‘I don’t want him to touch an O’Neills ball again’

THE Fermanagh footballer who was left in a coma for five weeks this summer has criticised the GAA for their relaxed attitude towards violence on the pitch.

Mark McGovern was hit off the ball during a club game in San Francisco in June, and his friends and family were initially told he may not make it through the night. In an exclusive interview in tomorrow’s Irish Examiner, the 23-year-old said he has forgiven his assailant, American Patrick Power, but is furious with GAA over the maximum 96-week ban that was handed down.

“You give an official a slap in the arse, you are gone for life,” said McGovern who lined out for his county in the McKenna Cup just under a year ago. “I was nearly killed and he gets 96 weeks. I’m good at moving on but I’ll stand in front of those changing rooms if they let him play again. I don’t want him to touch an O’Neills ball again. Football was such a big part of my life and it was taken away from me. But the position I’m in now, other than him playing football again, I feel nothing against him really. I feel sorry for him being that type of person and he’s now in a far worse position than me. I’m back on my feet and he has to live with this. But when championship comes around and I can’t play and I can’t train, I don’t know what way I’ll be. Maybe then I’ll go outside and scream at the top of my voice.”

The incident took place during a match between McGovern’s Ulster club and San Francisco Celts and have left Power at the centre of an ongoing investigation by American police. McGovern’s neighbour in Belcoo and teammate that day, Emmet Scollan, described to the Irish Examiner his recollections of the terrifying incident.

“He kept going into seizures and there was blood frothing at his mouth. It was scary and obvious it was more than someone being knocked out.”

Professor Shirley Stiver, a neurosurgeon at San Francisco General Hospital, suggested that “the kind of injury that Mark has is deep inside the brain. It’s the kind of injury that we see when someone has a high speed motor vehicle accident. Many times similar patients with a very similar neurological exam or x-ray picture would have died on the scene.”

Mark’s father, who spent the summer at his son’s bedside along with the rest of the family, also criticised the GAA as they are now left with a $1.1m medical bill. “In the end the GAA helped us out as regards financial assistance but before that they never contacted us for the first four to five weeks,” said Danny McGovern.

“Also, had the BBC not come over and done a story about us would they have changed the rules regarding insurance?”

McGovern, who had to travel home over land due to the dangers of cabin pressure on brain injuries, is making a good recovery but is still unsure of his future. “I get into dazes. Once my eye catches something I’ll spend three or four minutes staring at it before I snap out of it. I tell myself to stop but that doesn’t work. When I’m talking, a word won’t come and I’ll have to use four or five words to explain it. It could be something so simple and I end up relying on the person beside me to think of it. I need to take a nap in the day. So I’m worried about finding a company that will take me on and give me a fair shot. At times I feel lost.”

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