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John McGovern eager to make up for false start with Down seniors

Thursday 16th May 2024

Former U20 star keen to put forgettable debut behind him and help Mournemen back to Sam Maguire football

John McGovern’s senior debut for Down may have been largely forgettable, but it’s something that has being playing on the Ballyholland man’s mind ever since.

The final round Division Three game against Clare at the tail-end of March may have been a success from a Down point of view as an 11-point win sealed promotion to Division Two, but for McGovern personally, it was less than spectacular.

Introduced as a 19th-minute substitute for James Guinness, he received a black card on 26 minutes and when the 10-minute sinbin period had elapsed, he lasted just a further four minutes before making way for Oisin Savage.

He had played a full 90 minutes the previous day for Newry City in their Sports Direct Premiership defeat to Crusaders.

McGovern was then a surprise starter for Down in their Division Three final encounter with Westmeath, but was replaced in the second before the Mournemen succumbed to two late goals in defeat to the Lake county.

He did not feature in Down’s two Ulster SFC matches against Antrim and Armagh but bounded onto the Páirc Esler pitch in the second half of their Tailteann Cup opener against Limerick last Saturday with the look of a man on a mission.

His all-action style may still need the rough edges smoothed out at this level, but he thumped over three emphatic points as the pre-tournament favourites kicked off their campaign with a 14-point victory.

“I think the last day out, when I made my debut here, it didn’t go to plan, so I sort of had to rectify that,” McGovern said.

“I came on, did a job, the team did a job and I think we owed the fans a performance as well and we executed our gameplan really well. I think the scoreline shows that.”

John McGovern in action for Down in their Tailteann Cup match against Limerick in Páirc Esler Picture: Philip Walsh
John McGovern in action for Down in their Tailteann Cup match against Limerick in Páirc Esler Picture: Philip Walsh

Coming on the back of their agonising defeat to Armagh in the semi-final of the Ulster SFC, their first group in the Tailteann Cup lacked the the intensity and standard of opponent, but McGovern insists that there is still pressure on Down to perform and progress in Conor Laverty’s second season at the helm.

“There’s as much pressure on today as there was before. We want to win every single game from here on in and we want to play Sam Maguire football next year. That’s the be all and end all and final goal for us,” he said.

“I wouldn’t say there is any less pressure on the games coming up. Maybe, some may say they’re against lesser teams, but at the end of the day we have to get the job done and we want to get towards our end goal.”

“The main thing for me was just coming on and trying to get on the scoresheet. I think, overall, we did really well, we created lots and lots of chances. Maybe we could have taken a few more chances. But I think we did well to get ourselves into them positions and take our scores at the end of the day. It was my team-mates who put me into the position to take them scores, so all credit to them. It was a great team performance.”

Newry City’s unsuccessful battle against relegation from the Sports Direct Premiership may have occupying much of McGovern’s attention in recent months, but with the soccer season now over, and the former Northern Ireland U21 international’s future with his hometown club uncertain, Down manager Conor Laverty believes that giving his full focus to Gaelic football in the immediate future will be of mutual benefit to player and team.

Laverty said: John’s a great player and now that Newry’s season is finished, he’ll be with us full-time now and that’ll only benefit him becoming the player that he can be.”