Galway United manager Shane Keegan is busy planning for next season with the Tribesmen expected to announce that several players will sign new deals with the club in the coming days.
Despite suffering relegation in cruel circumstances and inevitably losing key figures such as Colm Horgan, Rory Hale, and David Cawley, Keegan remains adamant that there is significant potential in the west to launch a serious SSE Airtricity League First Division title bid in 2018.
“There is a group of players - and while you never would paint relegation as a good thing - that this is a fantastic opportunity for them,” Keegan says.
“Guys like Conor Melody, Conor Barry, Alex Byrne, and even younger lads than that again Maurice Nugent, Aaron Conway, Gary Kineen, Ronan Manning, they are all guys who could come on board to be week in, week out starters. They can make a real name for themselves.
“You'd be really hoping that some of the good local talent that maybe were held back a little bit by the bigger names who were playing well for us, those fellas now have a fantastic opportunity to try to backbone a team that goes to challenge for honours.”
During the past fortnight Keegan has watched a raft of matches and spoken to some potential new recruits, who have top flight experience in Ireland. “The off season can be 10 times busier for a manager, I watched two games on Tuesday, I was in Athlone for a 2 o'clock kick off between Athlone IT and Carlow IT, I had a look at a couple of players there,” Keegan states.
“I was back in Mervue then for 6.15 for GMIT against Mary I. Two players at Carlow IT could potentially be options and there is one player with GMIT, who could be an option as well. I was able to watch the Intermediate Inter-Provincials in Galway last weekend, I didn't have to stray too far. That was a good chance with a few Galway lads playing for Connacht.
“The realistic situation had we stayed up then you'd be able to retain the vast majority of your squad and therefore pre-season is a little bit more straightforward. Obviously then going down losing in the region of six or seven faces then it becomes a squad rebuilding job so your pre-season becomes a bit more hectic.
“Naturally enough being in the First Division things are tighter so you can't just go for the obvious names, who tend to command decent wages. So you have to float under the radar to find your gems, to try to find your Eoin McCormacks which means attending college games and junior games.”
Competitive action will return to Eamonn Deacy Park in February for Keegan, who is eager to regain United’s Premier Division status. “It will come around extremely quickly now,” Keegan admits. “We are back training on January 3. It comes around very quickly. The week before and after Christmas everybody goes into lockdown a little bit so it is very hard to get much proper work done in those few weeks. I go to England for a week in the off season every week to learn at a few different clubs where I have contacts in. It is good to see what you can learn on the training ground and from chatting to managers over there.
“Maybe you can see if a young lad is going to be released from a club team or something like that too. While your objective going over there isn't really recruitment you wouldn't be surprised if you come back with a name all the same.”