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Dublin: 9°C Tuesday 20 April 2021

Galway's No.1 fan is heading west for their return to the big leagues

President Higgins will be in attendance when Tommy Dunne’s men face Derry City at Eamonn Deacy Park.

Michael D Higgins with Galway United mascot President Higgins has been a regular at Eamonn Deacy Park over the years. Source: Mike Shaughnessy/INPHO

EAMONN DEACY PARK welcomes top flight football through its gates once again tomorrow night and Galway United will have their most famous supporter right there with them.

President Michael D Higgins, an avid Galway supporter and former club president, will make the trek west from Áras an Uachtaráin to welcome the Tribesmen’s return to the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division when they face Derry City in the season curtain-raiser.

Under Tommy Dunne, Galway earned promotion from the First Division last year via the play-offs with wins over Shelbourne and UCD. It’s a far cry from the club’s recent troubles, which saw Galway United withdraw from the league after their relegation in 2011.

The Galway United Supporters’ Trust (GUST) were unsuccessful in obtaining a licence the following year but, in 2013, Galway FC was formed as part of a collaboration with Salthill Devon and Mervue United.

Having reclaimed the club’s original name back in October, they are putting together the final preparations for Friday night and captain Paul Sinnott says the presence of President Higgins will add to the occasion.

“He comes to a lot of our matches and he gives us great support,” the midfielder told The42. “It gives you a boost knowing the president is coming to watch you. Even with the crowd, people come to see him and it brings an extra couple of hundred into the stadium.”

I can’t wait for it now. We have been years waiting for this. Last year was a huge success to get Galway back in the Premier Division. It’s massive to big games in Galway again.

“It was a goal of mine to bring Galway back into the top flight. As a city, we a soccer team there that is going to compete at the top level. I’m delighted we’re here now.”

Gary O'Neill with Paul Sinnott Paul Sinnott, seen here facing Shamrock Rovers striker Gary O'Neill back in 2011, is glad to be back in the Premier Division. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Manager Dunne shares the sentiment that the club is a sleeping giant in terms of the potential crowds they could be attracting.

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“Going well, we could possibly command as big a crowd as anybody in the country,” he said. “With Eamonn Deacy Park, it is as good a ground as any with the surface and the facilities, which they are finishing off.

From that aspect, I think we have a lot to offer the league. We’ve got a club that has a lot of potential but to fulfill the potential and to ensure it is run properly, there is a bit of work in that.

The club is doing huge media work in Galway and the surrounding counties.”
On the field, Galway have lost the services of Ireland U19 midfielder Ryan Manning, who joined Queens Park Rangers, Dundalk-bound Paddy Barrett and Limerick’s new signing Vinny Faherty.

They have managed to add experience in defence in the shape of English centre-back, Sam Oji, but will be looking to give youth a chance — even though Dunne won’t have the U19s at his disposal until August at the earliest due to the amalgamation with Salthill and Mervue.

Sam Oji Former Limerick centre-half will add some steel to the backline. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“We have a young group, which is probably not a very well-known group barring one or two players, but if we’re competitive at the start I think we will get the support,” Dunne said.

“It has been difficult as we haven’t had control of the U19s with Mervue United and Salthill. We will be getting them back but when you have players coming through it is an easier transition. We’re going to have to blood a lot of younger players.

“If you look across the league, there are a lot of Galway-born players. The league champions Dundalk had four or five. So there is a lot of potential here and getting the platform to go and perform will be beneficial.

“Hopefully in the future, if there is players produced they will stay in Galway and play with Galway United unless they are going across the water to further their careers in England.”

Originally published at 0630

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Ben Blake

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