Newry City ace John McGovern still hankers after GAA career

Danske Bank Irish Premiership: Newry City v Larne (tomorrow, Newry Showgrounds, 3pm)

IN-DEMAND Newry City attacker John McGovern still harbours ambitions of playing for the Down footballers and also wants to earn more U21 international caps with Northern Ireland.

With several top Irish League clubs showing a keen interest in the former Down minor captain, McGovern has no intentions of leaving his local club.

But if the Irish League and GAA schedules allow it, the 20-year-old ace would like to resume his inter-county career at some point.

“Obviously at the minute, I prefer playing soccer, especially with the opportunities I’ve got with Newry, playing for the Northern Ireland U21s and doing a bit of travelling with them. But I’ve been playing Gaelic since I was no age, so I’ve that natural love for the sport.

“I think I’d prefer Gaelic because I like the hard-hitting aspect of it. I’d also prefer to watch a good Gaelic game over soccer.”

The fact that McGovern won an U20 Ulster title in 2021 under the tutelage of Conor Laverty, now Down senior manager, is an added incentive for the Ballyholland man.

“Conor is quality. He is one of the best coaches I’ve ever played under. He’s a complete and utter winner.

“It was his winning mentality and his knowledge of the game, his will to win and trying to be as successful as possible. The bond he had with his players was unbelievable.

“Some managers don’t always have good connections with their players but Conor got on with the whole team and we really bonded. He knew everybody’s personality even though there are loads of different personalities in a changing room and people respond to different things. He knew everyone inside out.

“Obviously I’d still keep in contact with boys who are still playing for Down and I’d love to go back. A few of them would say about coming down to training… It depends... If the soccer finishes up around April/May time and the Championship is on I could give it a rattle.”

McGovern has resisted several overtures from a couple of full-time Irish League clubs and has prioritised his studies at Queen’s University.

“There was interest from different clubs but Newry have facilitated me really well,” he said.

“I can get my degree as well as playing at a high level of football. If you go to a full-time club you’re completely committing your life to it.

“I obviously want to get my education and have that. Very few people get the chance to play full-time football and even at that it’s very short-lived. My parents would have pushed education which is important.

“I’ve been playing for Newry since I was 16 so you obviously have loyalties there too and I want the club to stay in the Premiership because we’re good enough to do so. To keep Newry up and where we should be. I also want to play more games for Northern Ireland U21s...”

In his early teens, McGovern was playing a bit of football for local junior club Windmill Stars before taking a year out to concentrate on playing for James McCartan’s Down minors.

But when the chance arose again to play a bit of soccer, his father got in touch with Newry boss Darren Mullen and after a short trial period, it was clear McGovern had rich potential.

In Newry’s Championship winning season in the second tier, McGovern was voted Player of the Year and has received admiring glances from higher-ranked clubs ever since.

But, after a three-month lay-off following a groin muscle tear, the Queen’s student is solely focused on building on last Tuesday’s 0-0 draw with Ballymena United, which arrested a nine-game losing streak, when they host league title contenders Larne at the Showgrounds tomorrow afternoon.

“Some boys were thinking we’d never win another game and that sort of thing. To be fair, there are good leaders in the team and massive credit must go to Darren King – he is an unbelievable leader. He got everyone together and raised morale.

“We were playing good football but just weren’t getting the results. But we couldn’t lose sight of the goal which is staying in the Premiership."

McGovern added: “For me, personally, the difference between the Championship and the Premiership is the time on the ball – you’re closed down a lot faster.

“If you give the ball away, you’re punished because you’re playing against boys that are full-time, training every day and are really, really sharp. Whereas in the Championship you will get away with a few mistakes.”