Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers set to raise the temperature in sold-out Dublin derby clash

And so Irish sport’s answer to the Winter Olympics — otherwise known as the League of Ireland summer season — comes around again, the burning passion of the faithful set to go head to head with the piercing February chill on this long-awaited opening night.

Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers set to raise the temperature in sold-out Dublin derby clash

At times like this, when all are temporarily equal and everything seems possible, it’s always worth remembering that what would turn out to be the first of Dundalk’s three successive league titles began with a 4-1 Louth derby defeat to Drogheda in 2014.

Which only goes to show that what happens on the first night is not necessarily a reliable indicator of what’s to come.

Still, that won’t stop all of us investing considerable significance in whatever transpires in this evening’s four Premier League fixtures, before Sligo Rovers and Limerick — completing the new 10-team top tier — open their respective accounts at The Showgrounds tomorrow.

The bulk of the attention will be focused on the capital, where Cork City kick off the defence of their title against St Patrick’s Athletic in Inchicore while Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers renew old acquaintance at Dalymount Park.

As the double top team of 2017, Cork are obviously the ones to beat this year, and John Caulfield’s business in the close season suggests he has no intention of making that task any less challenging for the other contenders than it ought to be.

Across the city, there will be pride and more at stake too as Bohemians play host to Shamrock Rovers in a sold-out Dublin derby which will be televised live on RTÉ2 (kick-off 7.30pm).

“This fixture is a great way to start the league campaign,” says Bohs boss Keith Long.

“The sell-out signs have been up in Dalymount for two weeks, which is great to see. Our players have worked hard in pre-season and we believe they will be focused and disciplined in their approach.”

The bookies once again have Rovers as favourites, but Long remains undeterred.

He added: “It’s no secret that we don’t have the resources that they have, we have tended to go into games against Rovers as underdogs.

“But we can enjoy that tag a little bit too and try use it to our advantage and have our supporters behind us.

“That bond between players and fans is something I’ve preached about since coming in, that was key for us last year.

“There was a definite connection there. Even when we were under pressure, fans didn’t waver.

“That helps players grow in stature and we’ll need that for this game as well as every other one this year. It’s an even more competitive league now.

"We’re not fazed by that but we will need that support again every step of the way.”

Bohs have already beaten Rovers to the punch by adding 21-year-old former Leeds United striker Eoghan Stokes to their squad yesterday.

But Hoops boss Stephen Bradley is happy with where his team is at as the season kicks off.

“Whatever the other teams have done in terms of their squads and players, we just concentrate on what we’re doing and we believe that we’re in a stronger place than we were last year.

“But we’ve got to go and show that now on the pitch. We dropped too many points in the first round of games last year and we can’t do that again. We know we have to start right.”

Stephen Kenny has a few men missing as Dundalk, last year’s league and cup runners-up, welcome Bray Wanderers to Oriel Park.

“Stephen O’Donnell is out with his calf, John Mountney with his knee, and Sean Hoare with his hamstring is a doubt,” says the Lilywhites manager.

“A bit of a flu virus has hit the camp this week but hopefully we can come through. We will have to see how we are but we have had a good pre-season and we are ready to go for the new campaign.

“There’s always a great anticipation around the town about the football being back. The first league game is always exciting.”

The Lilywhites last night announced the signing of defender Daniel Cleary.

Cleary joins the Louth club on a two-year deal after having spells in England with Liverpool and most recently Birmingham City. He was released from the Blues last month.

“I’m ready to go now, I can’t wait for it to start and get points on the board,” Cleary told dundalkfc.com.

“The gaffer contacted me and I was delighted to come up here and grabbed the chance, I’m settled in now and ready to go.”

The first top flight league game in Waterford in 10 years will take place at the RSC as the 2017 First Division champions mark their deserved return to the upper tier with a game against Derry City.

“There is a great buzz around in the build up to the match and we’re aware that the people of Waterford have waited a long time for the return of Premier Division football,” says manager Alan Reynolds.

“I think that we are ready for Derry and it should be a great occasion.”

Tonight’s games kick off at 7.45pm unless otherwise stated.

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