ON their return to League of Ireland action, and even with President Michael D. Higgins in the crowd, Galway F.C succumbed to visitors Longford Town by a single goal thanks to David O’Sullivan’s 70th minute strike on a clear Friday night at Eamonn Deacy Park.
Over 2,400 supporters, including a heavy away presence, witnessed the Tribesmen’s re-introduction to the SSE Airtricity League First Division but it was the home fans that left Deacy Park disappointed.
Galway started on a positive note immediately pushing forward and pressing the visitors with attacks from wingers Gary Shanahan on the right and Jake Keegan on the left. However, the final pass was lacking and, in general, the Tribesmen were sloppy throughout the first-half.
The Town came with a game plan and the central midfield pairing of captain Stephen Rice and Rhys Gorman dominated their Galway counterparts Ryan Connolly and captain Paul Sinnott for large parts of the game. This stifling of Connolly in particular prevented the home side from any meaningful attacks.
Powerful Longford winger Don Cowan gave Galway’s left back Marc Ludden a torrid time, while goalkeeper Conor Gleeson saved brilliantly from Pat Flynn on the half hour mark.
That said, the best chance of the half fell to Galway’s American striker Jake Keegan on 36 minutes. Sinnott’s high hopeful ball down the middle was controlled by Faherty who played the young striker through but his effort went just wide. The home side raised the tempo soon after but Longford looked happier at the break.
The second period would prove to be a frustrating 45 minutes for Galway FC. Jason Molloy had been deployed behind Vinny Faherty, but the former Mervue United man never got going and his second half display was abject.
With Molloy not firing, and no Ryan Manning or Stephen Walsh, manager Tommy Dunne had very limited options on the bench. Dunne would only make one forced substitution; Marty Owens replacing the injured Ludden late on.
As Galway huffed and puffed, Longford, and Rice in particular, locked down their midfield and the Tribesmen found The Town’s harassment tough to deal with. Tony Cousins’ team looked fitter and stronger in the physical stakes.
The visitors took the lead on 70 minutes when Gorman played last season’s top scorer in the First Division through on goal and O’Sullivan rounded Gleeson much to the delight of the travelling ‘Section O’ fans. The goalkeeper had a very impressive night between the sticks but couldn’t do much about O’Sullivan’s season opener.
From then on Galway FC never looked like getting on the score sheet, despite the best efforts of the lively Keegan and Connolly. It could have gotten worse for the home side on 88 minutes after a gaping hole in the defence left O’Sullivan one on one with Gleeson but the Galway keeper came up trumps staying on his feet, swallowing the ball and the striker when it mattered.
Martin Connelly nearly clinched an equaliser at the death with a header off a free kick but the visitors punched the air with delight at the final whistle. It might have been the first game of the season but Longford celebrated like promotion had already been achieved.
Galway FC: Conor Gleeson; Colm Horgan, Martin Connelly, Ross Kenny, Marc Ludden (Marty Owens 86); Gary Shanhan, Paul Sinnot (c) Ryan Connolly, Jake Keegan; Jason Molloy, Vinny Faherty
Subs not used: Ger Hanley, Mike Elwood, Sean Gavin, Noel Varley, Alex Byrne, Cian mcFadden.
Bookings: Marc Ludden (67)
Longford Town: Chris Bennion; Jamie Mulhall (William Tyrell 75), Pat Flynn, Pat O’Sullivan, Gleen O’Connor; Don Cowan (Gary Shaw 73), Rhys Gorman, Stephen Rice, Lorcan Shannon; David O’Sullivan, Peter Hynes.
Subs not used: Chris Deans, Dean Murphy, Dylan Nolan, Lee Higgins.
Bookings: G O’Connor (63), Mulhall (63).
Referee: John McLoughlin
Extratime Man of the Match: Stephen Rice (Longford Town) - He blocked, harassed, passed, and controlled the game in the middle of the park; a thorn in Galway’s side all night.