It's not grim up north for Stokes
Eoghan's Derry side ready for Hoops test
Eoghan Stokes used to dread the trips to Derry and the long hours spent going up and down the N2.
But now, the Brandywell is home from home for the 22-year-old striker as his Derry City side have, for now at least, emerged as the biggest challengers to Shamrock Rovers this term.
Most of last season was a penance for Derry fans, especially at home where form was poor. But the Brandywell Ryan McBride Stadium is a sell-out for tonight's visit of Rovers, the league leaders.
"I'm loving it up here, it's a great place to live but the fact that the football is going well makes it even better," says Leixlip native Stokes, who joined Derry at the start of this season after a one-year stay at Bohemians.
"The places is sold out for the Rovers game tonight, the game is live on TV and the fans here are happy, there is a great buzz around the club, you have a lot of very good people who are pulling in the same direction."
Travel has always been an issue for Derry, tucked away up there in the north-west, this week a case in point as City had three back to back away games, two in Dublin in the space of four days.
"When I was at Bohs last season, Derry away was the fixture you looked forward to the least as it was so far away. But we're not bothered about it now," he said.
Derry finished just outside of the relegation zone last year so their presence in the top three for much of this season is a welcome change. "It's a new group so no-one knew what to expect from this season," says Stokes.
"But we know we need to keep putting on performances to keep the fans coming," added Stokes, who had a spell on trial in Portugal, at Boavista, before he joined Derry.
When Stokes left home at 16 to join Leeds United, the plan was to become a regular at Elland Road. That dream didn't come true as he made only one appearance for the first team at Leeds. If things had gone his way, Stokes would be bound for the Premier League with a promotion-chasing Leeds, instead he's back home in Ireland.
"You never know where football will take you but I wouldn't change anything, this is life," he says.
"I had a great time at Leeds and I learned a lot, I am still in touch with all of the lads there and it'd be great to see them go on and get into the Premier League, but what's going on up here at Derry is brilliant."
Derry's recent wins have come against Sligo Rovers, Finn Harps, UCD and St Pat's, but Rovers tonight will be a tougher night and a test of how much Derry can achieve this season.
"Rovers are a very good side, I know a few boys in their squad and they have been together since last year," says Stokes, who has good memories of facing Rovers, having scored the only goal of the game as Bohs won away to the Hoops in August.
"I enjoyed them games," he says. "There was always a good atmosphere when you play Rovers, they will have a good crowd up here in the Brandywell tonight, it should be a great game and it's a good test for us."