Galway United going in blind against Athlone Town

Shane Keegan: For first time I’m going into a match without having seen other side

Shane Keegan is taking a small step into the unknown as Galway United kick off their push for promotion back to the Premier Division with a home game against Athlone Town. But the former Wexford Youths boss is hopeful his players can put a chaotic preseason behind them and start living up to their billing as favourites to take the first division's top spot by delivering their first three points of the campaign.

Athlone are given next to no chance in the game by the bookies but Keegan admits to being wary as a couple of cancelled preseason friendlies have meant that he hasn’t had the chance to weigh up Aaron Callaghan’s side.

“They have recruited a lot of their players from the Leinster Senior League and you can get some real gems there,” he says, “so we’ll see but their last two games have been called off so for the first time since I came into the League of Ireland, I find myself going into a match without having seen the other side.

“It’s not ideal,” he admits, “they are a bit of an unknown quantity but I’d still be lying if I said I wouldn’t be very disappointed if we didn’t win the game.”

United, in fact, are the very clear favourites to top the division and go straight back up despite Cobh’s strong form last year, many of UCD’s young players coming into the campaign with a bit more experience under their belts and both Longford and Finn Harps possessing squads comfortably strong enough to mount a push for promotion.

"Yeah, I'm scratching my head trying to figure that one out," he says of his side's 'frontrunner' status. "That said I don't think there's actually a stronger squad in the league. We've lost some very good players but we've looked to replace like with like and I think we've done okay; you have Stephen Kenny coming in for Kevin Devaney on the left wing, Robbie Williams is a left sided centre-half like Stephen Folan and Danny Furlong will step in for Ronan Murray. If they all perform the way I know they can then we won't be too badly off."

Furlong could be the pick of the crop with the striker - whose goals did so much to get Wexford up in 2015 - back returning from New Zealand to link up once again with his former boss. “He might not get 30 the way he did that year for Wexford but I think he’ll score goals and if he can get 15-20 then that will be a big part of what we have to do.”

The opening weeks will be important with the players handicapped slightly by what Keegan admits was a desperately poor preseason. United were left without training facilities in recent weeks due to a falling out with Mervue United over the recruitment of young players for the national underage leagues and the manager’s daily routine has consisted of taking training then finding a venue for the following day’s session.

“We’re at least two or three weeks behind where we should be,” he says. “You could see in our recent games that we have a lot of work to do in terms of patterns of play, positional sense, movement. We haven’t looked like a side with a game plan because only two training sessions in four weeks have been on full size pitches and you can’t work on one when you are training on a seven a side one.

“It’s sorted now, though, and we’re getting there. Preseason has been a bit all over the place but I can’t wait for the whistle to go on Friday night.”