Stakes high for top four as Galway host Longford tomorrow

Having made an encouraging start to the SSE Airtricity League first division season, Galway FC face a severe examination when hosting Longford Town at Eamonn Deacy Park tomorrow evening (7.45pm ).

Nicely placed in second position, Tommy Dunne's promising Galway outfit host a Longford side that is loaded with quality performers. Despite possessing an experienced and decorated squad, Longford, with a game in hand, trail Galway on goal difference. With Shelbourne and Wexford Youths also clashing at Tolka Park, the stakes will be piled high for those occupying the top four places in the division.

The stylish manner in which Galway finished the first half of the campaign augurs well for a serious promotion push. Significant improvement has been made by Galway with the statistics offering confirmation of how adept the Tribesmen are becoming at registering positive results. In the first series of fixtures Galway registered nine points, but that total was bettered in the second series with a further 15.

Only a month ago Galway were 10 behind table-toppers Shelbourne, but that gap has been reduced to two. A burst of Galwegian enterprise featuring away wins over Cobh Ramblers and Shelbourne in late May provides encouragement.

In the FAI Ford Cup Galway summoned a smashing display to cause a mild surprise when defeating top-flight opponents, UCD. That was a noteworthy statement, but so was what happened after when Galway eked out a vital league victory over Wexford Youths just under a fortnight ago.

Undoubtedly Galway were not as fluid as they had been in the successes over Cobh, Shels, and UCD, but they stayed the distance to secure the full complement of spoils. Throughout the year Wexford have proven to be durable and rugged, so the fact that Galway prevailed was a satisfying sign.

Maintaining such a level of composure will be necessary when Longford visit the west as the midlanders' intend and expect to overhaul Shels. Serious competitors at this level for a number of years, Longford have invested heavily attracting footballers such as Pat Sullivan, Pat Flynn, Stephen Rice, and Don Cowan to the club.

Galway and Longford's two collisions so far in 2014 have been interesting affairs. On the opening night on March 7 David O'Sullivan's smooth opportunism proved to be the difference as Longford secured an important road win.

A month later at City Calling Stadium there was no shortage of drama as Galway could and should have posted a win, but Rice poked a last-gasp equaliser. That particular fixture featured a splendid Ryan Manning strike and since then Galway's spread of goalscorers is an aspect of the team’s development that is worth saluting. Vinny Faherty, Stephen Walsh, Jake Keegan, Ryan Connolly, Paul Sinnott, Manning, Martin Conneely, Derek O'Brien, and Jason Molloy have bagged goals for Galway and they will all need to be clinical in the coming weeks and months.

That is exactly what O'Sullivan is for Longford with a tally of 10, so ensuring this prolific frontrunner is denied time and space in the area will be pivotal. Connor Gleeson's six clean sheets from 14 matches is a respectable return as a diligent defensive partnership is being forged by Conneely and Alex Byrne.

Elsewhere skipper Sinnott's willingness to work is exemplary and his understanding with Ryan Connolly continues to impress. Sinnott and Connolly will be aware of Rice's pedigree, but they will relish the challenge of trying to spearhead Galway in such a demanding environment. Unfortunately a wrist injury rules Manning out of contention for a spell, but the signing of the promising Padraig Cunningham gives Dunne another attacking option.

Longford have recent form, taking 13 points out of possible 15 in their last five ties, so they will travel Corribside confident. Galway, protecting an unbeaten run in the league since April 11, are optimistic too.

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