It is just over three months since Mervue United collected a third Western Hygiene Supplies Premier Division title in succession and on Sunday next they start all over again in their quest to maintain their domination on the top flight.
Clear winners by nine points from second placed Corrib Rangers last season, those looking into a crystal ball to see where their closest challengers are, are probably not getting any great response. The indications are that Mervue United are going to be odds on favourites to retain their title and it is very difficult to see where a serious challenge is going to come from.
As ever, the off-season allows a huge amount of movement of players between clubs, but it is only once the campaign kicks off that one can confirm who is actually going to play for whom.
The Mervue joint management team of Gary O’Connor and Ger McGrath have been busy welcoming new players with the prospect of up to eight players joining an already packed and experienced squad.
Barry Moran and Simon Walsh have moved across the city from Rangers, while Barry McEntee has returned to his roots after a stint with West. Central defender Enda Cullen has moved from Salthill Devon, with Seamie Crowe, Dan Tuck and Cormac Clougher other potential signings. Shane Keogh is also a newcomer at this level, after previously performing for Mervue at U-19 and League of Ireland level.
They have lost two players with Paul Sinnott now playing with the League of Ireland side, while central defender Vinny O’Connor is moving to Bearna Na Forbacha. Tommy Walsh, Adam Lee and Eoin Concannon, as well as Crowe all still involved in championship action for St James and Salthill Knocknacarra, it is understood that they will see out their Gaelic football commitments with those clubs, before they return to Mervue United.
No doubt competition for places will add to the competitiveness of Mervue and as O’Connor said “keeping all the players in a big squad happy will be a huge task, but they are all aware of the situation and hopefully it will add to our quality and keep us in contention at the right end of the table”.
Both Mervue and Rangers collected full points from their opening six games last season, but on this occasion, they meet in the second game of the campaign.
There certainly appears to be a changing of the guard at Corrib Rangers, with manager Brendan O’Connor adding a lot of younger players to add to his already seasoned squad. With almost half of last season’s side moving on, there will be a lot of new faces at Westside this season.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.
Galway United’s chance to close gap on table-toppers Shels
Friday the 13th – unlucky for some – and Galway United will be hoping it is an unlucky night for runaway leaders Shelbourne on Friday evening. Shels, who are currently 10 points clear of second place United, are still unbeaten in this year’s First Division with 12 wins and six draws to their name.
The Tribesmen go into this week’s pivotal fixture after a disappointing 3-2 defeat against Cork City last Friday at Eamonn Deacy Park. The game had a ‘hit-and-run’ feel to it as Colin Healy’s side snatched all three points with ten minutes to go which ended United’s seven-game unbeaten league run.
BY TOM BYRNE
Even so, United replaced Treaty United in second place on goal difference after the Limerick outfit were defeated 4-1 by Cabinteely at the Markets Field.
Shelbourne have been the team to beat this season as they look odds-on to win this season’s First Division with nine games to go. Ian Morris’ side were hampered by a number of Covid cases in their squad for last week’s game against UCD, where they drew 0-0 at the UCD Bowl. It is expected that they will have players returning for their crucial clash against United at Terryland.
The two clubs have faced each other on 75 occasions. Shelbourne being victorious the more often with 39 wins, United defeating the north-Dubliners 17 times and 19 games ending in stalemate. United have hit the Shels net 86 times while the 2019 First Division winners have scored on 132 occasions against United.
The two teams played out a 0-0 draw at Eamonn Deacy Park in the first game this season, while Shelbourne had the upper hand in the reverse fixture when they overcame United 4-0 at Tolka Park in May.
Goal friendly Shels have struck 36 goals in 18 games so far this campaign, with former Shamrock Rovers man Ryan Brennan bagging ten of those. United will look to Wilson Waweru and Ruairi Keating for their main source of goals, with the latter hitting the net on seven occasions this season. Waweru brought his goal tally to six last week when he scored United’s first equalising goal against Cork City.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the soccer preview, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.
Lomboto’s late strike earns United share of the spoils
Galway United 2
Athlone Town 2
GALWAY United had to twice come from behind against basement side Athlone Town on Monday night to snatch a draw that was, on balance, probably a little harsh on the visiting side.
Completely outplayed in the opening 45 minutes, United had an absolute howler from visiting goalkeeper, Aaron Myles, to thank for going into the break on level terms; and then needed an equaliser five minutes from time to claim a draw against a side that came into the game having lost all four games they had played this season.
Alan Murphy’s side already find themselves nine points behind the league leaders just four games into the season, and a major improvement is needed if they are to finish in the top half of the table and inside the play-off spots.
Their central midfield was way off the mark on Monday night – both Maurice Nugent and Sam Warde were hauled ashore before the final whistle – and having abandoned the 4-4-2 formation which delivered some decent results near the end of last season, they are struggling to get quality ball into the opposition box.
With Shane Duggan expected to return to central midfield after suspension for this Saturday’s trip to Cobh Ramblers, it might be time to go with some out-and-out wingers and get some cohesion in the side.
The first couple of half chances on Monday fell to the home side, but Mikey Place didn’t get any power behind his second minute effort; while Marc Ludden was well off target subsequently.
The visitors, who had the opening half’s best player in their ranks in the guise of Galway native, Ronan Manning, went close a couple of times themselves in the ninth minute, United surviving thanks to Cian Murphy getting a block on Adam Lennon’s shot; while Kevin Horgan pulled off a ‘worldie’ to deny Joel Coustrain from the subsequent corner.
By that stage, the visitors were starting to get on top, and they took a deserved lead in the 22nd minute when Manning’s corner from the left was met by Taner Dogan at the back post to head home as the United marking was, not for the first time this season, shambolic at a set-piece.
Tempers were starting to fray a little, with both sides having two players finding their way into the notebook of Dublin referee, Oliver Moran, before United were gifted an equaliser in the 41st minute.
Full report in this week’s Connacht Tribune
Doyle bags hat-trick in Galway WFC romp
GALWAY WFC notched a second win in a row in the Women’s National League when they defeated Limerick 6-1 at the Markets Field on Sunday afternoon.
A McKenna Doyle hat trick and goals from Sadbh Doyle, Chloe Singleton and Aoife Thompson helped the Galway women to a resounding win. Five of the six goals for Galway were assisted by Lynsey McKey during what was a stellar performance by the experienced midfielder.
Galway WFC are back in action at Eamonn Deacy Park tomorrow (Saturday, kick off 3pm) when they welcome league leaders Peamount United.
See full match report in City Tribune Sport.