The last month of the League of Ireland season is usually packed with significant matches for Galway United and that is exactly the case again this year as Sean Connor’s charges face a crucial contest at Oriel Park tomorrow against Dundalk.
Galway are a point behind UCD in the table and, with a game against the students scheduled for Saturday week in Terryland Park, there is no disguising the importance of the next eight days. Points must be pocketed if Galway are to avoid the dreaded relegation play-off, which would be a monumental achievement considering the severe budgetary restraints in the west.
With Barry Ryan and Stephen O’Donnell suspended, Galway were always likely to encounter further bother in Tallaght and that is what happened last weekend when they went down to Rovers 3 - 0. Oriel Park has never been the happiest of hunting grounds for Galway outfits so O’Donnell’s return will be timely as the visitors will be striving to thwart a Dundalk side that likes to pass the ball on their artificial surface.
After a disastrous spell there have been glimpses of Dundalk’s improvement recently and their stirring win over St Patrick’s Athletic proves the Lilywhites are an able team when the mood strikes. Galway, though, restricted Dundalk on their last visit to the County Louth venue and that is the type of gritty performance Connor craves once more.
Galway have suffered recently with first-choice players missing and, with Connor being forced to work with a threadbare squad, defeats have inevitably occurred. Shamrock Rovers’ home form has been efficient and, while Connor never accepts moral victories, the Belfastman is fully aware of the vast difference in resources at the two clubs.
Dundalk is another club working with a group of promising young footballers, but they have been dogged by inconsistency since the start of the summer. Very much in the same vein as Galway commenced in 2009 under Ian Foster, Dundalk enjoyed a productive opening few months, but there has been a touch of the erratic about the Lilywhites. United have sufficient potential to exploit this.
O’Donnell’s subtlety was sorely missed in Tallaght as Rovers did not allow Galway time and space to pass and probe. With O’Donnell reunited with Ciaran Foley in the centre of the park, there is plenty of reason to believe Galway can sneak a valuable reward from their journey to the border town.
Remaining safe and solid is Galway’s remit so there is nobody involved at the western club underestimating the relevance of the next two fixtures. Full backs Seamus Conneely and Rhys Meynell will need to assist Jamie McKenzie and Paul Sinnott as Galway strive to add to their account.
Foley and O’Donnell provide a decent central partnership, with Gary Curran willing and able to drop in from the right to lend assistance. Derek O’Brien’s ability to skip over challenges and craft chances will need to be paraded in the upcoming 180 minutes and the Tralee native has the experience to be a leading character in Galway’s latest escape mission.
Steven Walsh’s selflessness in a variety of roles has been a real feature of Galway’s campaign and the former Hibernians’ youngster continues to develop. While Karl Sheppard was not helped by the departure of Anto Flood, Galway still possess a proven goalscorer and a striker who is feared by opponents throughout the country.
Traditionally Galway have never been too comfortable dealing with any Dundalk outfit, but the Tribesmen venture east armed with hope and a quiet expectation that a dividend of some kind can be obtained.
• Galway United Supporters’ Trust will host a fans’ forum with manager Sean Connor this evening (Thursday ) at Monroe’s Tavern, Dominick Street (8pm ). All United supporters are welcome to attend. Forms for the GUST Maroon Army membership scheme will be available at the forum. Tickets for the GUST Aviva Stadium Draw will also be on sale. GUST will be running a bus to Friday evening’s premier division match at Oriel Park, departing the Marriott Hotel, Headford Road at 4pm. Contact Ronan 087-6972823.