Galway United remain quietly optimistic about making an impact in the SSE Airtricity League, but tomorrow's seasonal opener away to St Patrick's Athletic will be a demanding assignment at Richmond Park (7.45pm ).
Last year United's return to the top flight proved to be a lively adventure which included an EA Sports Cup final appearance, but one serious issue manager Tommy Dunne hopes to address in 2016 is how the team performs against skilled opposition such as the Saints.
In the 12 matches against the top four, Dundalk, Cork City, Shamrock Rovers and St Patrick's, United only registered one point. Most of the 11 defeats were comprehensive, while the solitary draw happened after Dundalk had already claimed the title.
Dunne believes United's squad is more durable now which should be a factor in the coming weeks and months.
“I think the physical aspect of our squad compared to last season is one of the main differences, ” Dunne says. “We will be a bigger outfit, I feel that we will be better equipped to deal with those kind of games, but we will only really see for sure when it all starts. The main thing is we need to be more aggressive in both boxes. That cost us points last year, so we need to improve on certain aspects.”
United beat NUIG, UCD, and Longford Town in pre-season, while suffering losses to Shelbourne and Limerick FC. The results in those matches did not overly concern Dunne.
“I'm satisfied with our pre-season. The boys worked hard and our group is good. I wouldn't be one to look too much into the scorelines in pre-season. What is important is getting minutes into the players' legs. That is what we did and we got a good look at some of the younger players in our squad too which was useful. Going to Dublin it will be a tough fixture, but it is an interesting one. We are greatly looking forward to it.”
During the winter months Dunne and those running the club worked hard to stitch the current squad together. The return to Galway colours of Vinny Faherty will be a welcome sight, while some of the other recent recruits are also expected to be involved in Inchicore.
John Sullivan adds physical presence to the United midfield, while Kevin Devaney and Ruairi Keating will be keen to impress. Stephen Folan's excellence in the underage grades in Galway was rewarded with a cross channel switch to Newcastle United. Folan featured at reserve team level for Newcastle before enjoying two decent campaigns in the Limerick FC shirt. Subsequent stints with Sligo Rovers and Cork City ensure Folan is well versed in the League of Ireland game, so his experience and ability to pass the ball from defence bolsters United's options considerably.
Armin Aganovic is ruled out of the Pat's fixture through injury, but Dunne is adamant the Swede can impress at this level. “I think we have a bit more depth in the squad. That is what we set out to do over the winter months. We need to progress as a club and a team. I feel we can do that this season with the players we have.
“Those who were in the squad will benefit from the experience that was gained last season, while the new players all have something to offer our group.”
Ensuring United are strong and efficient in March is Dunne's mission. “For me it is vital that we start well by picking up points. We have to start better than we did last season. We are better equipped to meet the challenges that we will face, but we need to show that by digging out results. A match at Richmond Park against a top team like St Patrick's Athletic will be a test, but we want to do well this year.”