Gestede missed Rovers’ final three pre-season friendlies with a sickness bug that has also hit winger Ben Marshall.
But hinting at the forward’s desire to take on the Bluebirds Bowyer said: “Rudy will be raring to go and given it is against his old club adrenaline should get him through it.”
But Bowyer, who will welcome midfielder Lee Williamson back from suspension, did add: “But it’s not just about this one game for Rudy, it’s about the other 45.”
It is at the end of those 46 games that Rovers hope to have sealed a place back in the Premier League after what will have been a three-year exile.
But Cardiff are also targeting promotion despite the fact they have lost players of the calibre of Steven Caulker, Jordan Mutch, Frazier Campbell and seemingly Gary Medel too.
But Bluebirds boss Solskjaer has, so far at least, been able to keep hold of excellent goalkeeper David Marshall.
And the Manchester United legend has also been busy in the market, particularly up front, where he now has an embarrassment of riches after Adam le Fondre, Javi Guerra and Federico Macheda arrived to battle it out with the likes of Kenwyne Jones, Joe Mason and Nicky Maynard for the striking spots.
The bookies certainly like the look of the Bluebirds with many making them title favourites.
And Bowyer said: “They’ve got a fantastic squad still – a Premiership squad. They could pick two teams who would probably be very, very strong in the Championship.
“It’s going to be an exciting to start the campaign.
“All we can do is concentrate on ourselves and make sure we are competitive.”
Rovers were competitive at the end of last season when an unbeaten 12-match run took them within touching distance of the play-offs.
It proved Bowyer’s point that it is foolhardy to write off teams in the Championship too early.
But he accepts there are major benefits to making a flying start.
“If you can get momentum very quickly it helps massively,” said Bowyer, whose side follow tonight’s live Sky Sports encounter with clashes against Norwich City, Wolves, Wigan Athletic, Derby County and Fulham within the first six weeks of the season.
“We’ve had a look at our opening fixtures and they are tough fixtures but throughout the season they are like that.
“It’s about us getting on the front foot, being competitive and trying to win the game on Friday.”