New signing Place proud of who he’s become after coming through foster care

By Gerard Mulreaney (@gerardmulreaney)

Galway United manager Alan Murphy recently secured the signing of striker Michael (Mikey) Place after chasing him for over two years.

Place 21, from Dunmore knows all about the club, having gone to support the team in Eamonn Deacy Park in his younger days.

He spent the past couple of seasons playing for Galwayman Ollie Horgan’s Finn Harps, where he topped the goalscoring charts in 2018 with 10 goals, helping to secure promotion back to the Premier Division.

Place came up through the foster-care system, something he hasn’t shared before, but he feels that he’s now ready to help others who may find themselves in a similar position: “I went into foster-care at the age of three, and since then I’ve had 3 different foster families and moved schools a fair bit,” said Place.

“There’s a big part of me that wants to be successful in football and to give any kids that are in my situation someone to look up to and to help them believe more in themselves.

“I’ve loved football ever since I can remember, it’s all I ever wanted to do. There’s been some very hard times which did affect my personal life at stages, but I’ve had great people to support me. My girlfriend lives in Derry and she’s also played a huge part in my life.

“It’s not something many people know about me, because I don’t get asked about it. I wasn’t always open about it, but I’m proud of the person I’ve become today,” added Place.

Foster care is full-time or part-time substitute care for children outside their own home by people other than their biological or adoptive parents or legal guardians. In Ireland there were over 6,000 children in foster-care, with 4,252 registered foster carers, according to the March 2019 figures from the Irish Foster care Association.

Mikey says he has some contact with his birth mother but because he was so young when he went into care it’s a difficult situation to be in. He has a younger brother, who’s only 11 and lives with his dad in Galway. He’s very much looking forward to seeing more of him now that he’s signed for Galway.

United manager Murphy was thrilled to get the signing done: “I’ve put a lot of time into Mikey and he’s a player I have huge ambition for. There’s so much untapped potential within him and I believe next year could be his biggest season yet. Mikey just needs somebody to show that belief in him.”

One of those people who did believe in the young striker early on was Ciaran Masterson, who signed him for Lucan United. Place said: “At the time I was playing with Lucan I was living in Roscommon. The move to Lucan came about after playing in the Kennedy Cup. Ciaran Masterson, who’s Conor Masterson’s dad, was the coach at the time and he’d seen me play and got chatting to my current coach.

“We then ended up playing them in the SFAI All-Ireland semi-final with my club at the time Lough Harps. The Dublin team beat us 1-0. Not long After that I signed for Lucan United where I spent two years before signing for Sligo. I played with Lucan United for two years, it was a really tough journey, but it really did help to improve my game when I look back, so it was all worthwhile.”

Place began his League of Ireland journey at Sligo Rovers, in their underage teams, as did some of his friends: “Regan Donelon who’s still there was one of them, and he’s also from Dunmore. I went down to train with the U19’s for a few weeks and I loved it, so I ended up signing. A few weeks later it was Gavin Dykes who brought me up to the first team for a friendly match against Motherwell when I was just 16,” said Place.

It didn’t take him long to make his senior debut, as Dave Robertson put him on against St Patrick’s Athletic in Richmond Park. It was a day Place said he’ll never forget: “I’ll never forget it; it was the day before my 18th birthday. I remember saying after the game, ‘yep this is 100% what I want to do with my life.’ it gave me a platform to build on and a feel into what senior football was like.”

He has played under the aforementioned Robertson, Gerard Lyttle, Kenny Shiels and Oliie Horgan so far in his career, all very different characters, so I asked him who has helped him the most with his development as a player. He said: “I think Ollie helped me develop most, not just because he gave me a chance back in summer of 2018 to play week in week out, but he thought me valuable life lessons also and helped me mature into senior football.

“For me personally, 2019 was a really tough year not playing, especially when I came in the season before and put in some really good performances and got top scorer for the club. It was a bit of confidence booster at the time, but then I only got to play a handful of games…”

With the new season just around the corner Place is looking forward to working with his new manager Murphy: “Alan’s been keen to get me in since I signed at Harps, he’s someone who believes in my ability and that’s a massive confidence booster for me.

“He’s a manager I know that likes to try and play football which I think will suit me a lot better. He also told me his ambitions and what the club are trying to achieve over the next while, it sounded very exciting and I’m hoping I’ll play a big part for the club in that.

“I’ve been working my socks of this off-season so I’m hoping to come into the new season fit, sharp and ready to play. I hope to help the club achieve their goals for this season and I’m sure the rest will follow,” said Place.

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