The stakes are high for Galway United when they host Waterford FC in a top-of-the-table tie tomorrow night in Eamonn Deacy Park (7.45pm ).
Another bumper crowd will descend on the Dyke Road for a game that could help to define the seasons of both hosts and visitors. On early evidence, the two clubs currently seem to be the only credible title contenders remaining as United already have 14 points to spare on third-placed Athlone Town.
However, both sides enter the contest on the back of shock 1-0 reversals on Monday. Waterford were turned over at home by Wexford, whereas Galway United’s perfect run was ended in Bishopsgate by Longford Town.
Having squeaked past Cobh on Friday in front of a sell-out crowd, United coughed up an early lead in Longford courtesy of uncharacteristically lax defending. They dominated large swathes thereafter, but could not find the breakthrough in a freakish game.
Goalkeeper Jack Brady was in inspired form. He made crucial saves from the start, denying good efforts from Ed McCarthy and David Hurley. Rob Slevin went close twice from set-pieces and Stephen Walsh’s header was also tipped over, all in the first half.
United introduced Ibrahim Keita at half-time and pushed him forward to join Walsh in attack. They laid siege to the Longford goal, forcing 11 corners in total. Shortly after his introduction, Keita had a chance to level, but could not get enough power on his header. Walsh nearly wrapped up goal of the season with a stunning bicycle kick that rattled the crossbar. Keita failed to turn in the rebound.
The game became frantic and in the final 10 minutes Mike Rowe, Killian Brouder and Walsh (twice ) all went agonisingly close for United. Longford, though, were steely and should have sealed it on the break a couple of times, Brendan Clarke keeping his side afloat in both instances.
In spite of their historic run of form, there are concerns for United in the build-up to this big tie. Ronan Manning, who returned off the bench in Kerry, shipped another knock there and has not featured since. His creativity was sorely missed in the last two fixtures.
There are issues in both full-back berths also. Colm Horgan was replaced early in Longford. His season had been strong so far, but he did not look comfortable before his substitution. It was noteworthy that he was replaced at left-back by Conor O’Keeffe and not Regan Donelon, who was also named on the bench. O’Keeffe has deputised capably at left-back, but is more comfortable at right-back. Maurice Nugent filled in at right-back, but has principally operated in the centre for Galway United in his previous 99 games.
In midfield Conor McCormack did not manage 90 minutes in either game over the long weekend. Vincent Borden, superlative in his first games at the club, was also hauled ashore early on Monday.
There is therefore much for John Caulfield, Ollie Horgan and Chris Collopy to ponder and plot this week. Chief among them will be a plan to thwart Ronan Coughlan who had an astonishing nine goals in three games prior to Monday.
Indeed the visitor’s scoring form since Keith Long took charge has been sensational. They have averaged three goals a game. Their six wins in a row, although overshadowed by United’s run, demands serious respect. They sit seven points behind United and will be anxious to reel in that gap. A large home crowd will hope to do their part to deny them.
•Galway United Friends Co-op is running a bus to Bank Holiday Monday's first division match away to Longford Town. The bus is leaving from The Connacht Hotel, Dublin Road, Galway at 4.30pm, and picking up at The Maldron Hotel, Oranmore. To book a seat, contact Stephen Connolly at (085 ) 2206645.