New Galway United manager Shane Keegan is looking forward to tonight's SSE Airtricity League premier division opener against Drogheda United at Eamonn Deacy Park.
Keegan's first competitive game in charge of the Tribesmen promises to be an interesting encounter with Pete Mahon's Drogheda outfit, which makes a welcome return to the top flight.
Keegan, unveiled in November, is excited by the challenge. "First and foremost, coming from the level I started at, I feel privileged to be managing Galway United," he says.
"That is a good starting base to be in terms of managing. It is the highest level I've operated at in my career to date, so it isn't a big shot manager who is stepping down, which can sometimes dampen enthusiasm. In my case it is the exact opposite, I'm stepping up again.
"Enthusiasm is through the roof at the moment. When you are surrounded by fellas like Vinny Faherty and Stevie Folan, in particular, they'd be two guys who'd help the enthusiasm levels. I just cannot wait to get going into the real stuff at this stage."
Recent Galway recruits goalkeeper Ciaran Nugent, defender Lee Grace, midfielders David Cawley and Gavan Holahan, and pacy attacker Ronan Murray, are all set to start for the home team.
Keegan is delighted with the players that he has added to the squad ahead of the new campaign, saying they have "different qualities".
"You are looking for them to gel as quickly as possible. They are all pretty much down the centre so they are, we haven't made a whole lot of changes in wide areas.
"We have a new keeper, a new centre half, two new centre mids, a new number 10, all players down the spine of the team. It isn't like they are going to be on the periphery of games, they are absolutely key to what we are trying to do.
"It has helped that there were previous relationships between people. Gavan Holohan was great friends with Stevie Folan when they were at Cork together. That helped Gav integrate. David Cawley and Ronan Murray arrived down together as two fellas who played schoolboy football together, that helped them.
"Then there are Lee [Grace] and [Ciaran] Nugent who have fitted in well. And praise must go to the lads who were already here for having made it easy for the new players to integrate both on and off the field. It has been great - Colm [Horgan], Stevie Folan, Alex Byrne, Vinny Faherty, guys like that have made it easy for the new guys to come in."
Jump says Johnny
Keegan is also encouraged with United's pre-season, especially the work carried out by former Connacht and Irish Rugby star Johnny O'Connor, who is in charge of strength and conditioning.
"He has been brilliant, we had the boys in last Thursday morning, they re-sat the tests they had done on the first day of pre-season. The improvements were fantastic," he says. "We were absolutely delighted with them. The results were only backing up what we already knew based on what we had seen looking at a lot of the players physically.
“Sometimes people who go into clubs in strength and conditioning roles quite often can have theory, they know what is needed. There is a big difference from my role or one of the coach's role compared to Johnny O'Connor's. What we are doing is football coaching, players want to play football. What Johnny O'Connor is doing is tougher, not as appealing - stuff that players will, if they can, duck and dive to avoid doing. Johnny has got the personality that doesn't allow that to happen.
"Not only has he got the theory he can back up the theory with a forceful personality. When he says jump, they jump. That is why he has been very important and successful with it."
Galway's readiness is now to be tested by Drogheda, which manager Mahon has turned into a competitive team boasting capable footballers in the Brennan brothers and Sean Thornton.
"They have lots of experience within that side," Keegan says. "They will fancy their chances, the Brennans are massive additions to any team. In my role with Wexford, if we were able to bring in two players with the Brennans' quality, I would have thought I'm on a winner here. The young fella, Thomas Byrne, is a player who will catch the eye an awful lot in the league this season. Gareth McCaffrey is a good player, Richie Purdy is technically good on the ball."
Keegan is hoping home advantage helps.
“You would be gunning to get the three points. People would say that is one you'd have to be pinpointing, yes it is, but I guarantee you I've looked at Drogheda's first four games, and we are probably the side they would see as the weakest in their early fixtures.
“We will both be approaching the game in the same manner, and we have home advantage. A win would be great to continue the momentum of pre-season, but we will have to fight for every inch.”