Ciaran Nugent is an American goalkeeper playing in Ireland's top league. After excelling at Lehigh University, Nugent spent time with the Harrisburg City Islanders before moving to Ireland to play with premier league side Sligo Rovers. Now entering his second year abroad, Nugent gives his takes on the league and the new opportunity for 2017.
You graduated from Lehigh University back in 2014 after being a three year starter with the Hawks. What stands out about your time at Lehigh?
What stood out the most to me at Lehigh was how little emphasis is put on student-athletes playing professionally for all men's and women's sports there, not just in the soccer program. The men's basketball team is the only exception at Lehigh, who have continually put players in the pros each year. When most athletes and coaches are not even thinking about professional aspirations, it is a much different vibe than at larger and more successful athletic schools. Fortunately, Lehigh's proximity to Harrisburg allowed me the chance to train with Harrisburg City in the USL and eventually sign my first pro contract with them.
Americans aren’t really known for going to Ireland. As someone who’s been there for a while, how viable of an option is it for players looking to develop?
The level of play in the League of Ireland Premier Division is generally equated with England's League One and the top few Irish teams being at a lower Championship level. It is somewhat difficult to break into the league since there are so few teams and a large pool of Irish and English goalkeepers for managers to pick from. I'm sure former Pittsburgh and St. Louis City keeper Ryan Thompson can attest it is a great league to develop in since the speed of play is much faster than what we are used to in America. The league has the youngest average age of players of any European league at 24.5 years old. So you are dealing with young, fit pros who all have experience playing in England or are aiming to make the move there.
You spent time stateside before heading to Ireland. Is there anything you wish you would have done sooner - or not at all - when trying to make the jump from college to pro?
Playing PDL for three seasons in college helped a lot, like it does for most guys who end up playing professionally. I was also afforded some time to train with Tim Howard during college which was eye-opening with regard to how much further it is possible to take attention to detail in training and decision making while in goal. If there was anything I wish I could have done sooner, it would have been working on dialing in my distribution and comfort with the ball at my feet. I always had been good with the ball, but the expectations of your manager and teammates increases tenfold when you make the jump to the pros and even more so when you play abroad in Europe.
Are there any common questions you get in Ireland about being an American overseas?
The most common question without a doubt has been, "Who did you vote for, for president?" It is entertaining to see foreign countries have so much more interest in American affairs than most Americans do.
With regards to soccer, I am always asked about how American goalkeepers are usually more talented and athletic than Irish players. Generally, I accredit this question to the strength programs guys go through in college in America while most Irish players never go to college at all. But once again this is a generalization that Europeans have built over the years with historically more American keepers playing on television than Irish keepers. But that I fear, from an American perspective, is slowly changing with the likes of [West Ham goalkeeper, Darren] Randolph, [David] Forde, and [Keiren] Westwood coming up the English ranks.
You ended last season with the Sligo Rovers, allowing only one goal in your last seven starts, and finished fifth in the table. For American fans who may not be familiar with Sligo, give us a rundown of the club.
Sligo Rovers is in Sligo in the Northwest of Ireland. It is a very small area of about 100,000 people and the club plays at The Showgrounds, a 4500 seated soccer stadium. We finished fifth place last year, two spots out of Europa League qualification. Their biggest derby is against Shamrock Rovers, who are out of Dublin. Sligo is managed by the former Peterborough (League One) manager Dave Robertson, which led to me having a bunch of English teammates this year who have had some very impressive youth careers. The rest of the squad is Irish, except for one other American, Pat McCann, who signed at the end of the season.
Obviously ending a season on such a hot streak helps with moving forward with your career. Catch us up where you are now. Are you returning to Sligo or looking elsewhere?
I was given many opportunities to sign back in the USL and also remain in Ireland at the end of this last season. I am proud to announce I have just signed for Galway United who are also in the League of Ireland Premier Division. I am extremely excited to have the opportunity to further prove myself in Europe this coming season. The league kicks of February 24th and will run until November, similar to the American schedule.
You can watch an interview with Nugent here about his first days at his new club. Galway kickoff the season on January 27th against Nugent's old club, Sligo Rovers.