There may have been some controversy in the manner of his arrival from the now relegated Wexford Youths, but it’s easy to see why Shane Keegan will quickly move past all that as he aims to get his Galway United troops geared up for the 2017 League of Ireland season.
The 34-year-old arrives on Corribside with a tricky assignment ahead of him, but the signs are there that he has what it takes to keep pushing the club towards improvement and success. After all, he performed miracles with Youths over the course of his five-year stay, hauling them up from the basement of Ireland’s second tier before ultimately guiding them to First Division glory against all the odds, after only a few seasons in charge.
SIN attended his first press conference as new Galway manager in the bowels of Eamonn Deacy Park in early November, and it was clear from the opening bars of his media address that he’s relishing the challenge to come.
“I’m just really, really excited, can’t wait to get into it,” the Laois native said.
A proactive coach who likes to get his teams playing technical football, he’s rarely been afraid of taking on a challenge and having faith in his philosophy of getting the ball down and producing quality to entice the fans. So, there is great anticipation around the City of Tribes to see if Keegan will be successful with that same style moving forward.
The fans are also curious as to whether he’ll incorporate any of the club’s stand-out U19 stars into his plans, and while his response to that query didn’t give too much away, it highlighted how clued-in he is to the underage set-up at Galway and it was as level-headed an answer as one could expect.
“Everybody wants to develop their own, and there’s a huge buzz for supporters when they see somebody who’s come through the Academy structure breaking into the first team and nailing a regular position,” he remarked.
“You’ve just went and competed at a national cup final at U19s level [against UCD] and, obviously, the likes of Conor [Melody] and Jesse [Devers], and Kevin [Horgan] in goal, all doing well already – there’s fantastic potential with the young players that are here.”
Cleary, there is immense promise for this side to do well. After some great results early in the 2016 campaign, hopes of European football began to kindle around the Dyke Road venue, and although they were extinguished long before the season was over, Keegan has the credentials to spark the imagination once again.
After all, he has plenty of experience of how to get the best out of an underperforming group from his time at Wexford, and he’s relishing the adventure to come.
“I think it’s a huge advantage that you’re away from Dublin, you’re a one-club city. I think that if we could start to string a few results together and obviously have as many locals as possible trying to break into the first team, we could get an overall threat going but we certainly don’t want to jump the gun,” he commented.
“It is exciting to think of the possibilities,” he added.
There has been speculation that several of United’s players are headed for the exit door with many of the bigger capital-based clubs keen to exploit the changing of the managerial guard, but it’s important to remember that these next few months should provide Keegan with ample time to stamp his mark on proceedings.
He has almost four months to get a system in place, to convince key squad members to stay and also to scout out both divisions for suitably talented individuals who will fit his approach.
“Trying to tie down the big players and the guys who’ve played a big part in what has been achieved here over the last two years is a big priority. It’s not always possible, but it is the number one priority. If I can get those main men tied down along with a few more and then maybe bring in a couple of fresh faces.
“Look, I wouldn’t be sitting here unless I said that I wanted us to finish ideally a good few places higher than where Galway finished this year – we’re not going to change the world overnight – the top half of the table is something we really should be looking at as being very, very achievable,” Keegan said.
It’s rarely been a straightforward journey for fans who follow the Tribesmen, but following two successive campaigns in the top level of domestic Irish football there is hope for something more.
Having solidified their place as a team good enough to mix it with the best on their day and as a club who have silverware ambitions, it’s quite possible that Keegan can help transform those dreams into reality.
-By Trevor Murray