NET GAINS Luke McNicholas is pictured in Castlebar last week. Pic: John Corless
Luke McNicholas is now Sligo Rovers’ first-choice goalkeeper
WHEN Ed McGinty left Sligo Rovers on a permanent transfer to Oxford United in July it opened the door for Belcarra native, Luke McNicholas, to finally nail down the number one goalkeeping spot at The Showgrounds.
McNicholas, who is 22 years of age, joined Rovers in 2018 and spent a season on loan with Finn Harps where he was number two to their stopper, Mark McGinley. He spent last season with Belfast side, Cliftonville, as their number one in Northern Ireland’s Premier League.
“We came second to Linfield, missing out by a point,” Luke told The Mayo News.
“We should have won it really, but that’s football. It was different from Sligo because Cliftonville are part-time and because I was living in Belfast, right near the ground, I had a lot of free time during the day. That was spent cooking and cleaning the house, and I spent a lot of time doing mobility work to complement the training I did at the club.”
Luke said that Cliftonville played and trained on an artificial pitch and Astro is a lot tougher on the body, than playing on grass.
“It does take its toll on the body of a goalkeeper,” Luke said. “You get cuts and bruises on your hips that you wouldn’t get on grass, but it was a new Astro so it wasn’t as bad as the old ones.”
Luke loved the Cliftonville fans.
“They are the best in the league up there. Hundreds of them came to every away game, and we had a lot of sell-outs at home. The fan support was unbelievable up there.”
So what about the noise at the likes of Windsor Park, with thousands of Linfield supporters trying to put a player off his game?
“I'm able to block out the noise,” Luke explained. “When I'm playing, I'm just concentrating on the game, so I don't really take much notice of people shouting. Obviously at some grounds, they're right beside the touchline, when you're taking a goal kick, you can hear the comments but I just laugh it off.
“I think it's funny how they get so angry at me just because I play for a certain team.
“One thing about the noise is that it can be hard to talk to defenders, but you just try your best and the voice does be fairly gone after a match, because you’d be shouting as loud as you can, hoping the defenders can hear you. It was different during Covid because there was nobody in the stadiums, so you could hear nearly everything.”
Luke says that training and preparation for a goalkeeper is totally different from that of an outfield player.
“Goalkeepers are a different breed. We don't need to be running laps and the like, like other players. We concentrate on short, sharp, explosive movements and recreating game-realistic situations, so that when you come across situations in a match, you're ready for it.
“I watch a lot of videos of top ‘keepers in action,” Luke explains.
“My favourite two goalkeepers at the moment are Alisson of Liverpool and Stegen the Barcelona ‘keeper. I study how they prepare and react. As a ‘keeper whatever happens in a match, you just have to deal with it. You have to react. An outfield player might be able to demand the ball and make something happen or have a strike, whereas if a keeper is looking to do fancy stuff, that's when you start making mistakes.”
Luke says that ‘keepers do a lot of research on how to face a penalty-kick.
“Before each game we’d study the opposition’s penalty-takers and study their approach and which side they’ve shot in the past; where they've scored before and where they've missed. “There's a ‘keepers instinct as well. I always just try and wait as long as possible and just react, but you get these instincts. You can’t just describe it. You just get these feelings they might go one way and you go that way then and hope you get it right.”
Luke was called up for the Irish Under-21 international squad last year.
“I was brought in and there were a few ‘keepers ahead of me at the time. I trained with the team and I was on the bench for the game against Sweden as number two.”
He says his ambition now is to remain as Sligo’s first choice ‘keeper and to qualify for Europe again. He has played in Europe both this season and last, and enjoys the travel and the different experiences.