Ross Draper sees no reason why both Highland clubs cannot get back to the Premiership next season.
The Ross County midfielder, who elected to stay with the club after their drop to the Championship, experienced relegation with Caley Thistle last year and sees the two clubs fighting it out at the top end of the table in 2019.
The Championship promises to be as competitive as ever next season. Partick Thistle dropped into the second tier after their play-off loss to Livingston, with the Jags, both Highland clubs, Dunfermline, Dundee United, Morton and Falkirk also likely to consider themselves capable of getting promoted.
It has been a dour couple of years for Highland football, with both clubs dropping out of the top flight two years after securing major silverware. Having the Highland derby back is a rare positive coming from relegation and Draper hopes they can both make it back to the Premiership sooner rather than later.
He said: “That’s the one positive we can take from it that’s good for Highland football. We would like both clubs to be back up and maybe, in two or three years, we can both get back up there. There’s no reason it can’t happen next year and it will be as competitive as it has been for the last five years.
“It’s something to look forward to. We had a couple of bounce games against them last year and it will be doubly strange this year with something to play for. The key for both clubs is get back up as Highland football has suffered over the last couple of years.
“Both clubs have had their own paths and been successful. I don’t think anyone from the central belt will be too disheartened but it’s something we want to get back to. Inverness are doing a good job under John Robertson, rebuilding a young squad. Iain Vigurs will be a miss but they will kick on.
“Partick coming down means it’ll be a tough league to get a run going, with ourselves, Inverness, Dunfermline, Dundee United and Falkirk as well. It’ll be tough to stick at the top end of the league. Both ourselves and Inverness will be thoroughly looking forward to the challenge and it bodes well for both clubs to have the derby back.”
The two sides will face each other four times next season in the league, while Caley Jags will also be out to defend the IRN-BRU Cup they won against Dumbarton in March.