“BOXING Day is traditionally 'Derby Day' in Irish League football and this year is no different.
But there is much more than just bragging-rights at stake when Dergview host Ballinamallard United on Wednesday week in a 3pm kick-off.
Entering into a crucial stage of the season, Dergview lie bottom of the table with 14 points, six adrift of safety, but their recent form is encouraging and they come into the game on the back of a three-man unbeaten run.
Ballinamallard, too, have improved and, after a worrying start, Harry McConkey's side have put a few wins together to climb into eighth, six points above the drop zone and seven clear of Dergview.
Indeed, this game could go some way to determining which team can avoid the drop come May.
Ballinamallard will enter the game as favourites, but, as they say, league form goes out the window in a derby.
"It's going to be a massive game," admitted Dergview boss, Ivan Sproule. "Once people get their turkey and ham out of the way on Christmas Day their attention may well turn to Boxing Day and this derby match.
"Ballinamallard will be expected to win. They haven't had the start of the season they would have hoped for - they would have liked to have been in the top six. It hasn't worked out just yet but they have a good manager in Harry and there are good players there.
"We will give them plenty of respect but when the game starts I expect my players to give their all to win the game."
Asked if there was any added pressure on his players, Sproule responded: "I don’t see an added pressure. Three points against Limavady is just as important as three points against Ballinamallard.
“From my bottom of my heart, the only thing I really care about is getting the points for Dergview.
“Supporters will tell you otherwise, because they want the bragging rights, but as manager I am in a different position. I have got to think of the bigger picture: to move up the table and away from relegation, and if you ask Harry McConkey he will tell you he wants the same thing.”
Sproule, a former Hibernian player in the Scottish Premiership, has competed in several derby matches during his esteemed career and asked what advice he will give his players, he said: “You have to play it just like you would any other game.
“The Edinburgh derby against Hearts is fierce and volatile, you’re going into a stadium with thousands of supporters and some people are saying not very nice things to you. This derby game isn’t as volatile as that, but there is still plenty of pride at stake.
“My players won’t have any focus on Ballinamallard, they will focus on the fact that we are bottom of the league and need to get away from it.
“I can tell you 100 per cent that my players are not thinking about the derby-win - it isn’t in my players’ thoughts, it’s about getting the points.
“Ballinamallard have the points on the board so the onus is on us to win the game and we will try to do that. We won’t go gung-ho, we will have our game plan. But Harry will know our players too. But it doesn’t matter about the managers, it’s up to the individuals on the pitch and hopefully that day my boys will have a wee bit more magic than they do.”
Harbouring ambitions to guide Dergview to the Premiership, Sproule wants the Darragh Park outfit to take a leaf out of Ballinamallard’s book.
“Ballinamallard are a great club and they treated with me with great respect when I was there and some day I’m sure they will return to the top-flight, but as Dergview manager my aim is to develop the club here.
“The aim this season is to avoid the drop and hopefully we will have aspirations like Ballinamallard did.
“I was very sad when Omagh Town went and for years Ballinamallard were representing the Tyrone and Fermanagh area in the Premiership, and in years to come Dergview should have aspirations to go and do that as well.
“Talk is cheap but if you can sort yourself out and have a good foundation then we could give it a good rattle.”