By Oisín Bradley
The cliché of ‘a tale of two halves’ is one which is frequently bandied about in football and wider sporting spheres. That said, there are few instances where such a phrase could be more accurately applied than the 2020 First Division season for Galway United. Here, we’ll be putting the season of the men from Eamonn Deacy Park under the microscope, and examining how a team managed to turn from a side propping up the table to promotion hopefuls.
As the League of Ireland First Division prepared to swing into action in late February, there was a sense of enthusiasm that ‘United manager Alan Murphy would be able to hit the ground running as the men from the West aimed for the promotion places. The squad had seen an influx of new faces join in the off-season, and competition was healthy as the Tribesmen headed for Tallaght on matchday one.
A draw snatched from the jaws of defeat by Conor Barry vs Shamrock Rovers II was far from ideal, however it was better than defeat, and despite a goalless draw on the road against Wexford Youths hopes were still high.
A League Cup win over Athlone Town followed, although it would be the last time we would see the men in maroon walk out onto the turf of Eamonn Deacy Park for some time due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
When Alan Murphy’s men returned to league action some months later, all involved at the club would’ve been looking for an uptake in performances. However, the opposite proved to be the case, as a 0-2 home loss to Cabinteely kick-started a miserable run of games post-lockdown.
In the aftermath, four games without a victory followed, and a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Drogheda United in August proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Murphy vacated his role at the helm of Galway United having spent two years in charge.
The start to the season could only be described as a disappointing one, as the influx of promising young talent failed to make any meaningful impact, and as Murphy cleared his desk prospects looked bleak.
Another goalless draw vs league leaders Bray followed, before John Caulfield took the reins midway through the campaign. Caulfield joined on the back of an impressive stint which saw him lift six honours at Cork City, and the attraction of such a high-profile name would certainly have got pulses racing amongst the ‘United faithful.
However, few could’ve anticipated the turnaround he had instrumented. A 4-1 victory over near rivals Athlone Town provided a vital first league win of the season to kick-start his tenure, with Mikey Place to the fore at Lissywollen.
A 3-0 win in the UCD Bowl followed, and from there confidence and momentum seemed to flow around the camp and dressing room. It seemed that a 1-1 draw against opening-day opponents Shamrock Rovers II beckoned again, and Kevin Farragher rose highest to capitalise on a long throw-in at the death and make it three from three.
A string of 1-0 victories followed, and as Galway made their way up the table the previously unthinkable notion of promotion this season became a distinct possibility. If Caulfield and his Galway men had any plans of keeping a low profile, they blew that out of the water with a 6-2 romping of Longford Town.
Longford were 2-0 up on their home patch, before a Marc Ludden goal in the 44th-minute started a scoring spree. Galway scored more goals in this game than in the entire league campaign under Murphy, and against a serious promotion contender too. This game was a serious signal of how far John Caulfield had brought this dressing room.
Gameweek 15-18, Play-offs:
Galway looked poised to keep the good run of form going as they welcomed Drogheda United to their home patch as the season entered its conclusion, and Wilson Waweru’s early strike had them ahead, however a brace of Drogheda goals flipped the script and had the hosts chasing the game. Life was made altogether more difficult by a red card which was controversial to say the least for Stephen Christopher, and from there it was near-impossible for the hosts.
Travelling to in-form leaders Bray seemed like a difficult task for anyone, and the three points were essential to stand any chance of sneaking into the playoffs. That’s where Longford hat-trick hero, Carlton Ubaezaonu became the man of the hour deep into injury time to pluck victory from the ashes.
Unfortunately, the final League game of the season vs UCD could only be described as a disappointment. UCD travelled to Galway as a side already practically secured of qualification, however Galway played themselves into a game.
Conceding two goals in the final ten minutes seemed to consign the hosts to the end of their season, and Shane Duggan’s fine strike at the death seemed to simply be a consolation. Little did they know…
Galway must’ve thanked their lucky stars when they were granted access to the playoffs at the eleventh hour, and they grasped it with both hands dispatching of Bray to secure passage to the finals.
Ultimately, failure came at the final hurdle, and defeat against Longford Town in a game where Galway just came up short signalled the end of a campaign where John Caulfield completely altered the trajectory of this club.
He instilled some much-needed belief in a side severely lacking in said department. Given a Winter of constructing a squad which is his own and a full pre-season, An exciting season lies in wait for the Terryland faithful in 2021.