Derry to get 'ball rolling'
When the fixtures computer clicked into gear to churn out the schedule for the 2013 Airticity League, it could hardly have come up with a more appetising match than a meeting between Sligo Rovers and Derry City on the opening day of the new campaign.
Rovers, winners of the title for the first time since 1977 in 2013, up against last year's FAI Cup champions, Derry City, is a tantalising prospect, guaranteed to get the 2014 season off to a pulsating start.
Add in the long established healthy rivalry between these North West neighbours and you have all the ingredients for a cracking contest at the Brandywell on Friday
"It has the makings of a great match", agrees Rovers boss, Ian Baraclough.
"It's like the Charity Shield in England where the League champions take on the FA Cup winners.
"Both sides will be up for it after their success last year so it's an exciting fixture to get the new season up and running." Baraclough is a big admirer of Derry and what they have achieved.
"They had a lot of injury problems during the couse of the season yet their manager, Declan Devine, was able to hold it all together and finish off by winning the Cup.
"I was delighted for them because I think they deserved a bit of success.
"Obviously, that will give them a great incentive to make further progress this year so it's going to be a really tough game for us at the Brandywell"
Rovers earned a priceless victory at the Ulster venue last year, with Mark Quigley delivering a memorable winning goal in a 2-1 win.
The Brandywell assignment is the first in a tough schedule of matches for the Bit O'Red as they begin the defence of their coveted crown.
Four of their first six fixtures are way from home - with trips to Dundalk, Bohemians and UCD following Friday's game in Derry.
Rovers home games in this period are against Bray Wanderers on March 16th and Limerick on March 23rd.
The fixture schedule looks challenging this season with Rovers away twice to both Shams and St. Pat's.
"It's the reverse of last season but we'll be ready for those challenges when they arise", insists Sligo Rovers manager Baraclough.