United entering ‘make or break’ period

Another hectic weekend awaits a rapidly improving Galway United outfit, who travel to United Park for a vital SSE Airtricity League premier division encounter against Drogheda United tomorrow, before facing Derry City at Eamonn Deacy Park on Monday.

Shane Keegan’s charges, who have only suffered one loss in their last nine competitive matches, are enjoying a productive spell. On Friday a last-gasp Gary Shanahan goal secured a memorable 2-1 victory over champions Dundalk in the league and then United advanced to the semi-final of the EA Sports Cup following a dramatic Bank Holiday Monday penalties triumph over Sligo Rovers at the Showgrounds.

Three goals have been scored by the Tribesmen in the closing stages of their recent League fixtures against St Patrick’s Athletic, Limerick, and Dundalk, with five valuable points secured. Keegan has highlighted the fitness and conditioning work being carried out by Johnny O’Connor. “Our fitness levels are very, very high,” Keegan says. “It is something we have put a huge amount of effort into.

“That is probably bearing fruit now, doing so well in extra time on Monday, the late goals against St Patrick's Athletic, Limerick, and Dundalk, it is standing to us big time.

“Obviously Johnny O'Connor is the main man behind it, while the players' attitude towards fitness and conditioning is good. He has said he's had an easy life with them because when he asks them to jump, they say how high, so it has been good.”

Despite a disappointing start to the campaign, Keegan is encouraged by the resilience his developing team has demonstrated.

“We have all kept the faith in each other,” Keegan says. “I have never doubted the lads, and thankfully they haven't doubted me either.

“At the same time, unless the results start to flow, that can only last so long. To have two great results like that against Dundalk and Sligo Rovers in the EA Sports Cup reinforces our belief that we are doing the right things on and off the pitch. If we keep putting in that effort, things will fall right for us over the course of a season.”

Significant fixtures are arriving thick and fast for United, but Keegan hopes his side can climb the table in the coming weeks.

“When you have such a busy schedule it is all about momentum and confidence,” Keegan states. “The Dundalk game is at the end of April and we have Derry again at the start of June, but we have kept saying that the month of May, and I include those two fixtures even though they technically aren't in the month, will make or break us.

“We have a chance to pick up 21 league points, plus a chance to put ourselves into a semi-final of a cup. If we picked up 12 to 15 points from that sequence, it would be enough to put us out of the relegation zone before the break comes along.

“If we can kick on from this and head into that break out of the relegation zone, it would be a completely different picture compared to even just a week ago.”

Keegan has not been afraid to give youngsters opportunities either, with five of last season’s under 19 team starting the EA Sports Cup quarter-final in Sligo.

“The young lads have played really well,” he says. “In Sligo we started five of last year's under 19 team. That is a remarkable reflection on what has been done at underage level within the club by Johnny Glynn and Nigel Keady and everybody involved.

“To have five of them starting, to come out on the winning side against a Sligo side that was at full strength. They made one change from their Friday night team, that shows how seriously they were taking the game.

“Gary Kineen was a bit unfortunate, he got a slap in the mouth, we had to get him off, but Maurice Nugent and Aaron Conway had absolutely fantastic games. Jesse [Devers] and Mel [Conor Melody] are more established first teamers, but they were under 19 last year. I thought Aaron Conway and Maurice were excellent in Sligo.”

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