Despite only rejoining the League of Ireland this time last year, Galway United are now embarking on a season at the top table of Irish football under manager, Tommy Dunne.
The former Cork City chief guided a youthful and exciting United side to the top flight via the play-offs route, having overcome Shelbourne over two legs in the First Division play-off final before dismantling UCD in the promotion/relegation decider, again over two legs.
However, in spite of last seasons triumphant achievement and the big crowds seen at Terryland Park, there has been a cautious approach in the transfer market from the ”Tribesmen” with nothing of note to report in terms of arrivals until last week with the signing of Sam Oji, from Limerick FC, a major coup for the club.
In fact, it is the departures from the western club that have grabbed all the headlines with Irish underage sensation, Ryan Manning moving across channel to QPR for a hefty sum while rock solid defender Paddy Barrett has joined the champions at Dundalk.
The capture of Killian Cantwell from First Division club Wexford Youths should help fill the void left by Barrett in the starting eleven. Meanwhile, the addition of former Limerick midfielder Dave O’Leary should help continue the style of passing football seen at Terryland Park last season.
With a newly promoted side, the first thing most people will look for is strength and depth in the squad and if there is enough to keep a side like Galway in the Premier Division.
Let’s examine that now, starting between the posts for Galway you’d have to raise the concern of a lack of genuine top flight experience with last season’s number one Conor Gleeson never having played outside of the second tier.
Former Dundalk back-up Ger Hanley recorded very few first flight minutes at Oriel Park or Shelbourne for that matter while new signing, Connor Winn looked out of his depth with First Division side Finn Harps at times last season.
Moving across the back four, Sam Oji will be eager to show everyone what all the fuss was about in recent weeks having finally put pen to paper with the ”Tribesmen”.
His addition combined with that of Cantwell should help improve a defence that only conceded 23 goals in 28 First Division games last year. It will be the ability of players like Colm Horgan, Alex Byrne, Marc Ludden and others to adapt at this higher level that will dictate if Dunne’s men are as impressively solid as last term.
Slick passing football was the name of the game for the men in Maroon following their return to the league in 2014 but what is this likely hood of them being able to reproduce that style of play in 2015?
As already mentioned, former Cork City man Dave O’Leary will add greatly to the sides passing emphasis while Ryan Connolly has been one of the stars of the First Division in recent years with Longford Town and then Galway.
It will be Galway’s ability in wide areas that may worry some with the apparent lack of an out-and-out winger among Dunne’s 25-man squad. The likes of Stephen Walsh and Jason Molloy have impressed greatly with both Mervue United and Galway but again how they adapt to this level will be the all important key.
Up front American fans favourite and last seasons goals sensation, Jake Keegan will be eager to continue his success story at Terryland Park while former Derry City man Enda Curran will want to right the wrongs of a disastrous top flight campaign under Roddy Collins last year.
Former Dundalk striker, Gary Shanahan looks to be one of the more underrated players arriving into the Premier Division this season but overall, when you compare this squad to that of the other newly promoted side Longford Town, you would have to say ”De Town’s” is far more impressive an In turn likely to stay up.
Has the fixtures machine at least been kind to Galway? The answer in short is yes, with an opening day tie at home to Derry City looking very winnable for Tommy Dunne’s charges while a trip to Dalymount Park in week two won’t faze them.
Galway United may even be favorites when they host Drogheda United on match day three with a tough trip to Cork City sandwiched in between another home tie with Longford Town.
It is far from the realms of insanity to suggest Galway United could take ten points from their opening five league games and with newly promoted, Longford Town facing Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers in the opening two weeks of the season, it could offer Tommy Dunne a chance to open up an early gap on the sides expected to scrap it out at the bottom.
Given Dunne’s last job at this level resulted in a sacking from Cork City, he will be as anxious as his players to settle in quickly and silence any doubters of this Galway United team.
The vast majority of pundits within the League of Ireland have already written of Bray’s chances of staying up this season, so if you were to look past the Wicklow club for a moment it leaves the likes of Longford Town, Drogheda United and Limerick FC battling it out to avoid the dreaded relegation play-off position.
The question you have to ask yourself is does this Galway United team have enough quality, strength and character within in it to finish above at least one of those sides? That will be the £64,000,000 question for followers of the ”Tribesmen” this term.
Predicted finish: 10th
Player to watch: Sam Oji
Greatest strength: Tommy Dunne’s sides are usually well organised and this United team is no different given their defensive record last season.
Greatest weakness: May struggle to create from wide areas.