Police have identified a person of interest in the case of a young Irishman who suffered major head trauma during a Gaelic football match Saturday on Treasure Island.
Police won’t name the person, but Officer Albie Esparza said he was seen standing over footballer Mark McGovern during an off-the-ball fracas that put the 22-year-old athlete into a coma. McGovern is in critical condition at San Francisco General Hospital.
Exactly what happened is unclear, but the case has become something of an international incident, attracting media coverage in Ireland and England.
McGovern was playing for Ulster San Francisco, a club of the local Gaelic Athletic Association that recruits promising athletes from Ireland. Ulster was playing against The Celts, a club that is “mostly made up of American-born players,” according to the association’s website, which also says the other clubs are made up mostly of Irish students.
Esparza said McGovern’s teammates noticed he was on the ground during the match and saw American players on the opposing team standing over him. An Ulster player told police at the scene that he heard a player on the opposing team, The Celts, say, “You won’t get up from that.”
Ger McCarthy, a bartender at the Inner Richmond’s Abbey Tavern, where some of the athletes hang out, said sometimes the Americans in the league play with a little “more of an edge” to prove they’re equal to their homeland brethren.
People close to the sport in San Francisco say natural rivalries are created due to the small number of teams in the league. But McCarthy, who is also involved with a Gaelic Athletic Association club, said people shouldn’t read too much into what happened to McGovern at Saturday’s match.
“It was an isolated incident,” McCarthy said.
Ulster coach Joe Duffy said he also believes the dispute was a freak occurrence and nothing more.
“The game wasn’t a dirty game of football,” Duffy said. “We all get along good.”
McGovern’s family has flown to the United States to be at his bedside.
Belcoo O’Rahilly’s, McGovern’s Irish team, said in a statement that the young footballer was “exceptionally talented” and one of the most decorated players on the team.
Duffy said McGovern was in San Francisco for the summer with two other Irish recruits and the trio lived in the South of Market area. McGovern came over as a so-called “J-1er,” a reference to the J-1 student work visa that allows athletes to come to the U.S. and establish connections through the football clubs and get short-term work.