Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Back in the game, the GAA player left 97.5% dead after horrific assault during US match

Making a comeback: Mark McGovern before his trauma

Three years after he almost died following an on-field attack a GAA star is set to make a remarkable comeback, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Mark McGovern was left in a coma after the incident, but at the weekend he was back in a Belcoo O'Rahilly's kit for the first time since suffering horrific head injuries.

In June 2011 McGovern, who had played Gaelic football for Fermanagh, was spending the summer in San Francisco, lining out for the city's Ulster club, when he sustained the injury from a blow to the head.

He spent five weeks in the coma, with one of his doctors later informing him he was "97.5% dead".

His assailant, Patrick Power of the Celts club, was punished by the GAA with a 96-week suspension.

At the time it was hailed as a miracle recovery, aided by the support of his parents and three sisters who kept a vigil by his bedside, and then stayed while he recuperated in California.

He continues to make great strides and last Saturday he took another step along the road when he was an unused substitute during his home club's one-point defeat to Aghadrumsee St Macartans.

"I am only going to play 10, 15 minutes at a time," McGovern said. He admitted he might never get back to where he was as a player.

"Even now I am so far behind. I would be wrecked at the pace of the game.

"The speed would be brutal for me to follow.

"I brought my gear and then I saw that there wasn't any great numbers there.

"So I asked the manager if it could happen, and I am there if they want to put me on.

"I know that I need to do some more training sessions to see if I am able to take a few hits." Almost three summers on and he revealed that the time spent in a coma and in recovery dragged very slowly.

He gave himself a permanent reminder of his experience when during his recovery he got a King Charles dog, the fulfilment of a promise to himself.

He named it Shirley, after Shirley Stiver, the surgeon who operated on him at the San Francisco General Hospital.

"It does all come back to me in bits, over the last few months," he said.

"I do think of it a lot but I try to think of all the good bits. I have to.

"Like my first walk, taking my first step, saying my first word again.

"I try to think of the steps I took on my way to recovery, the different stages, thinking of where I was and where I am now, and I can do that."

QUOTE

On completion of his studies Mark returned to Ireland and gained employment in Croke Park, working within the player welfare structure. He is also an ambassador for Acquired Brain Injury Ireland. He said: "At the minute I am doing work with the health side of things, injury prevention work from the workshops, and I am helping out with the refereeing administration. It's not clearly defined, I am doing a number of roles but most days I would be looking after player welfare and dealing with transfers."

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