Conall Collier speaks to Niall Morahan

Conall Collier had a chat with Niall Morahan for an interview that was included in the match programme for Sligo Rovers v Shelbourne last Saturday evening.

Leitrim Village is home for Niall Morahan and by his own admission, it’s not a very big place.

However, Niall has made a little bit of history in 2019 as the first beneficiary of the innovative IT Sligo (as it was then) Scholarship Programme in conjunction with Sligo Rovers.

Fast-forward four years and Niall has completed his exams at the newly-branded ATU Sligo last May with a Level 7 qualification in Business Management.

“My parents encouraged me to pursue my education after I finished secondary school at Carrick-on-Shannon CS, I wasn’t particularly eager at the time, but now I’m glad they pushed me in that direction,” explained Niall.

“The initiative between the College (ATU) and the club (Sligo Rovers) was a tremendous benefit and it certainly helped me in my career choices.

“I wanted to play for Sligo Rovers, but I also was able to get good advice from my parents and from the club and also from the people in ATU.

“It was fairly demanding, combining study and football, doing it successfully, you have to be able to deliver on a couple of fronts. 

“I can say now that full-time football and full-time studying was a new experience, but I was able to adapt with assistance from so many people, for that I am very appreciative,” he added. 

Niall joined Sligo Rovers at 15 years of age in 2015.  He played for Sligo Rovers under-17s, captained the under-19 side and signed his first professional contract in 2018. 

Niall made his international debut for the Republic of Ireland under-19s in 2019 and was a member of the squad for the European qualifiers and European finals in Armenia 2019.  

He scooped the first Wehrly Bros Jewellers Player of the Month award for the 2020 season and in November 2021 he signed a two-year contract with Sligo Rovers that will take him up to the end of this season.

A full-time professional footballer from Leitrim with a mother whose brother won a Connacht SFC medal in 1994. All the ingredients for a successful career at the Showgrounds.

Niall takes up the story:

“Emlyn Mulligan was a Leitrim man who played for Sligo Rovers and I think Keith Byrne played a bit for Longford Town, but I might be the first full-time professional from the county, maybe someone will correct me on that, I’m not sure,” he suggested.

“There aren’t that many teams in Leitrim, there is Manorhamilton Rangers and then there is Carrick Town, they would be the main ones, but it’s great to see so many young players coming through now with the development of under-age football.

“The usual other sports provide alternatives, Gaelic football and hurling, rugby, and of course the population of Leitrim has to be taken into consideration also.

“I played with Carrick Town up until under-14 and then I made the move to Strand Celtic in Sligo.

“I had been going to Sligo at that stage anyway for the Emerging Talent Programme (ETP), I started that at under-12, Donagh Oates and Packie Lynch were the men in charge.

“Some of the other Leitrim lads were beginning to drift away, but I wanted to keep playing and Strand Celtic were good enough to give me the chance as there was a possibility that Carrick mightn’t have a team.

“I had played in the Kennedy Cup for Sligo / Leitrim when I was with Carrick Town, but then when I moved to Strand Celtic, I had the chance to play up an age group and that’s what I wanted to do.

“There were trials at the Showgrounds for Sligo Rovers under-age teams and I got the chance to go from Strand Celtic, I was 15 at the time and I made the selection for the under-17s, I was delighted with that.

“I made my debut for the under-17s against Mervue Utd, it was a real step up from the Sligo / Leitrim League, it was a great experience and I really loved it, just what I wanted at the time,” he recalled.

Regarding the urging by his parents about staying in education, Niall explained that he always got great support from his dad (Michael) and mum (Orla) and his sisters, Dara and Niamh.

“My sisters would have played Gaelic football with Allen Gaels in Drumshanbo, I also played with the club until under-14 level,” he said.

“Gaelic football was big on my mum’s side of the family, her brother won a Connacht SFC medal with Leitrim in 1994, but my dad (Michael) played for Carrick Town.

“I made my debut for the Sligo Rovers senior team against Limerick in 2018 as a substitute and my first start was a bit later that season against Shamrock Rovers in the Showgrounds.

“My first game in Europe, that was another step up in standard, it was against FH (Iceland) in 2021 and then there was the European games last year, great nights for the supporters and memorable from my perspective.

“The target has to be ‘more of that’ as playing in a European competition has so many benefits for everyone involved with the club.

“Looking at the current season, the morale in the dressing room is good, I can honestly say that we have a good group of players and it will come right, but we need it to come right fairly soon, we are all aware of that.

“It’s very frustrating, I can understand that it’s frustrating and disappointing for the supporters, but it’s even more so for the players. 

“I come away from a game and I know that we have played well and haven’t got a result. The only way I can deal with that is to not get too high when things are going well and not get too low when it’s not going well.

“We have to dig in and start grinding out a few results, it’s certainly not down to a lack of effort and determination, we have a good group of players.

“We have players coming back from injury and that will be a big boost for everyone and then we have Pedro (Martello) in as a striker.

“You have to take into account that it will take a few games before we are all on the same wavelength. Pedro’s a good guy and I’m sure he’ll start getting the goals which is just what we want.

“It was disappointing that Max (Mata) and Luke (McNicholas) left the club, but we would all like to see them doing well, that’s the way it is in football. If a player gets a chance, he has to take it as it’s a relatively short career.

“Conor Walsh stepped up and he’s a very good goalkeeper and we have Richard Brush there as well, he is very experienced and he also showed how good he was last season when he stepped in when Luke was injured.

“I have played in a few different positions this season, centre-back, right-back, left-back, all due to injuries to other players, it’s made it very difficult for everyone.

“On the other side of the coin, I’m just glad to get a jersey every week, if I have to play in a different position every week, I’ll take that and do the best I can,” he concluded.