Keegan is confident his new-look United squad can deliver this season

Galway United return to SSE Airtricity League first division action when hosting Athlone Town at Eamonn Deacy Park on Friday evening (7.45pm ).

It has been a difficult pre-season for United, who have been forced to train at several different venues ahead of the new campaign, but despite last year’s relegation and the inevitable departures of key players, United boss Shane Keegan remains enthusiastic.

Marc Ludden, Alex Byrne, and Eoin McCormack remain involved with United, while Ryan Connolly’s decision to return Corribside is a boost, and the Mayo native has been installed as captain once more.

The addition of prolific goalscorer Danny Furlong is noteworthy, and Keegan is hopeful goalkeeper Tadhg Ryan, defender Robbie Williams, and midfielder Connolly can steer the club back into the top flight.

“We have been lucky in a couple of situations where we probably got more than our money's worth in terms of Connolly, who wanted to base himself in the west, and likewise Robbie Williams. He could have taken a few other offers if he was willing to travel,” Keegan admits.

Ryan, who was with Huddersfield Town, is a highly rated young netminder, who "has ripped out the remaining six months of a far more lucrative contract so he could come here to get more regular game time".

“It is testament to the sort of character he [Ryan] is. To be honest I think we have a squad as good as anything else in the division. I think there are two or three squads that are pretty much there or thereabouts on a par with us, but is there any squad you would say is far superior to ours? I would say no, and we've put ourselves in a good position."

Keegan, however, is urging United supporters to be patient with his team.

“In terms of a coherent game plan and patterns of movement we are probably about three weeks behind where we need to be. It is probably going to be the middle of March before we are producing the free flowing football we would have hoped to be producing from day one. That is purely down to the fact we did two training sessions on a full-size pitch in four weeks.

“We probably need supporters to be a bit patient with us,” Keegan says.

“Arguably more importantly pre-season is also about how strong a squad can I assemble. I have absolutely no qualms with the strength of the squad we have managed to assemble.

“I think it is a really, really good squad. As well as being short on a game plan, we were also short an out and out goalscorer, but with the addition of Danny Furlong we now have that. I think we have ticked every box that I would realistically looking to tick.”

Finn Harps, Shelbourne, Longford Town, UCD, and Cobh Ramblers are all expected to launch a bid for promotion, and Keegan says the competition is is going to be wide open.

This weekend's competitors Athlone are something of an unknown.

"I tend to pride myself on our preparation and knowledge of the opposition, but they have not played a pre-season game in the last two or three weeks. They are certainly going to have an element of the unknown. I have never known as little about an opposition team since I came into the League of Ireland.

“That could give them an edge to a certain extent, because we really don't know what we are coming up against. It is certainly not a gimme on Friday night, and it is going to be a fantastically competitive division.”

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