STEPHEN RICE wants his Shamrock Rovers side to send out a message this week in terms of the club's title hopes as they face into back-to-back Dublin derbies which could define their season.
Confidence boosted after they landed the first trophy of the season thanks to Saturday's 7-1 drubbing of Drogheda United in the Setanta Sports Cup final, Rovers turn their attention to the league and their hopes of reducing the 14-point gap between themselves and leaders Sligo Rovers.
With successive games against St Patrick's Athletic (tonight), Bohemians (Friday) and Shelbourne (Friday week), a nine-point haul from those derbies would shunt Rovers up the table and back into contention.
"This is a massive week for us and a big test of our character, if we can do well in the two games this week the table will look at lot better for us and we can crack on with the rest of the season," said Rice.
"We are a good bit behind in the league, there's no getting away from that, but if we can win this game tonight we'll be in a much stronger position.
"And I'd like to think that winning the Setanta Cup can be a turning point in our season in terms of the league. As talent goes, we have a very strong squad but we also have a good work ethic.
"I have found that when you win something, it gives the group of players a lift, you get a taste for winning and you want more of it. It's hard to win a trophy in this league and it's brilliant now to see lads like Danny Ledwith get their first medal; it gives them belief that they can push on.
"I know a lot of our fans will be looking ahead to the Bohs game on Friday but the players are just focused on this game against St Pat's tonight. It's not just a Dublin derby but a big game in the league campaign.
"Pat's are already 10 points ahead of us in the table and we can't let them get any further ahead, so we need to get something from tonight," added Rice, insisting that the Rovers squad have already put Saturday's Cup final win to the back of their minds.
"It's great to win any trophy but to do it in the manner we did against Drogheda, scoring seven goals, was even better, but that's gone now," says Rice.
"We enjoyed Saturday but we were back in training on Sunday and again yesterday. We need to keep our focus for this game because Pat's away is a huge game for us."
The title race took some strange twists last weekend with the top two of Sligo Rovers and Derry both dropping points, Sligo frustrated by a 0-0 draw away to Bray Wanderers and Derry on the end of a shock 4-2 defeat at home to UCD.
Given that most league-winning teams go through a bad patch at some stage in the season, Rovers fans are hoping that while their team has already had their sticky spell (a run of just one win in nine league games), now it's Derry (two defeats in a row) and Sligo (one win in five) who have run into trouble.
"It's only natural to have a blip over the course of a season and we had ours," says Rice. "Even when the results weren't coming for us and we were getting a lot of draws we were still playing well, we just got punished for every mistake we made and teams took points off us."
Pat's had no game over the weekend so Liam Buckley and his squad had time to rest up and prepare for this game, hoping that their poor home form recently (disappointing draws at Richmond Park against Derry City and Bohemians) can be more like away form which has seen Pat's win at Cork City and Drogheda United in their most recent outings.