A demanding season for Galway United concluded encouragingly with only one defeat in the closing seven SSE Airtricity League First Division and FAI Cup matches.
That enterprising burst of form illustrated the potential which exists in the west, and manager Alan Murphy, working with a severely restricted budget compared to recent campaigns, deserves credit for the team's industrious approach in 2019.
Last Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Athlone Town was achieved courtesy of a last-gasp Killian Brouder goal with Murphy emphasising the value and importance of nurturing emerging talent.
“It is important there is a distinct pathway, that is what we have done this season,” Murphy says. “Looking at the stats, 29 players have played for the club this year, the average age is 22 years and two months.
“We have one 16-year-old, two 17-years-olds, six 18-year-olds, three 19-year-olds, three 20-year-olds, five 21-year-olds, five 22-year-olds, and three 23-year-olds. We've had 17 club debuts with an average age of 21, and 12 new to League of Ireland.
“The youngest side we put out was the 7-1 win against Cobh, so it is really important to look at those statistics to see just how far we have come this season with the development and pathway.”
One area Murphy is keen to emphasise is the need to ensure the players have the requisite character to perform consistently at League of Ireland level.
“I think it is one of the first years Galway United is finishing a season not having to have a complete clear-out of the dressing room in terms of bad eggs and people who aren't professional,” Murphy adds.
“As I said to the players, I don't think any player is going to leave the club this year because of a non-footballing reason. That is a brilliant thing to be able to say. We have a group of players who really gave their all, they were so committed.”
That so many teenagers earned experience in the senior game is another aspect which pleases Murphy. “It was not about money for them. They all played for free, with the exception of two players who were on pro contracts,” Murphy says. “So it now goes to next year, we look at it and the basic requirement will be that we need to be competitive. We need to be at the top of that table in terms of competing.
“There is a large off season and the work starts in terms of talking to all the players here now and then talking to the players we would like to get in, to see what we need to do in order to strengthen and be competitive.”
The last match of the season was a wild draw with Athlone, who were spirited throughout against United at Lissywoollen. “I think it was a fair result, 2-2,” Murphy says.
“I thought they gave as good as they got, and we probably underperformed a good bit in the first half even though we had chances.
“We looked a bit tired, a bit leggy, but we had chances and probably should have converted. It has been a tough season mentally on these players too, they have had a really good two months at the end of the season.
“They have come to Athlone, it is different because they probably expect to win the game. We found it hard at times because Athlone were a good match, it was a fair result.”