Fourth placed Galway United will take to the field at Eamon Deacy Park on Friday night as red hot favorites to turn over rock bottom Longford in the Premier Division. The “Tribesmen”, who made a number of impressive signings in pre-season, have made a wonderful start to the 2016 campaign, with five wins from nine league games. As mentioned, much of Galway’s success this season has been attributed to the excellent signings made by manager Tommy Dunne, with the efforts of former Limerick FC man Vinny Faherty in particular standing out. The striker currently sits top of the leagues scorers chart with an amazing seven goals in nine, and given Longford’s dismal defence record to date, the Galway man will fancy his chances of improving on that tally this Friday night. When you consider that last seasons EA Sports Cup runners-up have scored 15 league goals and Faherty has bagged almost half of those, the pacey striker must be regarded as the best piece of business done by any manager in the off-season.
In the other dugout, Town boss Tony Cousins continues to come under fire for the transfer dealings he oversaw at the end of last year, with eight new arrivals coming into the club and to date failing to make much of an overall impact on the squad, while experienced pros such as Mark Salmon and Stephen Rice in particular seem to be greatly missed in the Longford midfield. The former Galway United boss gained a lot of credit for guiding Town to a sixth place finish upon their return to top flight football in 2015, however that success may ultimately prove to be Cousins downfall as his new look side struggle to compete with the bigger sides in the Premier Division. Heavy defeats away to Cork City and last week’s opponents Sligo Rovers, came either side of a shocking home performance against champions Dundalk and as a result skeptics have begun to ask the question ‘how many more heavy defeats can the current manager afford to take’?
While pre-season may not be the best barometer, there is form to go on between these two sides already this season, with Tommy Dunne’s charges hammering a youthful Town side 4-0 at the City Calling Stadium in a friendly encounter. The style of play and attacking intent shown by United that night impressed many of the locals and Dunnes men have continued to grab the headlines since with big wins over St.Patrick’s Athletic on the opening night, Bray Wanderers, Bohemians, Finn Harps and most recently Wexford Youths.
Coincidentally, Longford’s last win also came against the Youths but that was all the way back on the opening day of the season and bar draws at home to Bray Wanderers and Derry City, it really has been a dismal opening series of games for the Midlanders. Earlier this week Tony Cousins stated his desire to get the team back scoring goals, citing the return of Lee Duffy from injury as a major boost to that cause, however, while four goals from nine games is an unacceptable return, it really is the leaking of goals at the other end that is costing Town dear. The 2014 First Division winners currently hold the unwanted record of the worst goal difference in the division and will really need to change their approach if they are to start picking up some much needed points in the fight for survival.
Kevin Devaney, like Faherty, has impressed immensely since signing from Sligo Rovers but fortunately for the Longford Town full-backs, they may avoid the challenge of facing him on Friday night, with the flying winger listed as doubtful. Centre-half, Stephen Folan who was also brought in from local rivals Sligo, is also a doubt for the home side.
Speaking to the Galway Independent (www.galwayindependent.com), Dunne stated the importance of playing with full intensity against this weekends opponents:
“We have to continue this, we’re at home this week and we’ll have to be at full tilt against Longford.If you’re not at full tilt against any team you’re in trouble.”
Talking to the same publication, star man Vinny Faherty gave his insight on facing a relegation threatned side. Faherty was of course extremely unlucky to be part of the Limerick FC side that dropped down to the First Division via the play-offs last season.
“We’re going to target the three points but it’s going to be tough, Longford need a few points on the board too, I know myself from last season with Limerick, you’re always fighting and scrapping.
“It’ll be tough but we just need to make sure we’re at it and look after ourselves.
Longford fans will have joyous memories of their last trip to Deacy Park in 2015, when a last gasp Don Cowan goal gave “De Town” a come from behind 2-1 victory. However, United bossed the remaining two meetings with respective 1-0 and 4-2 victories away and home.
With “the Don” finally back after a nightmare injury spell, Longford supporters will be hoping he can repeat such heroics on Friday night, while Lee Duffy should continue to push for a first start as he makes an injury comeback also. Leading the line, one wiuld expect David O’Sullivan to be given the role as Josh O’Hanlon’s performances continue to disappoint the same supporters he excited so much during his first spell with the club three years ago. At the back, Paul Skinner will get the nod ahead of the inexperienced Ian Molloy, despite the former Shelbourne ‘keepers horrendous error for Sligo’s second goal on Saturday. Elsewhere, despite his own goal in that game, Tristan Noack Hofmann showed great attitude and work rate in only his second senior league start and Town fans would not begrudge the seventeen-year-old a chance to redeem himself in the West. With Rhys Gorman still weeks away from a return and the experienced Mark Rossiter once again out of action, Pat Flynn and Noel Haverty are realistically Tony Cousins only senior options in the middle.
The “Red and Black’s” midfield has looked greatly exposed and light under pressure so far this season, and that was highlighted majorly in Sligo as the “Bit O’Red” carved through the Longford heart like a knife through butter time after time at the weekend. Stand in captain, Kevin O’Connor has looked out of sorts in recent weeks and his side will really need him to be at his best if they are to turn this slump in fortunes around. John McKeon, who joined from Cabinteely in the off-season, impressed in the recent home draw with Derry City and the number 14 will need to show the same grit and determination if Longford’s back four are to get the levels of protection required to swell an attacking force as strong as Galway’s. Phillip Gannon was a player many had high hopes for this season, following a strong end to his first campaign with the club in 2016, however, he has failed to get a run of games so far but may be considered for this one. Finally, Kealon Dillon was on the subs bench at the Showgrounds and will continue to push for a recall ahead of Friday’s trip to Deacy Park.
With Shamrock Rovers set to visit the Midlands in the final game of the opening series next weekend, a Longford win really is crucial in order to get some positive momentum flowing among the players and fans alike. As for Galway, talk of a European push this season is well and truly underway but should Tommy Dunne’s men slip up against the leagues bottom side, it would throw up a lot of questions about whether or not United have the mentality to match such ambitious claims. All in all, this is a massive game for both clubs for very different reasons…….Who will prevail? Find out Friday night at Eamon Deacy Park, kick-off is 7-45PM.
PREDICTION: Galway United 3-0 Longford Town