Much in the same vein as any other severe engagement, it boiled down to one thing: spirit. It wasn’t skill or style, but sheer willingness to work that ensured Galway United’s seasonal objective of survival was achieved. A game both dull and putrid it might have been, but that barely bothered those who squeezed into cars and buses on the contented journeys back to the wild west.
They wondered about methods and madness, and the switches that altered the complexion of a year that was in grave danger at the tail end of August for a plethora of reasons. Still lessons heeded in defeat can be utilised, and Galway absorbed the punishment suffered early in the year. The players were forced to deal with setbacks and threats, but Jeff Kenna eventually worked the oracle, solving problems and filling the squad with optimism. Eager to retain possession and then unleash the delightful dribbling skills of Jay O’Shea high up the pitch, the Tribe revival was peppered with tasty displays.
Every week Kenna recollects about a cruel autumnal night in St Colman’s Park when Cobh Ramblers had too much punch for Galway. For a team craving to avoid relegation fighting shouldn’t be an issue, and while United’s comeback has been sprinkled with clever and imaginative football it was pluck and perseverance that carried the deepest resonance at the Belfield Bowl. Even before a ball was blasted on Friday the sizeable audience that gathered were aware that United’s revitalisation was worthy of respect.
An hour before kick off, as a vibrant visiting support started to spill into the Pale, it was apparent that an occasion of high significance was being hosted on Dublin’s southside.
One of the charges correctly levelled against Galway since returning to the higher echelons of the domestic game at the start of 2007 was the brutal crowds that followed the team on the trips to distant parts. That was rectified as 600 expectant partisans swarmed east eager to witness the last act of the great escape. The desired script was enacted as Galway dug in, grabbed a goal, and claimed the spoils.
Inevitably there was a nervousness attached to an opening quarter that was high on perspiration. UCD surprisingly opted for a five-man midfield unit, with Ronan Finn situated behind lone frontrunner Pat McWalter ensuring a frantic scramble for supremacy.
Shane Fitzgerald’s pace was posing problems on the right flank and the busy winger carved an opportunity for Finn, who was unable to summon a crisp finish. And there was plenty of hustle and bustle for the remainder of the half as UCD’s containment brief was functioning before Galway hit the front shortly after the half-hour mark.
Alan Murphy’s corner from the right located John Fitzgerald at the front post and the United skipper swivelled intelligently, lashing a shot that deflected off Alan McNally prior to rippling the students’ net. The hearty Galway crowd roared its approval, armed with the valuable knowledge that Finn Harps were terrorising Shamrock Rovers at Ballybofey. Galway had to take care of their own business; no favours were forthcoming from elsewhere.
So there was a seriously heavy burden on Galway’s shoulders after the interval. A swirling breeze continued to disrupt the contest as a spectacle, but United weren’t keen on being pretty or polished, all that ultimately mattered was the end product.
College enjoyed a third quarter burst, but struggled to prise open a Galway defence that was cajoled through this testing spell by Fitzgerald and the aggressive Alan Keane. Having resisted the few students' jabs Galway then regained control, with Jay O’Shea parading his skill. O’Shea was the heartbeat of one particularly effective sally forward involving Faherty, substitute Iarflaith Davoren, and Lester, but the Republic of Ireland under 21 international’s eventual 67th minute effort ricocheted out for a corner.
Thereafter it was about heart and honesty with Galway replacement Russell now in the mix, probing and passing as the clock ticked on. Issues in the final third have vexed UCD throughout 2008 and they were neither allowed nor able to rectify the situation in the dying embers as Galway’s concentration didn’t waver. An adequate level of performance was the requirement. Galway obliged, jerseys were flung into a jubilant throng while Kenna danced a jig of delight, punching the air with glee when greeting the Galwegians. It was a fitting image to conclude a campaign in which the Galway squad and coaching staff refused to buckle.
UCD: Gregg; Mahon, McNally, Shortall (McMillan, 19 ), Kenna; Fitzgerald, McFaul (King, 83 ), Finn, Duggan (Meenan, 63 ), Bermingham; McWalter.
Galway United: Rogers; Conneely, Fitzgerald, A Keane, McCulloch; J Keane (Russell, 76 ) Lester, Murphy (Jorgensen, 83 ), Foley (Davoren, 65 ); O’Shea; Faherty.
Referee: T Connolly (Dublin ).