Daniel McDonnell: 'Rovers on revenge mission to set fresh tone for season'
If Shamrock Rovers are to challenge for the League of Ireland title this year, they need to change the mood around their Dublin derbies with Bohemians.
Stephen Bradley's side arrive in Dalymount Park tonight with six points in the bank from their opening two games and a mood of renewed optimism around the club.
They know from painful experience, however, that games with Bohemians can kill their momentum.
Bradley's men took a solitary point from a possible 12 in their four meetings with Keith Long's side last term. To make it worse, they squandered winning positions in three of those encounters.
It cost them dearly when it came to the end of the season, with the hangover from those matches raising questions about the direction of the club under their young manager.
They tended to get the show back on the road again thereafter, and Rovers did finish the season strongly when fans had produced banners calling for change midway through it.
But the Bohs matches chipped away at credit in the bank and a win over their arch rivals is required to build belief around Tallaght that this could be the year that they really put it up to Dundalk.
It probably suits Bohemians that a certain amount of the focus around these fixtures is centred around the suggestion that the onus is on Rovers to take control.
Underestimating Long's side is dangerous, especially as they have also started with two wins from two to make this a top-of-the-table clash.
Victories over newly-promoted duo Finn Harps and UCD have provided an encouraging start for a much-changed dressing-room. The expectation was that it would take time for the Gyspies to click into gear.
Bohs have revelled in their underdog status in the derby, the part-time club operating off meagre resources compared to their full-time rivals. The reality is that it leaves them vulnerable to upheaval.
Their unity was their strength last year, but they suffered another talent drain in the winter months with Shane Supple retiring, Ian Morris leaving to take over as manager of Shelbourne, and promising pair JJ Lunney and Dan Casey accepting full-time football at Waterford and Cork respectively.
Long has looked to youths coming home from England with ex-Brighton winger Danny Mandroiu scoring a stunning goal against UCD on Friday night.
Quite a few of the home players will be preparing for their first derby match. The major coup last week was retaining the services of striker Ali Reghba until his summer move to Premier League side Leicester.
Bohs fans had resigned themselves to not seeing Reghba in their colours again. But he resisted any temptation to follow Dylan Watts to Tallaght. Watts is a slight doubt for this game due to a knock sustained in Friday's win over Derry City.
Rovers are well stocked in the midfield area with Jack Byrne and Aaron McEneff braced for their first taste of this fixture. Bradley admits they have studied last year's meetings to try and find out why they have struggled.
"There's a few things we've looked at from the Bohs games last year, things we could have done better," he says. "Hopefully we can put them right."
The other side to have a perfect record after two rounds of fixtures is St Patrick's Athletic, with Mikey Drennan's late header in Sligo on Friday completing the perfect smash and grab.
Saints boss Harry Kenny feels that a revival from the capital's clubs is overdue - Dundalk and Cork have dominated since the Inchicore club lifted the crown in 2013 - but he wasn't getting carried away ahead of tonight's visit of Finn Harps.
"It's about time they did (challenge)," said Kenny. "Since then (2013) there hasn't been a sniff, but it's way too early to be talking about winning leagues or anything like that."
Under-pressure Cork go to Sligo in search of their first points, while Dundalk require a first win at home to UCD after back-to-back draws.
"There is no hard luck story," said skipper Brian Gartland after a 1-1 draw with Harps on Friday. "We just roll up our sleeves and get to work."