Last Sunday week when Noel Connolly turned off the lights at Eamonn Deacy Park another SSE Airtricity League campaign concluded on the banks of the Corrib.
There is always something grim and painful when the final fixture of a year ends: a number of players will not wear the Galway United jersey again and a chronic uncertainty exists. That is the harsh and frequently brutal reality of life in the League of Ireland.
The greatest Galwegian of them all, the man the ground is named after, would occasionally talk privately about clubs operating on a season to season basis. Deacy’s belief was that no viable long term future existed in such an operation, there had to be a plan, a structure to build upon.
Undoubtedly Brandon Kavanagh’s blistering goal terminated United’s 2021 footballing ambitions. It was the moment of quality that decided two bruising encounters against Bray Wanderers and United simply could not recover.
Within hours of the loss John Caulfield was working, carrying out meetings with the existing squad. A solid base has been established by Caulfield, a comprehensive training set-up, a full-time schedule that offers optimism for brighter days.
Throughout the decades hope is all that United enthusiasts carried. Caulfield has forged a connection with the greater sporting community in the west and that is why a sold out crowd flocked through the turnstiles for the second leg with Bray.
From the thousands who gathered Caulfield, more than any other, will realise acutely that the limitations of the team were shown. Not sufficiently clinical and needing a bit more composure and subtlety United were beaten.
Despite the loss, the reliability of Conor Kearns, the rich contribution of Killian Brouder, and the leadership of Conor McCormack suggests United can move forward with a renewed sense of purpose.
Teenager Alex Murphy’s emergence is noteworthy supplying proof of what can be achieved, while Stephen Walsh’s desire for United is still extremely valuable. A recent friendly when a strong United side beat Athenry featured a late goal from Mikey McCullagh.
By that stage Walsh was one of the few experienced players left on the pitch, he was the first to congratulate the youngster. The coming months and years should see more emerging talent emerge through the underage system so it is essential that figures such as Walsh maintain the maroon and white values.
The 2019 season was demanding in many ways for Galway United. Alan Murphy gave opportunities at first team level to emerging players at the club. It should not be forgotten how Maurice Nugent and Wilson Waweru, for example, benefited from being exposed to regular games at a high level.
United’s playing budget was tiny then, but an appreciation for the shirt was fostered. Murphy played a central role introducing players to the SSE Airtricity League arena. Caulfield’s charisma and desire can bring success and a much coveted place back in the top tier of Irish football. The journey to reach that destination continues, but on and off the field of play challenges will be faced.
Ultimately the Comer brothers funding ensures Galway United is in existence. The collaboration with the Galway FA is certainly a positive with Sunday morning at Mervue United’s all weather facility showcasing the next generation being improved by high quality coaching.
Connecting with the local game in a really meaningful way is a function Galway United have failed to carry out effectively previously. Now that appears to be changing which is a testament to the efforts of those involved with the academy.
Caulfield’s presence at junior matches throughout the city and county has earned respect with that passionate part of the west of Ireland football world. When February rolls around once more, and a new adventure is launched Caulfield will know the importance of a fast start. Having made United relevant, Caulfield wants to manage the club on the premier division stage.