Cork City FC have pushed Dundalk all of the way in the last three league campaigns.
Though the Co. Louth side won the league for the third year in a row in 2016, the gap between the two was minimal, with City winning two of their league encounters and of course that Sean Maguire goal at the Aviva Stadium secured FAI Cup glory at the expense of the Lilywhites.
Both teams have strengthened and another chapter to one of the league's biggest rivalry in modern times looks to be added to in 2017.
The mastermind behind the improvement on the pitch at City has been manager John Caulfield.
Speaking exclusively to Extratime.ie at the League of Ireland launch at the Aviva Stadium, Caulfield outlined his thoughts ahead of the new campaign including how his squad are primed to be right among the title challengers again.
"We have a squad that is certainly well capable of challenging at the top. For us, it's just about being consistent week in and week out and trying to not drop points.
"A lot of teams will come to Cork and play with men behind the ball, so we will at times have to be patient in trying to break them down. Last season we got a few draws in games which we needed to win.
"We have reduced the numbers in the squad and tried to bring in more quality players, so to have it in a way that if a fella is injured or suspended, the guy coming in is just as good.
"Ultimately you don't know where you are at until the season starts and we go into what will be a difficult opening league game away to Finn Harps, but we are looking forward to it.
"We hope that we are better than we are last year, that's all you can hope for as a manager. If we are then it might be good enough," said Caulfield.
The Cork City boss saw his side also go on a memorable European run of their own in 2016. He thinks that for the development of the league, it will be important that the likes of City and Dundalk keep picking up good results in Europe in 2017.
"It is very important for our league to be in Europe, because that's what the other clubs recognise. While our league is not followed as much across Europe, people know where you are from when you are in European competitions.
"We did very well beating the BK Hacken and playing Genk, who are still in the last 32 and of course you have the Dundalk run as well.
"So it is important for us in this league to see can we keep that momentum going.
"Our league's perception is not good, even though the quality of the players is very good. So, the more times you advance in Europe and the more teams who do better in Europe, the perception is much higher and that is what you want."
John is a Cork based reporter, mainly covering Cork City and Cobh Ramblers. John also reports regularly on Munster Senior League and Cork Youths League football for the Evening Echo. John has also freelanced for The Irish Examiner, Irish Independent and Mayo News.
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