All the components appeared to be in place. A car park almost full to capacity thirty minutes before kick-off as a genuine sense of occasion marked the return of United to Galway’s Eamonn Deacy Park on Friday night, where the President himself welcomed The Tribesmen back to the Premier Division.
The Patrician Brass Band belted out the National Anthem as an arctic wind howled in, over, around, and possibly through the Comer Stand, which housed the majority of the 2,254 in attendance.
We were told new signing Sam Oji was a canny acquisition, but the well-travelled Londoner will surely struggle to recall a debut first 45 minutes as personally satisfying as last Friday night’s.
Oji did what top defenders do and set down an early marker, winning the first aerial duel and exuding, whether true or false given his lack of game time, an aura of confidence in his own powers.
Despite lining up as a 4-5-1, the home side showed attacking intent as midfielder Ryan Connolly tried to ensure Enda Curran was not an isolated figure up front. A sketchy opening fifteen minutes from both sides, on a surface that has obviously suffered from the recent cold snap, thankfully sprang to life after Curran fed Jake Keegan but the popular American dragged a half-chance well wide.
The natives sprang to life and, on 19 minutes, the maroon touch paper was lit as Oji powerfully headed in Connolly’s corner. A new dawn? Passes zipped between men in maroon shirts for the next 15 minutes and a second goal would not have been undeserved.
Keegan and Connolly went close, Derry’s Shane McEleney almost netted a calamitous own goal, and the thought surfaced that this could well be a new era, with confident young men playing attractive football and dissecting visiting teams at their leisure.
But football is never that easy. The chances dried up. Ryan Curran flicked on two balls for Paddy McEleney that raised alarm bells at the other end before the break, and Galway were more than happy to retreat to the dressing rooms armed with a lead.
The second period began in a similarly scrappy fashion to the first, but the Galway midfield anchors of Paul Sinnott and David O’Leary were now faced with a different challenge as the wily Peter Hutton reshuffled his depleted pack.
Barry McNamee drifted into the centre of the park and began to influence the play to Derry’s advantage where before Connolly had shone. Gary Shanahan became a peripheral figure on the right flank.
The action then swung from end to end for a time, with Galway appearing slightly more exposed to danger, and catastrophe struck when Paddy McEleney cut back an innocuous looking cross from the right and somehow Seán Houston was allowed to level at his ease.
The positive energy from Galway’s first half display now seemed to evaporate in an instant, and there was only ever going to be one winner from then on. With nine minutes left, Ryan Curran guided in an unusual winning goal from a McEleney cross, attempting to head but appearing to connect with perhaps his shoulder or hips, and the points were heading north.
So, is pessimism or optimism the lingering feeling from Friday’s encounter? A lead squandered, soft goals conceded, a lack of ideas on how to salvage a point in the closing stages evident. Same old, same old as it were.
But, for me, the qualities displayed in the opening half are hugely encouraging. On a good surface this group of players is destined to play quality football and, if they can maintain the energy levels in midfield to win the majority of the 50/50s, I am sure they will be a stern test for most sides in this division.
The EA Sports Cup game versus Finn Harps on Monday night gives the Galway United squad a quick chance to get Friday’s loss out of their system. A win is not vital, but two home losses in quick succession would be far from an ideal start.
As Tommy Dunne rightly said afterwards, the season is a marathon not a sprint, but a quick start out of the blocks generates momentum and fellow “bottom six” sides Drogheda United and Longford Town, fresh from decent performances of their own on the opening weekend, are next on the horizon at Eamonn Deacy Park.
We’ll keep it Glass Half Full though. For now.