By Robert O’Reilly
Drogheda United made the perfect return to Premier Division football after they defeated Galway United 1-0 at Eamonn Deacy Park.
Substitute Gareth McCaffrey struck a late winner nine minutes from time as a rearguard first-half performance proved the catalyst for an opening night victory.
Drogheda manager Pete Mahon gave debuts to Ciaran McGuigan, Gavin Brennan, Killian Brennan and Stephen Elliott with the former Ireland international starting as the lone forward.
The Boynesiders were fortunate not to fall behind inside the opening five minutes as a corner kick to the back post found Vinny Faherty but his strike was tipped onto the crossbar by Stephen McGuinness with the follow-up strike wide.
A ferocious start from the hosts saw them create two further opportunities within ten minutes as Faherty shot tamely at goal having been played through by Marc Ludden while Gary Shanahan’s header produced a smart stop by the alert McGuinness.
Drogheda registered their first shot of the contest moments later when Richie Purdy picked up the ball from deep and he dribbled beyond two players before pulling hist effort wide.
Ciaran McGuigan, who was making his second debut for the club, was proving a steady force at the back for the Drogs and he made a critical interception to deny Galway forward Ronan Murphy from a clear run on goal.
With the game approaching half-time, Drogheda created their best chance of the opening half when a cross from the right by Adam Wixted found Elliott but the forward’s goal bound strike was blocked by Stephen Folan.
if Drogheda were fortunate to go in at the break level, they produced a far more composed performance in the second half as they restricted Shane Keegan’s side to shots from distance.
Interplay out wide between Wixted and Elliott resulted in Drogheda’s next opening as the former saw his strike from 25-yards out deflect behind for a corner.
Substitute McCaffrey was introduced in place of Elliott with a quarter of an hour remaining and he almost made an immediate impact as a mazy run saw him cut inside with his well drilled shot held by Galway keeper Ciaran Nugent.
The former Hibernian youth wasn’t to be denied though as on 81 minutes he latched onto Thomas Byrne’s superb through ball before rounding the keeper and finishing for his seventh goal in 13 games since joining from Shamrock Rovers.
Galway had one final chance to draw level in the dying minutes as a free kick from out wide found Murphy unmarked 12 yards out but he fired high over the bar with the goal at his mercy.
A winning start to life back in the Premier Division for the Drogs and they will fancy their chances of making it two wins from two when they host St Patrick’s Athletic at United Park next Friday.
Gary Shanahan (Padraic Cunningham 18’)
Killian Brennan (Sean Thornton 45’)
Adam Wixted (Thomas Byrne )
Stephen Elliott (Gareth McCaffrey )
Gareth McCaffrey 81’