It’s been a long time coming, but it’s a case of Friday Night Lights in Eamonn Deacy Park this Friday, as Shelbourne FC make the trip west to take on Galway United in the curtain-raiser for the 2021 League of Ireland First Division season.
It will have been 150 days since a ball was kicked in competitive action for John Caulfield’s men on home turf, and his side will have serious ambitions of being in and around the top of the pile come the final game of the season this time around.
The club have recruited well in the off-season, and the squad has been bolstered by the addition of some talented players, including the likes of League of Ireland veteran Conor McCormack and striker Padraic Cunningham returning to the fold. Such improvements have borne out on the pitch as well, with United holding their own against some high-quality opposition in much of the pre-season fare in the build-up to matchday one.
In truth however, the proof will always be in the pudding when it comes to high-octane, competitive action, for United it will be no different, and the first game of the League campaign represents somewhat of a baptism of fire as perhaps the top sides in the division will provide a more than strong challenge.
The men from Tolka Park were a side capable of causing any side problems in the Premier Division, however life in the top flight can often be cruel and unforgiving, and a drop-off in quality from Shels saw them slip through the trap-door into the First Division once again. Thus, Ian Morris’ charges will likely be coming from the capital with a point to prove, and as a big player in the league, Galway United will represent a chance to make the statement that their stay in Ireland’s second tier will be a brief one.
Caulfield and his back-room team will be well aware of the fact that Morris and co. having this game in their sights from the outset. However, Galway themselves have the tools at their disposal to make this game an intriguing and close affair. Up front, both Carlton Ubaezounu and Wilson Waweru are bright young talents who in 2020 matured into players capable of causing any defence in the League a few headaches.
The return of Stephen Walsh will see a dearth of experience added to the backline. However, everyone will need to be at the top of their game to stop Shelbourne’s wily dangerman Yoyo Mahdy.
United were one of the few sides that Mahdy failed to find the net against last season when he was at UCD. Mahdy’s scoring exploits saw him scoop a place in last season’s PFAI First Division Team of the Year, netting 18 times in as many fixtures. One suspects that it will take a mammoth outing to keep this prolific striker quiet for the full 90.
Whilst Shelbourne may have lost some good players at the end of last season, including the likes of Gary Deegan, their recruitment has been admirable, and a trip to play a team who have made steady progress in Galway United will be a good litmus test for them.
Fans watching from their homes can expect a tight and entertaining fare on Friday evening when the sun goes down and the floodlights flicker on, however I suspect that neither side will be able to get the upper hand in this one.
FAI Cup, August 28th 2020
Galway United 2-5 Shelbourne FC
Dayle Rooney opened the scoring for Shels from a free-kick in the 35th minute after Mikey Place spurned a golden chance from the spot for the hosts to go ahead. Enda Curran capitalised on a deflection into his path to level matters before Ryan Brennan edged the visitors ahead once again in a goal-fest.
That would be as good as it got for the hosts, with both Brennan and Rooney making it a brace for themselves before Aaron Dobbs put the icing on the cake to spell defeat for John Caulfield in his first game in the Galway United dugout, as well as his heaviest defeat as United manager.
Last Five Games:
Galway United: L Galway United 1-2 Bohemians FC, W Longford Town 1-2 vs Galway United, D Galway United 1-1 Sligo Rovers, W Galway United 1-0 Finn Harps, L Galway United 1-2 Longford Town
Shelbourne FC: L Shelbourne FC 0-2 Sligo Rovers, W Shelbourne FC 4-1 Wexford FC, W Shelbourne FC 2-1 Shamrock Rovers, L Drogheda United 3-0 Shaelbourne FC, L Shelbourne FC 0-2 Bohemians
Galway United: Conor McCormack
Shelbourne FC: Yoyo Mahdy