Galway United manager John Caulfield is encouraged that the majority of the squad have agreed new deals to remain with the club for the 2022 SSE Airtricity League first division campaign.
Since losing the promotion play-off semi-final against Bray Wanderers at a jam packed Eamonn Deacy Park Caulfield has been busy meeting players.
“It is one of the most difficult times really because when the season finishes you are obviously trying to build your squad for next season,” Caulfield says. “The majority of lads that were with us they are staying on, that we have tied up. Then you have some players moving on, possibly not being offered contracts.
“So it is a difficult time, and you have to try to recruit. I know from the start of the season we had 14 new players it took us a bit of time to settle. Our form in the second half of the season was excellent. Obviously we got to second in the table, but unfortunately we didn't get through the play-offs.”
Caulfield confirmed that United will return to pre-season training on January 10 ahead of the commencent of the first division on February 25.
“We know we have a number of areas that we need to improve on, we are working hard since the last game against Bray and over these number of weeks to see if you can possibly get four or five players in that will improve the team,” Caulfield adds.
“That is always a challenge. From that point of view for the likes of myself it is hard work when you are planning a pre-season. We will all be back in January, the lads will be starting off a fitness programme in December. There is a lot of stuff to be done that some people don't realise.
“For us February 25 is the start date we have been given. So everyone will be back in on grass for January 10. You are in starting the second week of January, then you have a six and a half week countdown to the start of the season when we will play a number of friendly matches.
“It will come around very quickly, it is important at the moment that we get a lot of stuff between now and Christmas sorted so we can go straight after Christmas. That is the way it is.”
The start of the 2021 SSE Airricity League season was delayed due to Covid. “With the way the Covid is going we are hoping that it won't come back to have an impact after Christmas,” he says.
“It had a massive impact delaying the season by six weeks, hopefully that won't happen at the start of the season. You can see with the run in with the crowds and everything it was fantastic for us to see so many families, kids, and teenagers going to the matches. From that point of view it would be great for us if we can get to the season ready starting off with crowds back with us.”
When action resumes Caulfield expects a highly competitive first division, but is satisfied that so many players in his squad have adapted to a full-time model. “When you are asking lads at 20, 21, 22 to go from training three nights a week which they had been doing all their life to training every morning early and doing a gym session afterwards, it does change the body,” Caulfield says.
“You have to rest and eat accordingly. A lot of our lads have part time jobs too, a lot of them are in college so they are busy lads. Certainly the fact that the squad was new this year and they got to know us, myself and the way that we want things done. There won't be that element of surprise at the start of the season, from pre-season we should be straight at it. Obviously you can see huge teams in the division. Cork City is a huge club, they are making big signings, they are investing heavily. Treaty in Limerick, another big club, the first year is over and the expectations will be massive for next year - they will need to go up.
“That is outside of all the other clubs like Bray, possibly UCD, Cobh, Wexford, Athlone, and Longford coming back down. In any other league in Europe the top two will get promoted, but in our league the first division the second team doesn't get promoted. That was unfortunate for us, but we know the rules. We just have to be prepared for next season that we can try to be better than we were this season.”
**Listen to the full interview with John Caulfield on this week's 'Cian on Sport' podcast available on Soundcloud, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.