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McNicholas loving northern life

Sport

ON THE BALL Luke McNicholas from Belcarra is pictured during a Republic of Ireland Under-21s portrait session back in November. Pic: Sportsfile

Interview
John Corless

WHEN The Mayo News last caught up with Belcarra native and Sligo Rovers goalkeeper, Luke McNicholas, he had just gone out on loan to Belfast club, Cliftonville, who play in the Dankse Bank Premiership – the 12-team top division of soccer in the North.  
That was in August.
So we thought it was time to check on how he is getting on and how he was finding life in Belfast.
“I live about five hundred metres from Solitude, the Cliftonville pitch, which is very handy,” Luke began.
“It’s different to living in Belcarra. There’s a lot more buildings for a start. And a lot more things to do. But it is a quiet area; you wouldn’t be woken up at night by people roaring or cars beeping or anything. I am sharing accommodation with Luke Turner, a centre back who is from Dublin, but is on loan from Aberdeen.
“He’s a sound lad, we get on well together.”
It’s difficult to imagine anyone that Luke McNicholas wouldn’t get along with, given his pleasant manner and positive attitude.
At the time of writing, Cliftonville are in second place in the table, two points behind leaders, Linfield.
“Linfield are a good team they are the top of the table for a reason,” said the former Manulla custodian.
“They have a lot of good players with a lot of experience. And of course they are full-time. “But we’re up there with them. We’ve played them three times; drawing two and losing the other 1-0.”
Luke was out injured at the start of the season, but he got into the team after ten games and has established himself as the number one that he wears on his back.
“The northern crowds don’t give me any abuse for being a southerner, I just get the usual abuse from the opposition fans that you would get anywhere,” he continued.
“The training is different from Sligo. Sligo is a full-time environment with training first thing in the morning so you have the afternoon kinda to yourself. Up here is like it was at Finn Harps with the training in the evening, so you are waiting around during the day.
“We train for about two hours every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and then we have the game on Saturday. I do gym sessions and mobility sessions during the day.
“We train in the stadium. It has a latest generation astro turf surface. The astro is a lot harder to dive on, it can leave your hips and elbows and heels sore! The flight of the ball and the bounce is different too, to grass. I’d prefer grass but the astro is okay. You get used to it.”
Luke McNicholas told The Mayo News that he tries to get home every second weekend, depending on the match schedule.
“Some games suit better than others for getting home; Portadown away, Dungannon away or Glenavon in Lurgan. They’re all thirty or forty minutes in the general direction of Mayo, so if the schedule suited, I would go on home from those games.”
He says the most thing he misses from home is his mother’s cooking.
“I’m improving in the kitchen, but it is a lot more of an effort when you are cooking full-time for yourself. Plus, I have to do all the shopping.”
The twenty-two year-old says he is glad he made the move last summer, especially to gain match experience.
“It’s great to be in a title-fight and have the pressure on you to know that you are fighting to stay at the top. It’s a fantastic experience and education.”
Cliftonville boss, Paddy McLoughlin, is full of praise for his Mayo goalkeeper.
“Luke is doing really, really well. Once he recovered from the spell he was out, he showed us how fit he was, and his attitude to training, he has been outstanding,” Paddy told The Mayo News.
“We have great contacts with Sligo,” he added. “Richard Brush, the Sligo reserve keeper, played for Cliftonville for many years and I keep in touch with him.  Richard was telling us about the quality of goalkeepers they had and he told me about Luke.  
“We’re very thankful to ‘Brushie’ for that. Luke has been a top professional and a top player for us and we’re delighted to have him for the season.”

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