Boyhood dream on hold for Wexford ace McGovern as he prepares for fresh challenge
On Tuesday, Liam Óg McGovern will undergo knee surgery for the second time in a year - but he has a job to do for Wexford before that
Liam Óg McGovern has had a dream since he was a young boy. Big game at Croke Park, Leinster or All-Ireland final ideally, taking on his man, leaving him for dead and ripping a shot into the net.
A week out from Wexford's Leinster semi-final against Kilkenny, McGovern latched onto the type of ball that he loves.
Marking Simon Donohoe in a 15 v 15 training game at Innovate Wexford Park, Jack Guiney's delivery was manna from heaven for a corner forward.
McGovern was feeling good. It was the first time since recovering from cruciate knee ligament damage that he'd thought to himself 'I have you now, I'm back.'
Donohoe's a sticky operator but McGovern was giving him plenty of it.
He recalls: "There was eight months of freshness in me and I was like a young calf running around!
"Physically, I was always in good nick but the bit of hurling was the last to come, a bit of sharpness.
"It took me about six weeks to get that back. I felt confident, I was moving well but about ten minutes into it, I got a ball in the full-forward line, Jack played a ball into me. I went to take on my man.
"I turned really sharp and while I'd learned how to turn and jump and shoot and everything, in that game scenario, you go back to your instincts.
"I turned really sharp and I heard the crunch, the famous 'pop'.
"I knew something was amiss, same right knee."
It was the knee he'd first damaged playing for his club St Anne's against Naomh Éanna in Bellefield last August.
Rehabilitation was tough but McGovern was ready for it.
He explains how he's "forensic" in his preparation and self-analysis and the 2017 championship draw, conducted last November, provided him with a very definite goal.
There was a very strong chance that Wexford would meet Kilkenny in a Leinster semi-final on June 10 - and McGovern would be involved.
The appointment of Davy Fitzgerald as Wexford's new manager had also sent expectation levels soaring in the county.
McGovern wanted to play his part but he remembers getting off to a slightly inauspicious start.
He says: "We met him for the first time in the Seafield Hotel, as a group. I think I was a bit late coming in for the meeting, there were a few of us and we got 'that' face, to show that it wasn't welcome to be a couple of minutes late.
"We quickly knew where we stood with that. "
McGovern sat out the League campaign as Wexford gained promotion from Division 1B of the Allianz League but he was ticking all of the right boxes in his recovery.
With five minutes remaining in Wexford's Leinster quarter-final victory over Laois on May 28, McGovern came off the bench to replace Paul Morris. He was back - and had two weeks to stake a claim for Kilkenny.
But on Tuesday, he'll undergo surgery for the second time in a year, to repair his ACL.
McGovern says: "I delayed it a few days until after the Leinster final.
"I want to able to watch the game with a bit of comfort."
He remembers the 30 seconds after crumpling in a heap on the ground, screaming "not necessarily out of pain, it was more the road I'd came and the road I was to go down.
"I walked off and I'm lying on the side of the pitch.
"Everything's going through my head - how did it happen, was it different this time, what did it feel like? People are coming over to you but you just want your bit of time and space to yourself.
"The physio comes over and he usually does that cruciate test, to determine whether it's gone or not."
McGovern studied Harry Goff's face, looking for clues.
"He didn't say 'yeah' or 'no' but his facial expression didn't look great.
"I looked up at the sky then, and cursed to myself.
"The kit-men, John and Nigel, brought me home.
"They went out of their way to drop me back to the home place. I had Dad and my brother (Cian) were there and we were talking over things."
McGovern held out some hope as the swelling in his knee wasn't too bad but woke that night and it was up like a balloon.
It was a Bank Holiday weekend and McGovern had to wait until Tuesday evening for an MRI scan at the Santry Sports Surgery clinic.
On Wednesday, the news was confirmed. Deep down, he knew anyway.
When we meet on Tuesday afternoon, at Dublin's Skylon Hotel, McGovern's in good form.
He's on a break from a work course with employers Oracle Digital and bounds in with a killer smile.
He explains how he's been running a lot in the last week or two, acutely aware that post-surgery, he won't be able to do that for 12 weeks.
He says: "I can run as normal in straight lines but when it comes to pivoting and twisting and turning, that's when issues arise."
Fitzgerald's been good to him since the injury, extending an invitation to McGovern to come on board as forwards coach.
McGovern smiles: "I didn't have to think too long about it.
"It offered a wonderful opportunity to work alongside him. I gladly took it and that certainly helped distract me over the last couple of weeks and I've really enjoyed it so far."
For the momentous Kilkenny victory, in front of a raucous home crowd, McGovern sat in the stand with the Wexford stats team, struggling to keep his emotions in check.
He admits: "It was tough looking at it. I was absolutely delighted for the boys.
"I've soldiered with these lads from U-16 and we've been through the mill. To put in a solid performance like that against Kilkenny, delighted for them. Not to be involved, I'm not going to lie, it wasn't easy looking at it.
"Sunday's going to be the same again but I've a role to do and you can't get involved emotionally on both sides of things - you have to look at it with a cool head.
"I'd still love to be playing but that's not an option."