As the Premier Division gradually beckons, P.J Ó Cualáin analyses what Galway United supporters should expect from their team in the 2015 season.
2014 was a great year to be a Galway United supporter with the Tribesmen gaining promotion in the first year as a club since they went into liquidation in 2011. Four years on and things are looking bright for Tommy Dunne and his young team.
With ex-Ballyboffey man Connor Winn being brought in to add depth to goalkeeping duties and young centre half Killian Cantwell being hit by a knee injury early on in pre-season, Tommy Dunne had to act and swooped for Limerick defender Sam Oji.
David O’Leary was brought in to add a bit more flair to midfield and Irish schoolboys and u-18 international Antaine Ó Laoi will look to dazzle on the wings, and perhaps take on the role of now English Championship player Ryan Manning.
There has been a number of trialists also training with Galway United in the past few weeks. Zac Lubin (PSC Academy), Andy Hackbarth (PSC Academy) Ian Sweeney (ex-Athlone Town) and Colm Nugent (ex-Cork City trialist).
It is unconfirmed if any of these players will sign on for Galway United’s squad for the 2015 season. There are also rumours circling that the signing of PSC Acedemy’s defender Kevin Garcia is imminent, pending a work permit, which would suggest the completion of Tommy Dunne’s squad for the upcoming season.
With the quality of opposition now of a higher standard, the Galway defence will have to be as organised as they where last year. A lot of this pressure will fall upon Galway defender Stephen Walsh who spearheaded the defence last season, with his now-departed colleague Paddy Barrett.
It remains to be seen who will partner Stephen in defence but it looks likely to be a battle between new signings Killian Cantwell, Sam Oji, imposing centre half Andy O’Connell and Alex Byrne, who organised the defence well in Galway’s first pre-season friendly against Finn Harps.
It’s worth noting that the Galway back five have remained unbeaten in pre-season games and in all three matches they have been as organised as ever; to an extent some would say they must have OCD.
In Midfield all eyes will fall upon Ryan Connolly to create the chances for his attackers. The former Derby County youngster was a joy to behold last season, supplying his American colleague Jake Keegan and assisting him on the way to a total of 17 goals. There was no debating in Ryan clinching Galway United’s Player of the Year for the 2014 season.
Paul Sinnott, the Galway United captain last year and possibly this year will more often than not play a defensive midfield role.
The Galway native was a bus in the middle of the park season last season as himself and Ryan Connolly ripped teams apart.
The question will now be can they do the same for the 2015 season when they meet the likes of Shamrock Rovers, Dundalk and the likes. On the wings it looks set to be a toss of the coin between Jason Molloy, Gary Shannahan and in my opinion the youngster to watch in this team for 2015, Antaine Ó Laoi.
The u-18 Irish international is truly a class act and can run rings around defenders if given time and space. Antaine was set to go on trial at West Bromwich Albion in 2014 but due to an unfortunate leg break the trial never materialised.
This writer is of the opinion that this youngster will feature a lot in Tommy Dunne’s side for 2015 if he remains injury free and gains confidence during the pre-season. Up front will be the American and College rookie of the year in 2012, Jake Keegan.
The Galway talisman finished last season with a total of 17 goals in 35 appearances, however this writer does expect a challenge from young striker Pádraic Cunningham.
Pádraic had a great game against Finn Harps in Moyne Villa, Friday last and was unlucky not to come out of the game with two goals to his name. Expect Enda Curran to also challenge for the main striker role with the ex-Derry City man scoring twice during pre-season for the Tribesmen.
First Three Games
Galway United F.C vs Derry City F.C
The Tribesmen begin the new era of Premier Division football against a Derry City team that had a disappointing campaign last season, finishing 8th.
The game will take place at Éamonn Deacy Park this Friday and Uachtaráin na hÉireann Michael D. Higgins has announced he will be in attendance.
Galway United F.C vs Finn Harps
Galway United and Finn Harps will meet each other in the first round of the EA Sports Cup on the Monday following the Premier Division’s return. The ballboffey men gave Galway a tough time during the pre-season warm up game and were unlucky not to snatch a victory. Be sure they will not lie down for the Premier Division new boys.
Bohemians F.C vs Galway United F.C
This game will prove to be a test of experience over youthfulness. The experienced Bohs squad are sure to test the very young Galway team when they meet at Dalymount Park. This game will also see Karl Moore line up against his former employers.
Tommy Dunne has worked well in the transfer market, securing five youngsters, them being Killian Cantwell (Wexford Youths), David O’Leary (Cork City), Antaine Ó Laoi (Salthill Devon), Andy O’Connell (Cobh Ramblers), Conor Winn (Finn Harps) along with the experienced and ex-Arsenal youth player Sam Oji (Limrick City) rounding off Tommy Dunne’s pre-season dealings this winter window.
