AS THE Dublin clubs stumble their way into the 2013 season, it looks like we'll need someone else to at least keep pace with Sligo Rovers and make sure that the championship doesn't develop into a one-horse race so soon.
And while it's still early in the season, it looks as if Derry City could be the ones who will at least track the reigning champions and league leaders. Thanks to a 2-0 win over Bray Wanderers at a bitterly cold Brandywell yesterday with two goals from Michael Rafter, Derry stayed in second place and, for a few hours at least, went within three points of Sligo, though Rovers were of course in action themselves late on in the day away to bottom side UCD.
Tipperary man Michael Rafter was the two-goal hero for Derry on the day and with the combination of a solid defence (just one goal conceded in the last five league games) and a confident attack (influential winger Pat Kavanagh made his league debut for the side yesterday after overcoming injury), Declan Devine's side could make sure that Derry is known for football as well as culture in 2013.
"You have to get your wins when you can as there will be a lot of draws this season, we are getting our wins so it's enjoyable," Derry boss Declan Devine told The Herald.
"I am delighted with the application of the players we have, they are playing the way we want them to play, we are fitter and stronger than we were last season and now we have a real goalscoring threat right through the team. The players have shown desire and hunger and long may that continue," added Devine, as he expects the sides from Dublin to make a revival in the face of early-season form from north-west outfits Sligo and Derry.
"You still have top sides in Dublin, Shamrock Rovers are a fantastic side with a great manager, St Pat's the same, Drogheda and Dundalk too.
"Now we have a tough task going to Dalymount to play Bohs on Friday. There are talented sides in the league and every game will be competitive.
"And I don't think Sligo will have it all their own way. In this league when you get too far ahead of yourself you are in trouble and I don't think Ian Baraclough will let than happen to Sligo.
"The table looks nice but it's early days and I won't let us get carried away. I am just over the moon that we picked up nine points in eight days and kept three clean sheets, it's a fantastic run.
"Maybe we were fortunate with the fixture list as we had two home games in a row, Friday and yesterday, and I feel for Bray who had to play on Friday night and then pick themselves up on Sunday morning to travel to Derry.
"We had a wee bit of luck yesterday, our first goal was fortunate and Jason Byrne had a good effort off the crossbar but we dominated the game and created more goalscoring opportunities," added Devine.
It took Derry until only the 26th minute to open the scoring, an unfortunate debut for young goalkeeper Seán Holmes. Rafter had swung in a rather speculative shot from 30 yards out but while former St Pat's man Holmes did get a touch, the ball somehow went around and under his body to creep over the line to give City the lead.
That goal seemed to knock Bray off course as, apart from a Jason Byrne shot which came off the crossbar six minutes before Rafter's first goal, Pat Devlin's side offered no real threat.
Derry went after Bray following the goal, with winger Patrick McEleney shooting over and Simon Madden testing Holmes with a header. And ten minutes into the second half Rafter had his second of the day, heading in after a good ball was sent in by Patrick McEleney. Sub Michael Duffy almost added a third for the home side and Ruaidhri Higgins also went close but in the end, the points went to Derry with little trouble.
Bray boss Devlin admitted that it was a testing debut for 'keeper Holmes after that early error. "I feel sorry for Seán and he will learn from that," said Devlin.
"Up to that moment there was nothing in the game, it was just one of those things, and once they scored a second we had no way back. We have a young side and they struggled with two games in such a short space of time. I am disappointed we didn't get something out of the game as they didn't have too many chances, the turning point was the opening goal but Seán will be the better for that."