A highly-anticipated return to the Premier Division for Galway United ended on a sour note in Eamon Deacy park on Friday night in front of 2,200 vocal fans.
Galway lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation for their first outing of this year’s campaign with Enda Curran spearheading the Tribesmen’s attack.
Galway controlled the first 45 minutes and when Gary Shannahan picked up the ball from the left side of midfield and tried a punt at goal, Derry City Ger Doherty did well to parry the ball and it sailed wide for a corner.
From the resulting set-piece an in-swinging cross from recent signing David O’Leary met the head of a fellow new boy Sam Oji to make it 1-0 to the Maroon Army. Tommy Dunne couldn’t have wished for a better start.
Galway were on the attack for most of the first half and they were unlucky not to be 2-0 up when a ball in from Gary Shannahan had Shane McEleney caught off guard and his attempt at a clearance almost resulted in him lobbing his own keeper.
Derry had a few chances in the first half but lacked the finish, it felt as though it would be a long and brutal day at the office for Peter Hutton’s men when David O’Leary fouled Paddy McEleney just outside the Galway penalty box, handing Derry a great chance to go into the break on equal terms but Paddy McEleney’s attempt was poor and he fired well over the bar.
Ryan Connolly was up to his usual trickery and was a joy to behold, Jake Keegan was quiet and only showed glimpses of his form last term.
As the half time whistle blew and the home side headed inside the changing rooms with a very solid performance and scoreline to go with it.
Galway showed attacking prowess and an urgency to get forward, every man was working for each other and illustrated great team spirit. Derry City of course were missing six key players through suspension and injury, and it showed, with the defence at times looking unorganised.
The second half began with the coastal breeze getting strong and early on it looked as though Peter Hutton’s words at half time had inspired a relatively young looking Derry City side. Ex-Sunderland youth player Paddy McEleney was a constant thorn in the Galway defence and was constantly finding Ryan Curran up front.
At times it looked as if former Cobh Ramblers player and Galway United youngster Andy O’Connell was out of his depth as he was constantly being caught flat-footed and out of position.
Derry City’s direct attacking movement paid off in the 58th minute as Paddy McEleney crossed a ball from the left, which caught Andy O’Connell off guard, leaving Ex-Bray player Sean Houston in acres of space and with time to nod the ball past a shell-shocked Connor Gleeson in the Galway goal. It was 1-1; game on.
After the equalizer Derry City took the game to the Premier Division newboys, Barry McNamee and Paddy McEleney pulled the strings in midfield and at times Derry City left-back Dean Jarvis would attack up the left wing, causing headaches for Irish u-21 international Colm Horgan.
The only decent chance Galway managed to produce in the second half was from a beautiful flick from Enda Curran, which sent Galway United trickster Ryan Connolly through on goal.
He managed to get into a crossing position only to see New Yorker Jake Keegan sliding in too early for the cross and giving a throw in to the visitors. All was not going to plan in the second half for Tommy Dunne and his men.
The game turned into a Derry City free for all in the second half with Galway gifting the ball away too easily while trying to create opportunities and leaving themselves open at the back constantly. Inexperience was showing as they were constantly guilty of sloppy play, which no doubt will be punished at this level of football.
Galway’s supporters were left in disbelief with ten minutes left, as a peach of a cross from the ever-present Dean Jarvis sailed over the head of the big 6’4″ Galway centre half Sam Oji, landing kindly on Ryan Curran’s forehead for a glancing header, making it 2-1 to the visitors.
Almost immediately there was a change for Galway United as Jason Molloy was introduced to the game to replace the shaky looking centre half O’Connell.
Paul Sinnott filled in at centre half with Molloy playing an attacking midfield role alongside Ryan Connolly and Gary Shannahan who featured either side of the Galway native.
With the whistle in the referees mouth and a handful of supporters making there way to the gates, Derry City almost grabbed another goal when the Derry City goalkeeper Ger Doherty showed creative instinct with a big ball down the field that found Paddy McEleney through on goal. The hard working Sam Oji got back to dispossess him however, saving Gleeson from a one-on-one.
As the full time whistle blew a dream start to the league season was lost for Galway but without a doubt they can take positives from the game as at times they showed competence and great attacking nature.
Their midfield were fantastic in the first half. Shane Walsh was solid in a left back role and would constantly lend a hand in the attacks, creeping up Stephen Dooley’s wing.
Galway will be looking to get a win at home to Harps this Monday coming in the first round of the EA Sports Cup to lift the heads of many of his players. They then will play a very experienced Bohemians team in the league next weekend.
Derry City fans will be ecstatic with the result as they won without six players due to suspensions and injuries. They will face holding champions Dundalk next at the Brandywell.
Derry City fans will be also pleased to know that Stephen Dooley, Mark Timlin, and Ryan McBride will all return from suspension for the game.
They will also be pleased that they managed to hold onto the creative minded midfielder Barry McNamee during the off season and will hope that Paddy McEleney will carry his form from tonight’s match into the clash with the Lilywhites.
Pundit Arena’s Man of the Match: Paddy McEleney
P.J Ó Cualáin, Pundit Arena