Derry City: Declan Devine's second coming to restore some passion at the Brandywell
|League of Ireland: Derry City v UCD|
|Venue: Brandwell Stadium Date: Friday, 15 February Kick-off: 19:45 GMT|
|Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio Foyle & BBC Sport website|
The wait is almost over. Friday night football under the Brandywell lights is about to make its return.
A rare opening night home game presents an ideal chance for the Candystripes to make a winning start to their campaign.
Newly-promoted UCD travel north where they will face a new-look Derry City led by a returning hero.
Declan Devine aims to restore the glory days on Foyleside as he begins his second spell in charge of his hometown club.
In a twist of sporting fate, Devine was also manager the last time the Candystripes began their league campaign at home in 2013 when a defeat to Sligo Rovers began a season that ultimately ended with the Creggan man's departure.
Devine's sacking seemed a curious decision at the time given the success and popularity he enjoyed over a relatively short two-year period.
He won the FAI Cup in his first campaign, beating St. Patrick's Athletic 3-2 after extra-time in a thrilling final, qualified for the Europa League in both seasons and narrowly lost a Setanta Cup final on penalties to Crusaders.
The 45-year-old was reappointed in November, succeeding Kenny Shiels, who was dismissed on the back of finishing eighth in the ten-team Premier Division.
"Declan has matured as a manager," said City chairman Philip O'Doherty on his decision to bring Devine back.
"He has come on leaps and bounds, has learned a lot and is really up for the challenge. He really, really wanted the job and Declan just came across so enthusiastic in the interview."
Starting from scratch
A former goalkeeper, Devine's objective since his return has been to restore Derry's identity, backboning his squad with local players while also forming a team capable of mounting a challenge for European qualification.
Given the number of players he has had to replace, the new manager has, in effect, had to build from scratch.
Long-standing goalkeeper and captain Gerard Doherty made the switch to Irish League champions Crusaders along with the Hale brothers, Rory and Ronan, while Aaron McEneff was another high-profile departure to Shamrock Rovers.
Also gone are the Scottish quartet of Nicky Low, Ally Roy, Kevin McHattie and Aaron Splaine.
On the flip side, Barry McNamee's return from Cork City was a priority for Devine and the Ramelton man has been rewarded with the captain's armband.
Derry shipped 70 league goals last season - their worst record since joining the League of Ireland - so restoring defensive stability was also high on Devine's to-do list.
Goalkeeper Peter Cherrie arrives having previously won a league championship with Dundalk while Patrick McClean, younger brother of James, returns home after spells with Waterford and Sligo Rovers.
Ciaran Coll (Finn Harps), Ally Gilchrist (Shamrock Rovers) and Josh Kerr (on-loan from Brighton) have been added to bolster the defence, midfielder Ciaron Harkin has returned having played a major role in Coleraine's 2018 Irish Cup success and Greg Sloggett will face his former UCD teammates on Friday.
Argentina midfielder Gerardo Bruna, who has a colourful CV that includes spells at Real Madrid youths and Liverpool, is an intriguing arrival while loan recruits Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe (Colchester United) and David Parkhouse (Sheffield United) join ex-Bohemians striker Eoghan Stokes in a youthful attacking unit.
Reconnecting club and community
Devine wants to reignite the connection between the city and the team.
He will demand pride and passion as a minimum requirement from those who will wear the red and white shirt as representatives of their club and community.
"I want to take this football club forward and have a desire to get this club back to where it belongs," enthused Devine.
"We might not be in a position to compete with the money on offer from teams who constantly qualify for the Champions League and Europa League but there is a lot of talent and quality in this city and we want to make the best of it."
Dundalk will start the campaign as favourites to win a fifth title in six years but there has been significant changes at Oriel Park with former assistant coach Vinny Perth stepping up to replace the departed Stephen Kenny.
The 2017 league and cup double winners Cork City will make a renewed challenge while Shamrock Rovers and St. Patrick's Athletic have both added significantly to their playing squads.
The return of Derry's north-west rivals Finn Harps will also bring added spice to the fixture list.
Indeed, the final game of the campaign will pit Derry at home to Harps. Now, what a finale to the season that would prove to be should either or both have something to play for going into it?
One thing is for certain, the agonies and the ecstasies lie ahead.