Season Review 2021: Galway United

Mon, Nov 22 2021
Conor McCormack in action for Galway United during the 2021 season.

Conor McCormack in action for Galway United during the 2021 season. Credit: Steve Alfred (ETPhotos)

Team: Galway United

Head Coach: John Caulfield

Top Scorer: Ruairí Keating (10 goals)

Stadium: Eamonn Deacy Park

Highest Attendance: 3,700 (0-1 loss v Bray Wanderers, 7 November)

Lowest Attendance: 0

Star Player: Conor McCormack

Galway United turned heads at the beginning of the year when it was announced that Conor McCormack had opted to reunite with John Caulfield on the banks of the Corrib for the 2021 season. The experienced midfielder has been around for a long time in the League of Ireland and experienced a particularly successful spell with Caulfield during his time with Cork City.

The 31 year old is one of the most decorated players in the League of Ireland, currently with a Premier Division title and an FAI Cup to his name from his time with the Rebels alone. Add to that another Premier Division title while with Shamrock Rovers and FAI Cup while with St Patrick’s Athletic and he’s certainly the most decorated player at Eamonn Deacy Park.

McCormack was appointed captain coming into the season and was almost ever present for United throughout the season primarily as a holding midfielder and his influence was clear on the field as Galway adapted to a near brand new starting eleven this season.

Their initial struggles were notable given their fulltime status but particularly as the season progressed McCormack’s game management and leadership was evident as Galway claimed second place in this year’s First Division.

Best Young Player: Wilson Waweru

At just 20 years of age Wilson Waweru is actually one of the longest serving members of John Caulfield’s squad at Eamonn Deacy Park, having made his debut in 2018 under Alan Murphy.

He had by far his most prolific season up front for the Tribesmen in 2021 with eight goals throughout the campaign – all of which were hard earned with the young striker spending much of his time trying to hold up ball and play teammates in given the direct play Galway opt for on a regular basis.

It’s also noteworthy that the striker had to earn his starting spot up front as the season progressed with Padraic Cunningham starting the season as the first-choice lone striker but with two goals last April coming of the bench Waweru started to be considered as the man who would lead the line.

He started nearly every game from May onwards and netted six more goals as Galway finished runners up in this year’s First Division.

The striker also scored the below goal against UCD midseason which is surely a goal of the season contender.

 

Best New Signing: Alex Murphy

Murphy isn’t exactly a new signing per se as he was part of Galway United’s under-17 side – he did make his debut midseason however and signed a new contract with the club that will keep him in Galway until the end of the 2022 season.

The 17 year old made his debut in Galway’s 2-1 win over Athlone Town in June and immediately looked at home in senior football. He went on to make nine starts for the Tribesmen during the rest of the season rotating the left back position with the experienced Stephen Walsh.

His performances have turned heads all season with the youngster looking like one of the most composed left backs in the First Division despite his youth. League of Ireland Champions Shamrock Rovers have also been rumoured to be interested in the player such is the talent that he’s displayed this year.

What we expected they would do:

The extratime.com team put together their predictions for the First Division ahead of the 2021 season and based on that Galway United were predicted to emerge as champions and secure a return to the Premier Division.

What they actually did:

SSE Airtricity League

In short Galway Untied neither won the First Division nor did they secure promotion back to the Premier Division for the first time since their relegation four years ago.

A bad start essentially ended their chances of putting in a serious challenge for the title with Shelbourne emerging as First Division winner this season. In their first ten games they won just three games – definitely not title winning form by any stretch of the imagination.

A disastrous formation which included wingbacks at the very start of the season had the Tribesmen looking like they had never played football in their lives with a 3-1 drubbing against Athlone Town in their second game of the season a lowlight for the side.

The 4-0 loss to Shelbourne in Tolka Park right before the midseason break summed up their beginning to the season. United did turn it around in a major way once they returned from their break winning 12 of their remaining 17 games which saw them finish in second place in the first Division six points behind Shelbourne.

Their peak performance actually saw the Tribesmen smash Shels 3-1 at Deacy Park in August with Shane Doherty, Killian Brouder and Ruairí Keating all scoring to give United at least a shred of a chance at pipping the Reds to the First Division title.

It wasn’t to be however, with Shelbourne holding out to claim the title with just two losses throughout the First Division campaign.

The Tribesmen then went on to have a disappointing outing in the first round of the playoffs where they met fifth placed Bray Wanderers, the team they knocked out of the playoffs the previous year when the teams league positions were reversed.

Across three hours of football over the two legs, United were completely impotent and created few clear cut chances against Gary Cronin’s side. They weren’t even up against a really good side with the Wanderers not exactly putting it up to Galway with their one flash point the single goal in the second leg from Brandon Kavanagh which ended Galway United’s season and set them up for a fifth season in the second tier.

Despite all the negatives throughout the overall campaign, United can take some heart from finishing in their highest League position since 2017 (the season they were relegated from the Premier Division). The unearthing of the talented Alex Murphy was also a huge positive during the 2021 campaign, although they may be a victim of the teenager’s success and have a job on their hands to hold on to the defender.

FAI Cup

Not much to say about Galway United’s involvement in the FAI Cup in 2021 except for the fact that they were knocked out in the first round by Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght Stadium. That loss now means that the 1991 FAI Cup Champions haven’t actually won a cup game since 2019.

Fellow extratime.com  reporter Macdara Ferris, in his review of Shamrock Rovers 2021 season, pointed out that that win means the Hoops have now won 20 competitive games in a row against Galway United, a run that dates back to 2007.

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