Derry City travel to Tallaght Stadium tonight, ready to test the progress made under Ruaidhri Higgins in a match that will help prove if they can last the pace in the SSE Airtricity League title race with Shamrock Rovers.
Having seen the Hoops take over at the top of the table and defeat the likes of St Patrick's Athletic, Bohemian, Dundalk and Sligo Rovers in recent weeks, many observers feel Derry are the only true challenger for Stephen Bradley's men.
It would be ominous for the rest of the league if the home side took another three points in this fixture at Tallaght Stadium.
Having used their squad to dismantle Sligo Rovers in the space of a matter of minutes through a quadruple substitution, weaknesses appear few and far between for the current back-to-back league winners.
It's the game of the season on Friday in the @SSEAirtricityLg— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) May 12, 2022
The top two clash as @ShamrockRovers face @derrycityfc in Tallaght Stadium on @RTE2 and @RTEplayer from 7.30pm.
Champions meet challenger.
The first meeting produced this moment of magic.pic.twitter.com/uP6qiPKNHd
While Shamrock Rovers were winning games relatively comfortably, both Pat's and Bohs have taken points off Derry as their advantage at the top evaporated.
City have already toppled them once, through Jamie McGonigle's memorable winner, but tonight's away fixture will be considerably more difficult with the Dublin outfit slow to find their groove early in the season.
Bradley is unsure if Derry is the only club capable of going toe-to-toe with his side.
Speaking to RTÉ Sport, he said: "I don't know (if anyone else will emerge apart from Derry), we'll see.
"We're in a similar scenario to this time last year, with Sligo, but it looks like Derry are going to be there for the duration of the season. They're a very good team, but time will tell, we'll see.
"We're on a really good run, unbeaten in 11 matches. It's important we keep it going. We know the key to winning anything is being consistent and we've been that so far this year. We need to keep it going against Derry.
"It's first versus second, in front of what should be a great crowd and two good teams on the pitch. These are the games that everyone wants to play and be a part of, it has all the makings of a great game."
Higgins, meanwhile, feels this encounter will show the very best Irish club football has to offer.
The top two sides in the Airticity Premier Division table come face to face at Tallaght on Friday night as the Candystripes take on Shamrock Rovers in front of RTÉ cameras (KO 7.45).
"It has the makings of a brilliant game and we're really looking forward to it" he began.
"They lost a couple of games in the early part of the season but they have have been on a fantastic run since then, as you would expect from a squad of that quality.
"They have at least four players in the squad who have played at senior International level and there is quality everywhere. It's why they are back-to-back champions of this league.
"That said, we haven't been doing too badly ourselves. We're not going there to sit in, we're going to try to win the game.
"I was a bit disappointed with our performance against Bohs but we completely dominated on Monday night and just couldn't get the ball in the net.
"If we bring that level of performance to Tallaght on Friday we'll give ourselves a real chance."
Patrick McEleney was forced off against St Pat's having only come on as a substitute with both he and central defender Cameron McJannet doubtful for the game.
They are two key men for Derry, while Lee Grace may not feature for Shamrock Rovers.
Elsewhere, the weekend's other matches are critical fixtures in the race for Europe and avoid relegation.
Third-place Dundalk take on improving Bohemians, the inconsistent Sligo Rovers take on St Patrick's Athletic on Saturday in matches featuring the sides placed from third to sixth in the table.
Down the bottom, it feels like last chance for UCD to avoid automatic relegation when they face Finn Harps.
The Students have yet to win in 15 matches and another loss would put them eight points behind the opposition.
Just above them, Shelbourne host Drogheda in another six-pointer which could bring either side clear of trouble.
Dundalk v Bohemians, Oriel Park, 7.45pm
Dundalk may feel they have dropped two points last time out against UCD after letting a two-goal lead go against the bottom of the table side.
The Lilywhites still sit in a very healthy spot in third place. This is a match to certainly learn more about this year's challengers for the European places.
Just three points separate the teams and this is a game to make a statement for both sides.
Lilywhites manager Stephen O'Donnell admits it is a chance to make some ground: "The other four teams around us play against each other this weekend but I think there will constantly be swings and opportunities for teams to make up ground on others across the remainder of the season.
""We are 14 games in and it's tight and competitive and I don’t think that’s going to change. There are a lot of teams at a similar enough level.
"Quite a few clubs are in their first year of a project, or a long-term plan. Bohs have had to rebuild, bringing in a lot of new players, and we have had to build straight off the bat so there are a lot of clubs in a similar boat and it’s a case of who can adapt the quickest. It’s going to be tight and there’ll be plenty of twists and turns."
The Dundalk boss is wary of the threat Bohemians can pose.
He added: "Bohs are one of the most dangerous teams in the league.
"They have really potent attacking players all across the front areas of the pitch, really dynamic and explosive. You could see that in their goal against Derry City last Friday night; they were defending a ball in their box and then six to seven seconds later they are up the other end scoring a goal.
Andy Boyle is suspended for Dundalk but Mark Connolly returns after a one-match ban. John Martin, who came off the bench to score in the last two home games against Shelbourne and Drogheda United, is fully fit after shaking off a knee injury that limited his involvement at Belfield last time out.
Finn Harps v UCD, Finn Park, 7.45pm
For all of UCD's struggles this year, there has been moments we've seen the best of the College.
The best was Colm Whelan's inspirational goal last week, but there's also been Sam Todd's defending when up against the wall, Liam Kerrigan intricate passing and an energy that is still maintained despite nine losses in 14 matches.
Tonight is UCD's big chance against a Harps side devoid of confidence,
Ollie Horgan has warned his side of the dangers of the Students.
He said: "UCD keep the ball very well and play some fantastic football. They're a massive handful, even if we had a full squad and now without they will provide a massive challenge. They’ll be buoyed after a fantastic result against Dundalk.
"Andy Myler and William O’Connor are doing a superb job and we know all too well the ability of the likes of Sam Todd and Michael Gallagher who we’ve had here over the years.
"Their record probably doesn’t tell the whole story of how well they’ve played at times this year and we’re certainly prepared for a savage battle come kick-off."
David Webster is out long-term for Harps while Elie-Gael N’Zeyi is suspended. Bastien Héry, Mark Timlin and Regan Donelon are doubts. Eric McWoods returns having missed the last two games through suspension.
Shelbourne v Drogheda United, Tolka Park, 7.45pm
It was a memorable week for Shelbourne as news filtered through of a future in Tolka Park after a decade of their home looking like it would turn into real estate.
As Sligo Rovers visited last Friday, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to record a first home win of the season and it materialised.
Damien Duff was quick to praise his players as he watched on while serving a touchline ban.
"I was over the moon. It's what the boys deserved after a nervy last few mins and a poor goal from our point of view but we got over the hurdle.
"Now it’s about can we get two on the bounce. No one below us has done that. Positive results on top of each other can help you climb the table and it goes the other way too.
"Look it’s against someone close to us in the league so it’s absolutely massive.
Shels will be without Brian McManus and Daniel Hawkins through injury while doubts remain over Adam Thomas and Jordan McEneff who both missed last week.
"It must be said our squad has coped brilliantly throughout the season because we’ve missed bodies during it," Duff said.
Drogheda have struggled since their loss in Sligo with a 4-0 defeat against St Patrick's Athletic a worrying sign, making this a crucial game.
Watch Shamrock Rovers v Derry City in the SSE Airtricity League live on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player on Friday night (7.45pm) or follow via our live blog on RTÉ.ie/Sport and the RTÉ News app