Photo Source: Galway United FC
By Graham Gillespie
A point is always better than nothing, but ask someone to analyse Galway United’s league season so far by only looking at the table and most people would probably give the same answer: too many draws. Sometimes the simplest answer is the correct one and this is one such instance. Eight draws in thirteen games has left Galway mired in eleventh place, just ahead of bottom placed Finn Harps on goal difference.
Upon closer inspection however, United’s outlook is not as gloomy as it initially appears, they’ve gone eight games unbeaten in all competitions and have an EA Sports cup semi final on the horizon after advancing past Sligo Rovers on penalties. In fact the Tribesmen have not lost since April 7th when they left the Carlisle Grounds empty-handed as Bray Wanderers came away with a 1-0 victory.
Despite having only won one game on this undefeated run United have impressed and on multiple occasions would have been frustrated to have not turned one point into three. The one win they did get in this otherwise stalemate ridden streak came with a shock victory over an admittedly out of sorts Dundalk by virtue of a deflected Gary Shanahan goal in stoppage time.
Perhaps even more surprising was the result that came two home games later. Just last Friday night Cork City came to Eammon Deacy Park in imperious form off the back of twelve straight league wins from twelve. The previous weekend the Leesiders had hammered Finn Harps 5-0 and with just over one-third of the season gone sat fourteen, I repeat: FOURTEEN, points clear atop of the League of Ireland tree. Naturally most of the Terryland faithful were not particularly positive as they made their way to the stadium. “Reckon we lose 5-0 tonight” I overheard one fan say to a group of friends. “Nah I’m more optimistic” one of his mates replied “it’ll only be 4-0”.
In spite of this doom-mongering Galway put in arguably the display of their season to end Cork’s 100% record and earn a 1-1 draw. Without watching the game many not unreasonably must have thought that United held on for dear life but in reality it was the visitors who can count themselves fortunate to have taken anything from this match. Shane Keegan’s side had far the better opportunities and perhaps a key reason for their success in this and recent games has been their newfound tactical flexibility.
Against the league leaders, Galway played the entire game in a 3-5-2 formation changing from a 4-4-2 which they have deployed for the majority of the season. United themselves faced this formation in the previous match against Derry City which may have served to inspire Keegan.
For the Cork game Gary Shanahan, who usually plays on the right wing, had a greater defensive responsibility lining out at right wing back and was used in a similar manner to the way Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has played since Arsene Wenger’s decision to try out a back three at Arsenal. On the other side natural left back Marc Ludden flanked the central back three of Colm Horgan, Stephen Folan and Lee Grace. This back three was in reality more of a back five against Cork but it enabled United to break quickly through their attack minded wing-backs or through getting the ball directly to Kevin Devaney, who played centrally in behind the two strikers instead of his more usual wide position.
Club captain Colm Horgan also showed his versatility slotting seamlessly into the left side of this new centre back triumvirate despite playing the majority of his football as a right back. On the opposite side Lee Grace continued his solid form although at times he still does have a tendency to over-elaborate. However it has been Stephen Folan at the heart of this defence who has excelled the most and it was him who netted the equalizer against his former club with a deft reverse glancing header.
Video source: Galway United FC facebook page
Throughout the campaign in general so far Folan, who recently spoke out about some of his personal struggles, has taken massive strides forward with his assurance both on the ball and without it a significant factor in why Shane Keegan’s team has been so tough to beat.
Ahead of the defence Gavin Holohan’s range of passing has provided plenty of ball for the front two (usually some combination of Ronan Murray, Vinny Faherty, Padraic Cunningham and Jesse Devers) to latch onto. Since his arrival from Cork in the off-season Holohan has become increasingly influential in matches taking on more and more responsibility going forward. The Tribesmen have often spurned many of the chances they’ve created which has ultimately cost them points but the creation of these opportunities is in itself a positive sign and slightly better finishing throughout the team as a whole should bring them more wins
Having the knowledge that his side can perform in more than one formation could prove invaluable for Shane Keegan, and it could be the case that he will decides to use 3-5-2 against the bigger teams for more stability, whilst favouring 4-4-2 in matches they expect to dominate possession.
One trend that has been noticeable in Galway’s season has been they’re propensity to play to the same level of their opponents which could be a possible reason for all the draws . This is a positive when United raise their game against a Dundalk or Cork but can become detrimental when they are dragged down to an inferior teams level. This Friday’s visit of Finn Harps to Terryland is a game with the potential to end up in the latter category, but Galway United will be hopeful that they can not only preserve their unbeaten run but kick-start a streak of victories.