Luke McNicholas Interview

Sligo Rovers shot-stopper Luke McNicholas spoke to Conall Collier for an article in the match programme for the Premier game against Cork City on Saturday night


Luke McNicholas hails from the Mayo village of Belcarra and is following in the footsteps of his father, Christy, who was also a talented goalkeeper and a well-respected number one for the Balla GAA club for many years.

Luke is the youngest of three children he has a sister Laura and a brother Stephen and proud mum is Martina. Primary school and secondary school was in nearby Balla where he also played Gaelic football and soccer and dabbled, but not seriously, with hurling.

“I played Gaelic football until I was 15, I was in the **TED WEBB Mayo team and it was fine playing both for a while, but when the chance came to sign for Sligo Rovers, I had to make a choice, it was as simple as that,” said Luke.

“I played with Manulla FC until I was 15 and at that stage, I signed for the Sligo Rovers under-17 team after I went for trials and was selected as a goalkeeper with potential, I suppose. 

“I had been in with the regional team in Milebush and I had played in the Kennedy Cup for the Mayo League in 2014, Liam Kerrigan and Niall Morahan were on the Sligo / Leitrim team that year as far as I can remember.

“I signed for the Sligo Rovers under-17s in 2015 and continued until 2019 which was my last year with the under-19s,” he added before the conversation expanded to include a discussion about a Mayo team joining the League of Ireland.

“It will be good to get another team from the west of Ireland into the League of Ireland whenever the team from Mayo affiliates over the next few years,” he suggested.

“There might be some competition with Sligo Rovers and Galway Utd, but it’s also possible that it will provide an extra opportunity for some players who mightn’t just make the top grade initially, they will have a chance to go with Mayo where the focus will probably be more on developing local talent initially as distinct from challenging for titles.

“You see Kerry FC in the First Division this year, that’s good for the League overall and a team from Mayo would be similar I presume, although I don’t know much about the plans for the future,” he added.

Luke missed out on the tail end of last season with Sligo Rovers when he was sidelined with an ankle injury. The experienced Richard Brush deputised.

“Last year was my final stint with the Republic of Ireland under-21s and I picked up that ankle injury that kept me out of the Sligo Rovers team towards the end of last season,” he explained.

“All I can do now is continue to produce consistent performances for the club and you never know what’s around the corner in football, I might get another chance at international level, you have to be positive about things like that.

“My debut for the Sligo Rovers first team was in the EA Sports Cup in 2019 against Finn Harps, it was actually 1st April and we lost at Finn Park, Dante Leverock scored our goal, but it was brilliant to get my debut so soon after signing from the 19s.

“I had signed for the club as a 15-year-old hoping that some day I’d get to play for the first team, it was a pity about the result but it was still memorable from a personal perspective.

“I worked hard to get the opportunity and the club had faith in me, I know it’s a bit of a cliche, but it’s a game I’ll never forget.

“Then, I went on loan to Finn Harps in 2021, I didn’t get to play so it wasn’t much of a benefit from a playing perspective, but I learned a lot mentally, how to deal with setbacks, that sort of thing.

“That experience with Finn Harps has stood to me on various occasions since.

“I was able to return to Sligo Rovers in July of 2021 once the window opened and I was thrown into the Europa Conference League action after an ankle injury sidelined Ed (McGinty).

“I featured in both legs of the Europa Conference League tie with Hafnarfjardar and continued then for a few League games and there was the FAI Cup game against Cork City.

“Then I was on loan again, this time with Cliftonville, but that was tough initially as I got Covid two days before their season started in August.

“I had to wait for my chance, I got to play in a Cup competition, but it was about 13 games into the League before I got my chance.

“I played all the games then and we won the League Cup, but missed out on the League title to Linfield by a point.

“The pitch in Solitude is an artificial surface, but it’s a high-quality pitch, I would rate it much better than either Derry City or Dundalk,” he added.

Last year Luke signed a new deal which will keep him at The Showgrounds until the end of the 2024 season and he is determined to make the most of the opportunity.

“When I came back to the Showgrounds, I was number two to Ed (McGinty), it’s a difficult position to be in – a reserve goalkeeper, but you just have to work at your game.

“I started 2022 on loan with Cliftonville, winning the League Cup before returning to Sligo Rovers and I was straight into first team action when Ed (McGinty) transferred to Oxford Utd.

“It worked out well for me, I knew I was good enough, I got the number one jersey and kept a cleansheet in the two games against Motherwell and in the home leg against Viking.

“The away game against Viking was the worst first 20 minutes we could have had, losing Garry (Buckley) and Adam (McDonnell), any team would struggle to cope with that, but we really put it up to them in the second leg and we got the win, that was very important,” he stated.

Looking at the current season, Luke is pragmatic with his opinion about performances.

I asked him about the bizarre goal that was conceded in last season’s FAI Cup tie against Wexford at the Showgrounds.

“When a goalkeeper makes a mistake, everyone notices it, that just goes with the territory,” he said.

The worst reaction to something like that is to feel sorry for yourself, you just have to get on with it quickly and get through the rest of the game.

“I’ll probably catch 100 crosses without any problems and no one will remember them, but the one I drop is what’s remembered.

“One moment in one individual game, you can’t dwell on it, you have to move on from it, there are highs and lows for a goalkeeper that outfield players don’t experience.

“Richard (Brush) is a hugely experienced goalkeeper, he stood in for me last season and he is a great help with advice when its needed.

“Hopefully, we can push on now for the remainder of the season and give the supporters something to cheer about over the next few months,” he concluded.

** TED WEBB died tragically in a car accident in 1975 and at the time of his death the 21-year-old was a key member of the Mayo GAA senior football team.