A dramatic SSE Airtricity League premier division season continues at Eamonn Deacy Park tomorrow when Galway United host Shamrock Rovers (7.45pm ).
Shane Keegan’s young team survived a real FAI Cup first round scare in Dublin on Sunday before prevailing after a tense penalty shootout. A brilliant Ronan Murray hat-trick had not been enough to secure victory as a spirited Killester United forced a 3-3 draw after extra-time, but United advanced 7-6 on penalties.
Keegan was satisfied to reach the last 16 of the competition and now United face a demanding trip to Richmond Park for a clash with St Patrick’s Athletic.
“Initially after the game I was probably talking about negatives, but in the cold light of day when you look back at it, there were positives,” Keegan says. “Obviously we got through to the next round, guys such as Rory Hale, Paul Sinnott, Charlie Burns, and Jonah Ayunga got 90 plus minutes into them. Ideally you'd have preferred them to do 90 rather than 120, but it was great to get minutes into them.
“The other positive is that Ronan Murray is still on fire, banging in a hat-trick will mean his confidence will be through the roof going into the Rovers' game. We showed real, real character. Whatever else about us, that is the one thing I feel people are surely convinced by now. This team has massive, massive character. That we hope is something that will work in our favour for the rest of the season.”
Keegan acknowledges the threat Shamrock Rovers carry, but the next month promises to be revealing for United.
“We need to stay in touch,” Keegan admits. “Every game is difficult in its own way. On paper I would argue that Rovers have the second best or near enough second best XI in the League.
“When they click and all play well, they are as good as any team in the country. They have had some off days and they have been caught by a couple of teams when they do have an off day. We just need to be prepared to do the best we possibly can and hopefully catch them on a sub par performance.”
Striker Jonah Ayunga, on loan from Brighton & Hove Albion, is a footballer with significant potential, according to Keegan.
“He has something to offer. I thought he was immense against Harps,” Keegan says. “I know Ronan got the two goals, but I'd argue that he was possibly our best player. I thought he was absolutely excellent. He wasn't quite as effective against Killester, but he was still very impressive. He has added an extra dimension to us and can be a vital player for us for the rest of the season.”
Another recent recruit, midfielder Rory Hale, featured in the EA Sports Cup semi-final loss to Dundalk and in the Killester FAI Cup tie. “Getting another game into Rory was great. It will bring him on leaps and bounds,” Keegan says. “He is superbly technical on the ball and he is a bit different to the options we have in that area of the field. He is a guy that gives us an additional option.”
With Sligo Rovers in action against table-toppers Cork City at Turners Cross, and St Patrick’s Athletic hosting Finn Harps, it will be a hugely important evening for United.