Signed from Limerick, the journey man defender will be sure to add experience to a rather in-experienced back four. The 29-year-old will be hoping to put his niggling knee injuries behind him this term.
Coming to Galway from Finn Harps, the former Mervue United youth player will add depth to the goalkeeping department.
Antaine Ó Laoi
Signed from Salthill Devon, the young Connemara man will be keen to break into the Galway United first team. Expect big things from this player if he remains injury free and gets a few games.
The Kilkenny native proved to be a rock in the defence for the Youths last season, unfortunately for Killian his 2015 campaign with his new club has been marred by a knee injury and he is expected to be sidelined for up to eight weeks.
The Cork native is sure to add depth to the Galway midfield, commonly plays a defensive midfield role and will sure to be an understudy of Galway’s captain at the helm, Paul Sinniot.
The 6 foot 4 inch defender began life as a striker in his Cork City days until Martin Cambridge turned him into a reliable defender with a presence at Cobh Ramblers. He will be in competition for the back four spot with Alex Byrne, Stephen Walsh and Killian Cantwell to see who partners up with the Wesley Charles-like Sam Oji.
The Galway United squad for the 2015 season will remain almost as it did for the 2014 season with the exception of Ryan Manning (QPR), Paddy Barret (Dundalk F.C) and Martin Connelly (Work commitments).
Barrett has joined 2014 premier league champions Dundalk. Paddy joins up with ex-Galway United players, Daryl Horgan and Stephen O’Donnell at Oriel Park. Expect a bright future for the rock-solid and well organised defender.
The 18-year-old joined up with Queens Park Rangers in the close-season. He and fellow Irish international Reece Grego-Cox have been on fine form for the QPR u-21 team so far this season, with Ryan creating and Grego finishing. Expect Ryan to be walking on the turf of the Aviva Stadium in a few years time.
The man who broke Irish international and Wolverhampton Wanderers striker, Kevin Doyle’s record for most goals in the u-18 F.A.I Youth Interleague completion with 21 goals will now try to assist Limerick.
Martin Connelly – Not Retained
Richard Fahy – Not Retained
Robbie Egan – Not Retained
Ryan Connolly even at the tender age of 23 will prove to be a big player for the team from the west this term. He was a big player in the midfield along with Paul Sinnott as Galway finished 3rd, if given space this former Derby County youngster will tear midfielders and defenders to shreads and will supply Jake Keegan for fun. It was no wonder he was named Galway United F.Cs player of the year, really classy player and all at Galway will hope to see more of the same this term.
Key Young Player
Colm Horgan will be the youth prospect to watch this year for Galway United, a player with buckets of potential and I expect to excel this season in the top division of Irish Football. Colm was involved in Noel Kings Irish U-21, home based team, February last.
(GK) Connor Gleeson (LB) Marc Ludden (CB)Sam Oji (CB)Stephen Walsh (RB)Colm Horgan (LM) David Ó Leary (DM)Paul Sinniot (Captain) (CM)Gary Shanahan (RM) Jason Molloy (AM) Ryan Connoly (ST) Jake Keegan
Goalkeepers – Connor Gleeson, Ger Hanley, Conor Winn.
Defenders- Colm Horgan, Cormac Raftery, Kilian Cantwell, Sam Oji, Andy O’Connell, Stephen Walsh, Marc Ludden, Alex Byrne.
Midfielders – Gary Shanahan, Conor Barry, Paul Sinnott, David O’Leary, Ryan Connolly, Aaron McDonagh, Antaine O’Laoi, Jason Molloy
Strikers – Jake Keegan, Enda Curran, Padraic Cunningham.
Pundit Arena Expectations
Tommy Dunne and his crop of youngsters have their work cut out this year, it’s a big step up from the First Division, however even with a young squad they are relatively inexperienced, having played a few years in the First Division with Mervue United and Salthill Devon F.C respectively.
Supporters will be expecting them to finish just off the bottom, or if they get off to a good start they could be fighting for a mid-table finish.
With this being there first year back in the top tier as a newly-formed club this writer expects Tommy Dunne and his team to mainly concentrate on Premier Division survival and nothing else, such as cup distractions.
FAI Cup: last 16
EA Sports Cup: last 16
Galway United once did battle with one of the greats of European football in their time – F.C Groningen. The tie did not take place in Éamon Deacy Park however, as it did not have the requirements to hold a UEFA Cup match and so the folks at Galway United swiftly moved to a pitch that did have the requirements.
A GAA pitch, in the wild west of Connemara, Páirc an Chathánaigh in An Cheathrú Rua was the venue. Not a seated stand in sight and the regulars of three sheep and a few cattle in attendance as per usual for the match.
17 time capped Paul McGee and the brother of Packie, Dennis Bonner lined out for Galway United that day. The Dutch side went on to win 8-2 on aggregate over the two legs.
P.J Ó Cualáin, Pundit Arena