United came into the game on the back of a morale-boosting first league win of the season against Bohemians on Friday night, but it was hard to reconcile the side that took all three points from Dalymount Park with the one that rolled over so insipidly against the Ulster Senior League side last night.
After the final whistle, the Cockhill players and management gathered in front of the scoreboard for a souvenir photograph, as did the group of around 30 fans that made the 350-mile round trip from Buncrana for the game, and they deserved their moment of glory as they were the better team on the night.
That is a terrible indictment on the near full-strength United side which started the game, but also shows the lack of strength-in-depth at manager Sean Connor’s disposal. Goalkeeper Greg Fleming was named on the bench, while the Dublin-based trio of Brian Cash, Barry Ryan and Shaun Maher were all given the night off, and the absence of those four was sorely felt.
Connor will never admit it, but it is hard to argue with the idea that some of the United squad are just not up to the level required to play in the Premier Division. Given the low budget at his disposal, his hands are tied in that matter.
What he doesn’t need is a run of injuries to rob him of his more experienced players, but the signs that it wasn’t going to be United’s night came as early as the first minute when Gary Curran appeared to land awkwardly, and he limped off to be replaced by Neal Keane and is likely to be out for a number of weeks.
United shaded matters early on without every really testing the visitors, although Stephen Walsh came close in the eighth minute when getting on the end of Karl Moore’s corner, but his bullet header flew wide.
Visiting ‘keeper Stephen Conroy was up to the task when tested by Alan Murphy from 25 yards in the 20th minute, but he was beaten in the 36th minute when Joe Yoffe got on the end of Keane’s ball across the six yard box, the striker’s scuffed effort having enough on it to find its way to the net.
The goal should have settled United nerves and set up a passage into the Second Round, but their Donegal visitors had other ideas and were back on level terms within a minute. Shaun Kelly conceded a free-kick from the restart, Gerry Gill whipped the set-piece into the box, and William O’Connor headed towards Conor Winn’s right post where it was met by a flying header by Patrick McKinney for the equaliser.
Worse was to come for United before the break, and again it came from the aerial route. Mark Moran made space down the left before sending in a cross which Winn should have dealt with, but under little pressure he opted to punch the ball rather than catch it.
His fisted effort fell to Gill, who sent the ball straight back into the danger area, and once again McKinney was on hand to head home for a half-time lead.
United should still have had enough in the tank to claw their way back into the game in the second half, but the issue was put beyond doubt in the 50th minute after the combination of Gill and McKinney once again paid dividends.
Gill burned Shaun Kelly down the left and whipped in a cross, and despite United having three bodies in the box, it was McKinney who showed the greater hunger to power yet another header past Winn for his hat-trick.
United heads dropped as passes went astray, and the more worrying aspect for United fans was the lack of heart for battle in the players. Players were less than fully committed in the tackle, too many balls were given up as lost causes, and there was no real fight in the side once they fell two goals behind.
The fact that United’s first effort on target in the second half came seven minutes from time tells its own story, and the hope has to be that United will go out against Sligo Rovers in the Connacht derby in Terryland Park with a point to prove, when a win will soon see last night’s poor display soon forgotten.
Galway United: Winn; Shaun Kelly, Sinnott, Duffy (Gartlan h-t), Walsh; Moore, Sean Kelly, Curran (inj, Keane 6; Keogh 65), G Kelly; Yoffe, Murphy.
Cockhill Celtic: Conroy; K McLaughlin, O’Connor, McElroy, W McLaughlin; L O’Donnell, McDermott, Bradley, Gill; Moran (Doherty 73), McKinney (A O’Donnell 83).
Referee: Brendan Kelly (Offaly).