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'Every game matters now, you can't rest on your laurels even for a minute'

Galway United captain Colm Horgan looks forward to his side’s crunch relegation six pointer against St Pat’s later tonight.

Colm Horgan Horgan joined Galway in 2013 and was appointed captain at the start of this season. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

IF AL PACINO was right when he stated that football, like life, was a game of inches which needed to be fought for in the hit film ‘Any Given Sunday’, then the League of Ireland relegation battle will surely attest to that belief on the final day of the season when three sides are heaved down into the perils of the First Division.

Granted, he was discussing the tight line American football draws between victory and defeat.

But the fact that the fight for survival in the SSE Airtricty League will go to the final day, and possibly to the cruelty of goal difference means then perhaps his famous, stirring words are equally applicable to the dogfight currently taking place in the Premier Division.

When Ronan Murray stepped up to take a penalty in the 93rd minute during Galway United’s crucial meeting with Bray Wanderers with the scores poised at 3-3 last Saturday, you would have bet your house plus your neighbour’s on the 26-year-old bagging a stupefyingly dramatic late winner in stoppage time.

The Mayo man had already scored 11 league goals this season and had been hitting the type of late season form which saw many people — fans of Galway and elsewhere — suggest he could be catching the eye of a potential suitor across the water in the Championship or League One.

But that game of inches proved decisive as Peter Cherrie forced a magnificent save to deny the forward. Galway had trailed twice and but for a Kevin Devaney equaliser in the 85th minute looked like leaving the Carlisle Grounds completely empty handed just moments before.

Ronan Murray and David Cawley dejected at the end of the game Ronan Murray and Kevin Devaney dejected following Galway's 3-3 draw with Bray. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

With the scores drawn at 3-3 and having been awarded the penalty, Shane Keegan’s side somehow looked like grabbing all three points in a smash and grab win which would have lifted them out of the relegation zone.

But that game of inches proved decisive to keep the scores level with goalkeeper Cherrie’s superb save, and it will do so again and again until the very last kick of a ball.

Finn Harps, Galway, Sligo, St Pat’s and Limerick are all in the mix, with just six points separating 11th from 7th. Two will be guaranteed to go down alongside the already relegated Drogheda United, and with the uncertainty of life in the second tier pronounced, the stakes simply could not be higher.

It is not merely a fight for survival in terms of their place in the top tier for 2018, but therein lies the survival of each club’s future as a whole.

Galway captain Colm Horgan accepts that come the final whistle of the last game of the campaign on 27 October, the league table will tell its own story. Ahead of their crucial relegation six pointer at home to fellow candidates St Pat’s, the 23-year-old knows there can be no sore losers and that there can be no excuses.

“I don’t want to get relegated, ever. It’s not something I’d ever want on my CV,” he said speaking to The42 this week.

Kevin O’Connor and Colm Horgan Horgan pictured during Galway's visit to Turner's Cross last season. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“Of course it means more me being from Galway and being the captain of this club. It’s something I’ve said all year — I don’t want to be the captain of the team which goes down.

“I’d take three horrendous performances now, even if they were all 1-0 wins. At this stage of the season you want anything to keep you up. I would be devastated if it got to a point where we did go down.

“The club is in a situation now where it’s deciding what it will do next year in terms of whether it goes full-time or goes back to part-time football.

There are a lot of ramifications if we do go down. It’s not just a case of us bouncing back up like Limerick, or like we’ve seen with Waterford getting promoted this year. I don’t think that would be the case for us at all.”

Born and raised in Galway and appointed captain at the tender age of just 22, Horgan knows the importance of the club’s place in the Premier Division, and is fully aware of the impact a possible relegation could have next season.

“If we go down you look at some of the better performers probably moving on to different places. A lot of the lads are going to be hard to hold onto anyway if we do stay up. If we go down you’re looking at losing a lot of your better players, so straight away you’re at a disadvantage.

“A lot of the U19s from this year are going to be U19s again next year. They probably wouldn’t be at the stage where they can make the step up yet, so you can’t fill the void there.

Galway united fans celebrate a goal United fans celebrate a late equaliser during last weekend's 3-3 draw at the Carlisle Grounds. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“Financially you are looking at who you can bring in for small money to replace the guys you might lose. I’m sure this has been the case at other clubs that have gone down as well, it’s just a really tricky situation and we’re hoping that we won’t have to think about these things come the end of the season.”

The restructuring of the League of Ireland from a 12 team Premier Division to two 10-team divisions meant three sides would face the unforgiving punishment of automatic relegation in 2017.

The new model has witnessed competition levels rise dramatically as half the Premier Division has been looking at the possibility of securing a top four finish meaning European football next summer, while the other half has been fighting tooth and nail for the privilege of remaining in the division alone.

It has been brutal and entertaining in equal measure, but never easy for sides like Galway that are involved.

It’s nice to be playing when there’s something to be playing for,” says Horgan, “but obviously we would rather be safe. I wouldn’t mind being in Bohemians’ position at the moment. Every game matters now and you can’t rest on your laurels even for a minute.

“It’s nice to be involved in something that has a bit of meaning to it, but it would be nice if that were the case for us at the other end of the table.”

Shane Keegan Manager Shane Keegan is in his first season in charge at the club. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Onlookers have attested that the positive and consistently competitive style of football which manager Keegan has stuck to this season means Galway should not be in the position they are in with just three games to go.

The side have 33 points from 30 games — 7 wins, 12 draws and 11 defeats. It has been a season of scattered highs, hammering lows and far too many draws where wins were within touching distance.

