Almost three years since a brutal on field attack left him for dead, Mark McGovern has made a sensational return to the sport that almost claimed his life.
The Belfast Telegraph has revealed that the young sports star was back wearing his Belco O’Rahilly’s GAA uniform over the past weekend for the first time since suffering injuries which left him in a coma for five weeks.
The injuries happened in 2011 while Mark was playing with Ulster in the Gaelic Football league in San Francisco, where he was living at the time.
The talented young man, who had played for Fermanagh at home, received a blow to the head which left him in a coma for five weeks. At the time medical professionals said he was 97% brain dead.
Shirley Stiver, a neurosurgeon at San Francisco General Hospital who treated Mark, described 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.”
The Belfast Telegraph reports that he was an unused substitute during his home club's one-point defeat to Aghadrumsee St Macartans last weekend.
McGovern said, "I am only going to play 10, 15 minutes at a time." 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, fulfilling 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."
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 at the time.
Speaking on Irish television he said, “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.”
Mark now works in Croke Park, working with 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."
Here Mark McGovern talks to Acquired Brain Injury Ireland about living through his brain injury: