Stephen O’Donnell’s programme notes for the first home game of the 2024 SSE Airtricity Men’s Premier Divison season against Galway United.

I’d like to welcome you all to Oriel Park for our first home game of the new season.

As a Galway man, it’s good to see Galway United back in the Premier Division. Galway is a big sporting city and I think it’s important that you have clubs from the provinces in the top division.

It gives a really good spread to the league and Eamonn Deacy Park is also a good place to go and play. It’s good to see them back and hopefully, they can stay here for quite a while.

Under John Caulfield, Galway have proved to be very solid and there wasn’t much in their 1-0 defeat against St Patrick’s Athletic at all last week. The early goal for Pat’s decided it. The conditions and the pitch were poor but Galway probably enjoyed most of the territory and possession.

We know what they’re going to be about. They’re going to be very physical, very fit, and very well organised, in and out of possession, and they will be a big threat at set pieces.

They beat us well in the FAI Cup quarter-final last season so they’ll be quite confident coming up here. It’s their first away trip in the Premier Division and they’re going to be very competitive.

From our point of view, it’s still very early in terms of our understanding of each other and how long the group’s been together.

There was a positive reaction to last Friday’s result in Tallaght, which I can understand, but we want to get to a place where we aren’t celebrating draws.

I wasn’t surprised by the display. I know that we have good players here and there’s a good camaraderie amongst the group.

There was obviously an element of wondering how a new-look team would get on when the lights were on in the first game of the season but, looking back at it, I was very happy with our set-up out of possession and how we controlled the game.

Even though we didn’t have massive amounts of the ball, particularly in the first half, we controlled how the game was played and Rovers struggled to penetrate us and got a little bit frustrated.

As well as being a tough game, I thought it was a really good fitness exercise. Tallaght is probably the biggest pitch you’re going to play on in this league so to get that test in the first game of the season was great from a conditioning standpoint.

We have a really good, honest bunch, and we want to get to a place where that work ethic and application is a given. Once you have that, you have a great foundation to build upon.

The layer we want to add to that is the more intricate things and to being in control when we have possession.

Finally, there’s been a mood of optimism around the town this week and hopefully, there’s a big crowd at Oriel on Friday night.

There’s a huge want from everyone here to integrate the club with the fans and the town again.

Our fans have had to contend with some turbulence over the last four seasons and we’ve had different owners during that period so I can understand people might have been thinking: ‘Here we go again’ at the start of the year.

Our new owner Brian Ainscough came in at the start of December and I feel that we now have some stability and that this is a long-term project and adventure that everyone can now get behind and be excited by.

I keep going back to 2013 but there was an edge and a hunger around the club – and the town. We felt like we were the underdogs and we need to try and get that feeling back.

Financially, or in terms of resources, there’s nothing that gives us an edge over others.

In comparison to where the club was five or six years ago, we’re making our way back up the mountain and we need to fight and scrap for every point and bit of success we get.

The staff all know that, the players know that, and if we can get the fans on the same page, it can be a very powerful force.

Enjoy the match, Stephen O’Donnell