United savour survival, but must prepare for hard times

While the full gamut of sporting emotions may have been sampled, ultimately 2008 will be remembered as the year in which Galway United staged a remarkable rally to avoid relegation from the Eircom League’s premier division.

The dismissal of a manager, the wage cuts, and two cup semi-finals were all afterthoughts as the only item that eventually counted in the supporters’ eyes was retaining top-flight status.

After a journey full of hazardous bends, United ended up at their intended destination of ninth place in the table. That is what the record books will show as Galway’s brisk dash to the line was rewarded with four critical victories in the last five league matches, ensuring the nation’s aristocrats will hit Terryland Park again in 2009.

Bohemians, St Patrick’s Athletic, Cork City, Derry City, and Shamrock Rovers will all enter the Dyke Road venue, and unsurprisingly the celebrations were furious when referee Tom Connolly’s final whistle in Belfield signalled a rare eruption of Galwegian joy.

Though it was not United’s prettiest contribution, all that counted was the result, and John Fitzgerald’s strike proved crucial.

Between the sticks Gary Rogers carried out his duties with the minimum of fuss, at the back Fitzgerald’s aerial prowess and Alan Keane’s commitment were immense, while the promise of Seamus Connelly at right full is considerable.

Further up the field Galway looked to the smashing skills of Jay O’Shea to unnerve opponents, and an imminent move to Derby County is proof of the Republic of Ireland u-21 international’s ability. Few would dispute the roles Ciaran Foley, John Lester, and Jonathan Keane occupied in the safety march, while Vinny Faherty’s three goals in two pivotal games against Bray Wanderers and St Patrick’s were key moments in a frenzied year which demonstrated that honest application is commendable.

Manager Jeff Kenna and Ian Foster’s willingness to work and ingenuity in creating a system that maximised O’Shea’s considerable talent had a significant effect. Kenna guided the squad through a period that was clouded in uncertainty.

It remains to be seen what guise Galway will take when next season rolls around, but the memory of the last act in Belfield Bowl will offer a crumb of comfort during a Christmas period that is sure to be loaded with rumour.

That process has already commenced. With budgets decreasing, Galway will be under severe pressure to deliver any full-time footballers, and unfortunately that is a retrograde step. It was the club which backed the move into professionalism, but with finances dictating, a part-time set-up has to be embraced again. How Galway deal with this will be revealing.

Still, the smart manner in which United finished the season with a flourish means a feel good factor is sweeping through the town. Bringing 600 supporters to an away fixture in south Dublin on a nippy Friday evening suggests that the game matters to many in the west, particularly when the stakes are piled high.

United need to build on the foundation by ensuring that they will be a competitive outfit at this level in the New Year. It won’t be an easy task.


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