ALL eyes will be on the Showgrounds this afternoon (1.45) to see if Sligo Rovers can finish the first round of the league season with a flourish and open up an eight-point gap over Shamrock Rovers.
The title race appears to be heading for a three-way contest between the two Rovers and the impressive St Patrick's Athletic side Liam Buckley is assembling, although it is Sligo who have been the front-runners so far.
All three title-chasers are being steered by men in their first season at the helm. The Bit O'Red's new man Ian Baraclough had little time to adjust after Paul Cook's decampment to Accrington Stanley, and he can be thankful to his predecessor for the team -- if not the squad -- that he assembled, as well as a fixture list that allowed him some breathing space as he adjusted to life in the north west.
Buckley, meanwhile, came to Richmond Park with a well thought out plan that has seen the Saints match Sligo in going unbeaten so far this season -- even if they have drawn too many games. They also have the meanest defence in the league -- something Shamrock Rovers cannot claim after a disappointing start.
For Hoops supremo Stephen Kenny, the problem was always going to be following the season that went before.
Michael O'Neill may not have been universally popular at Tallaght Stadium, but the Northern Ireland manager brought unprecedented success to a club that has become used to winning over the past three seasons.
The Portadown man is the ultimate pragmatist and his philosophy was all about not conceding. His style of play wasn't the prettiest, but it was mightily effective and struck fear into opponents.
Not so this season. Kenny's Rovers are prolific in front of goal scoring 24 in 10 games -- but they have conceded 13 and only four teams have a worse defensive record.
The heavy defeat to St Pat's appears to have shaken the defence's confidence and the Tallaght crowd have started to get on their team and manager's backs.
Today Shamrock Rovers come up against a team that have conceded six goals in the same period and, in Danny North, have a striker in fine form to rival that of their very own Gary Twigg.
Sligo know beating their rivals won't win them the title, but eight points is a significant gap at any point in the season.
The Hoops have doubts over Ken Oman and Ronan Finn, while long-term injury victim Ciaran Kilduff remains absent. Sligo's Joseph Ndo is a doubt, but they have the influential Alan Keane back.
Verdict: Home win
Sligo Rovers v Shamrock Rovers,
Live, RTE 2, 1.45