They went the entire opening round of games without a win, but have also recorded some marquee results, such as the shock 2-1 win against last season’s champions Dundalk, a 1-1 draw with champions-elect Cork City, a 2-1 win against European hopefuls Derry, plus a run to the quarter-finals of the FAI Cup. All deserved results, too.

People always say that at the end of the year the league table doesn’t lie,” Horgan notes.

“At the start of the year we had a lot of new players and a new manager. You look at the Drogheda game the first day of the season (a 1-0 home defeat) — sucker punch.

“Up in Finn Harps, a horrendous night where we managed to get a 1-1 draw even though we hit the crossbar two or three times, and from there it just dragged out and out from that first round of games.

It’s probably been a case of too many draws and not enough wins. I think we’ve lost less games than Shamrock Rovers this year, so it’s not a case of us not being competitive. It’s just a case of not getting that bounce of the ball or the bit of luck which can get you a win instead of a draw.

“I think we’ve been good enough lately to push that idea of nothing going your way to one side. In fairness Peter Cherrie pulled off an amazing save for the penalty against Bray, it was right down in the bottom corner, Ronan struck it really well and it was just a case of him getting there early and getting a strong hand to it.”

The Horgan name is one revered in football circles around Eamonn Deacy Park. Colm’s brother Kevin is a goalkeeper at Shamrock Rovers, Christopher is a developing midfielder at United’s U19s, father Tom managed at Salthill Devon, while his oldest sibling Daryl made his international debut for Ireland earlier this year, having joined Preston North End from Dundalk in January.

Taking the captain’s armband at 22 following Ryan Connolly’s transfer to Tallaght Stadium was an honour for the young defender. He has revelled in the role despite the pressures of leading a club fighting for their survival at the wrong end of the table.

“I’ve enjoyed it a lot,” he said of the captaincy.

“I suppose if I had been at Galway another couple of years I might have seen myself taking the armband at some stage, but it was nice to get it so early.

At the same time we’ve had incredible guys in the dressing room. I’ve never had to have a go at anyone in terms of them not putting in the effort or doing the wrong things, because there are so many good lads here.

“Everyone is keeping on each other’s backs to make sure we are on our toes. It’s never really gotten to a stage where I’ve needed to change my personality or what I do a huge amount. It’s just a case of maybe being more of a figure that people see. You do get a bit more of the brunt of things when things aren’t going so well in that sense.”

Colm Horgan with Patrick Kavanagh "I don't want to get relegated, ever. It's not something I'd ever want on my CV." Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The seismic significance of tonight’s clash at home to St Pat’s cannot be overstated. Saints supporters heard news of Galway’s last minute penalty miss against Bray moments before kick-off of their game against Limerick last Saturday.

Fans smiled giddily as members of the media relayed on the information from the press box, however agony was close at hand as Liam Buckley’s side suffered a major blow in the final moments of their own game — Limerick’s Shane Duggan scoring a 94th minute equaliser with the last kick of the game to break hearts in Inchicore.

Both Galway and St Pat’s looked like grabbing a vital win in the last minute of their respective games last weekend, but both ended up settling for a point, with Peter Cherrie’s penalty save and Duggan’s late leveller cancelling each other out for tonight’s pairing.

St Pat’s remain one point above Galway. A win for the visitors would extend the margin to four, whereas three points for Horgan’s side would put their destiny back in their own hands rising out of the drop zone.

We are pretty much treating every game like a cup final, because it’s all we can do,” he says. “We can’t afford to look beyond Pat’s at the moment because if we take our eye off that they could be four points ahead of us.

“I think every game we have played against Pat’s this season has been really tight so far. We can expect them to have more of the ball, they move it really well and are a good side. But if we can be clinical, take our chances when they come and really restrict them to as little as possible I can’t see us not being good enough to get a win.”

After tonight they face a trip to Limerick, before welcoming Dundalk to Eamonn Deacy Park on the final night of what has been a tumultuous season.

“We’d probably expect Limerick to beat Drogheda this weekend, but if they don’t they are still very much in the relegation mix, so when we go down to the Markets Field that’s another massive game.

With Dundalk in the FAI Cup final they will have that to prepare for, but they won’t be resting on their laurels either and will have guys fighting for a place in the team. It’s going to be three really, really tough games for us.

“We just need to take each one as it comes and approach every single one as if it were a cup final.”

Galway’s All-Ireland winning hurling champions will be the guests of honour at Eamonn Deacy Park for tonight’s game. Micheál Donoghue’s side ended a 29-year hoodoo for the Liam McCarthy Cup and know not only the agony of defeat, but also what it takes to finally get over the line.

Survival this year would be Galway United’s triumph. A season of inches won and lost will soon be decided.

Predictions

Every week, we’re giving readers the chance to take us on in predicting the Premier Division results. After Week 27, here are the standings:

The Readers: 78
The42: 77

Next up is Cork City fan Tony O’Connor 

Bohemians v Cork City — Cork City win

Dundalk v Bray — Dundalk win

Galway v St Pat’s — Draw

Derry City v Finn Harps — Derry City win

Shamrock Rovers v Sligo Rovers — Shamrock Rovers win

Limerick v Drogheda United — Limerick win

Cork City v Derry City — Cork City win

The42 (Aaron Gallagher)

Bohemians v Cork City — Cork City win

Dundalk v Bray — Dundalk win

Galway v St Pat’s — Draw

Derry City v Finn Harps — Draw

Shamrock Rovers v Sligo Rovers — Shamrock Rovers win

Limerick v Drogheda United — Limerick win

Cork City v Derry City — Draw

If you’d like to try your hand at forecasting League of Ireland results, get in touch by e-mailing pauldollery@the42.ie

Subscribe to The42 podcasts here:

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