In a highly competitive SSE Airtricity League first division, Galway United know all about the value and relevance of Friday's game away to Waterford FC at the RSC (7.45pm ).
Stephen Walsh's combination of graft and craft was rewarded with a late goal when United divided the spoils with Wexford FC on Saturday at Eamonn Deacy Park. United manager John Caulfield acknowledges Walsh's sterling contribution in the opening weeks of the 2022 campaign. "We needed that, it was a great goal by Walshy," Caulfield says.
"It proved to be another difficult game. Wexford, we know how good they are and obviously they got an early goal. It was a game where we had opportunities, we hit the post, we had a goal disallowed, but we needed Walshy to hit a screamer with a couple of minutes to go. In the end it was another point, we are second in the table after the first quarter of the season. Overall we are reasonably happy."
Now a demanding trip to Waterford looms for United. "It is the start of the second quarter, with 32 games in the league there is a long, long way to go, but you can see already that there is a gap between Cork, ourselves, Waterford, and even Longford," Caulfield replies.
"You are trying to keep getting results to hang in there because it is early days, but at the same you don't want to allow Cork to get a stretch of eight or 10 points ahead. Waterford will be a very, very difficult game, one of the title favourites. We had a very exciting two all game early in the season at Eamonn Deacy Park. So we know how difficult it is, but at the same time we are really looking forward to the game. We certainly believe that if we can play to our best that we can get a result."
With 17 points accumulated from a possible 24 Caulfield is satisfied with how the season has commenced. "Certainly when you bring new players into a team, with seven or eight new players in the squad it takes a bit of time to settle," Caulfield says.
"The lads have worked so hard on the training ground, every day they are really pushing themselves. They really want to do well for the club, we are delighted with that. The one area that probably we are looking at - despite the fact we have scored in every match - I think is the fact that we have conceded in six out of eight games, which is unlike us. Last year defensively we were really strong, so hopefully we can get back to keeping clean sheets."
Ronan Manning's return to action in the Wexford tussle following a cruciate ligament knee injury is a source of optimism for Caulfield. "It was brilliant for Ronan," Caulfield says.
"We need to be gentle, to give him a bit of game time over the next month, to try to get him used to the speed of the game again. He has been out for a year. It does take time, despite the fact he has been back in training, and training hard for the past five or six weeks.
"There is a difference between training and match and game fitness, sharpness. Certainly we hope that over the next three or four weeks we can give him more game time. We know he will be a very important player for us going forward."
**Listen to the full interview with Galway United manager John Caulfield on this week's 'Cian on Sport' podcast available on Soundcloud, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.