By Graham Gillespie
One point in four games, it’s not a great start by anyone’s standard. However for those who have had the opportunity to see Galway United play in either of their first two home games this season they’ll have seen some positive signs.
With the Premier Division being cut down from 12 teams to 10 next season and three being relegated this term, everybody knew that the battle to avoid the drop would be cut throat. New manager Shane Keegan would have been all too aware of the importance of a good start at Eammon Deacy Park to avoid being relegated as he was last season with his previous club Wexford Youths.
However the campaign started in disappointing fashion with a dispiriting 1-0 home defeat to the team that beat Keegan’s old side in last year’s relegation/promotion playoff: Drogheda United. Galway United dominated in the first half with the pace of new signing Ronan Murray causing the Louth side plenty of issues, but in the second half the Corribsiders looked bereft of ideas and lost the match to Drogheda’s only chance of the game.
It was patently obvious in this opener that the home side were still undergoing teething problems with not only a new coach but also a number of new players still trying to fit in. Both of the starting centre midfielders: David Cawley and Gavan Holohan were playing their first league match together and perhaps unsurprisingly looked disjointed throughout the game. Also Keegan has brought centre back Lee Grace with him from Wexford and he was still adjusting to playing with Galway stalwart Stephen Folan. The loss of last season’s captain and creative lynchpin Ryan Connolly to Shamrock Rovers was also evident in second half when a goal was required.
Following this United had a nightmare away trip to Cork. Getting a result at Turner’s Cross was always a tall ask and Galway duly got outplayed losing 4-0 to a Cork side who will fancy their chances to finally topple Dundalk and win the title. Another tough away trip to Ballybofey to face Finn Harps followed and Galway at last managed to get their first point of the season with a 1-1 draw.
Last Monday saw Galway welcome Shamrock Rovers in a game that last season saw the aforementioned Ryan Connolly netting two goals for the Tribesmen although now he lined out for the visitors. Despite having still not won a game after losing this match narrowly 2-1, the home sides display on the night suggested this winless streak won’t last much longer. Unlike the Drogheda game, there was excellent passages of passing from Galway that was reminiscent of the type of football Shane Keegan’s Wexford side played which prompted United to hire him in the first place.
Playing a 4-5-1 instead of the 4-4-2 they used in the first game, the midfield was far more fluid with Cawley displaying the combativeness that was a trademark of his Sligo Rovers years (with whom he won a title), and Alex Byrne providing cover giving Holohan more attacking freedom. Also the ball-playing Folan and Grace in defence showed a clear ability and desire to build from the back along the ground and Ronan Murray got his first league goal for the club.
Last season under Tommy Dunne Galway were effective if not always pretty as they often struggled for goals being over reliant on Vinny Faherty. Although they lost on Monday night if Keegan’s squad keeps putting in performances like that, they will soon start to pick up wins and retaining their Premier Division status won’t be a problem.