Appearing on Ireland’s Late Late Show Friday, Fermanagh GAA star Mark McGovern - who spent more than a month in a coma following an on-field assault in San Francisco last summer - told host Ryan Tubridy that he forgives his attacker.
“I don’t want to be made out to be a saint or anything,” McGovern (23) said. “But when I woke up from the coma, there was a feeling inside me that I had to, and I wanted to, forgive.”
McGovern has made what has been hailed as a “miracle” recovery from the injuries he sustained in the June 25, 2011 incident, when he is believed to have been punched in the head in the game between Celts and Ulster which marked his first appearance for the Ulster club. The Belcoo O’Rahilly’s clubman has played with Fermanagh at Minor, Under-21 and Senior levels.
Opposition player Patrick Power (26) was arrested over the incident but was released without charge.
He received a 96-week Gaelic games ban from a San Francisco Competitions Control Committee.
Though many had called for a life ban, such punishment is normally restricted to assaults on officials.
Despite saying he forgives his attacker, McGovern reserved strong criticism for the powers that be.
“Like everyone else in Ireland, I’m sure, I just look at it as a disgrace,” he said of the suspension. “I believe if you touch an official…you get life. And yet, a 96-week ban for nearly killing a man? I don’t know.”
After the assault, McGovern regained consciousness at the start of August and made a remarkable recovery at San Francisco’s Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center. He had to re-learn how to walk and talk, after being described as “97.5% dead” at one point.
The McGovern family – who flew immediately to San Francisco upon hearing the news and maintained a long bedside vigil - faces a medical bill of some $1.1 million, with communities across Ireland and the US rallying to raise funds.
Shirley Stiver, a neurosurgeon at San Francisco General Hospital who treated Mark and was also on the show, labeled his recovery as “definitely not common,” and said the footballer’s family and girlfriend Jessica Turley – who helped him to speak again - played a huge role.
“We’ve had a few miracles,” she said. “And I think Mark would probably fit into that category. We have many patients who don’t have that kind of support and they just get lost.”
Although McGovern’s hopes of a future GAA playing career have been dashed, he said he’s keen to remain involved in sports, and has looked at a few sports-related university courses. “I can still golf!” he said of his new number one hobby.
Remembering a great deal of the fateful match, McGovern said the trouble started once he was switched from wing back to midfield at the start of the second half.
“Within seconds he hit me a box in the ribs,” he said of his direct marker. “He continued that for about five minutes into it…it never stopped. I kept running thinking I’d lose him, but everywhere I turned he was there.”
Describing at one point retreating to help out his defense, he said the last thing he remembered was the ball being cleared, and then: “Bang. And I woke up in hospital a month later.”
He’s moved on, though, as much for himself as for his attacker.
“It’s not his fault that he’s this kinda guy, that he carried out such an assault. It’s not his fault. So I have to forgive him, I just have to.”
If you would like to help Mark and his family to offset the huge medical costs incurred, online donations can be made at support4markmcgovern.com.
Mark McGovern on the Late Late Show 2012 Part 1:
Mark McGovern on the Late Late Show 2012 Part 2: