Written by: Johnny McNabb 18 Jan 2022
© Pacemaker Press

Ards defender Jaimie McGovern insists the short career of a footballer means he will continue to play for as long as he can.

The 32-year-old is currently the captain at the County Down club as the Red and White Blue Army try and navigate their way back to the top flight.

Despite admitting he is entering the twilight stage of his career, the hardened defender acknowledged that he still has a love for the game that has brought him so much joy.

“To be honest, hanging up the boots is not something I’ve thought about,” he said.

“I want to play for as long as I can provided my body allows me to.

“I feel like I can play at a high level but once my performances are below a certain limit, then I will make a decision.

“Football is such a short career and if you retire at your own accord, then it can be a regret.

“I think I’ll know when the time is right but I feel good and thankfully I have remained injury free in recent years.

“After leaving Cliftonville, I must say the incentive of getting Ards back into the Premiership is extremely high.

Ards are currently sixth in the Lough 41 Championship standings – ten points shy of league leaders Newry City.

However, McGovern, who has been with John Bailie’s side since 2019, knows a consistent run may see the club earn a promotion/relegation play-off.

“A big thing for us is trying to find consistency as we haven’t won three or four games in a row in the league this season,” he added.

“We know we are ten points off the summit but our target is trying to reel in the teams above us and take it from there.

“We are not giving up on promotion by any means as if we can get some favourable results between now and the end of the season we might finish second and earn a play-off.

“The Championship is so competitive, teams are constantly taking points off each other, so being consistent is key to being near the top of the table.

“To be fair, the club has put in the infrastructure both on and off the pitch to get promotion, so hopefully we can achieve that soon.”

© Presseye

McGovern, who was born and raised in Larne, would swap the harbour town for Birmingham at the age of 16 to be on the books of West Bromwich Albion – although his experience didn’t have the gloss he thought it would have.

“Football academies back then are probably not as good as they are now in terms of the off the pitch development and everything else,” he continued.

“It was a complete culture shock living in Birmingham as I was cooking, cleaning, ironing and taking buses to and from training.

“Looking after myself at such a young age has stood me in good stead all these years later but I was homesick and missed home.

“West Brom didn’t like me heading home and coming back as it took me so long to recover from, and in reality, it affected my performances and I was released.

“I have no regrets about going over there at a young age but it wasn’t for me.”

The former Greenisland youth product would return home and sign for Glentoran under the management of the late Alan McDonald, with success arriving in the form of the Gibson Cup in 2008-09 and two League Cup triumphs.

“I decided to come home and Larne, Glentoran and Linfield were interested in signing me,” he recalled.

“Even though Larne offered more money, I opted for Glentoran as I felt more wanted by Alan and Linfield weren’t in a position to offer me guaranteed football every week.

“I enjoyed my time at The Oval and we were successful by winning the League title and two League Cups.

“It was sad how it ended for Alan’s managerial reign there, as well as Scott Young, and I believe they were victims of the club’s high expectations despite the financial difficulties at that time.”

© Presseye

McGovern recalls how a call from Tommy Breslin 2012 was “a lifeline” as the defender would spend seven years at Solitude, amassing 273 appearances in the process.

A further two league winners medals would follow, as well as an historic four League Cup triumphs on the bounce.

“I knew my time up was at Glentoran and Tommy gave me a lifeline by wanting me at Cliftonville,” he outlined.

“Tommy told me that I would be the final piece of the jigsaw to win the league and that felt amazing, although I mightn’t have fully believed it at the time.

“I always found Cliftonville a tough team to face, they had a good support and a massive togetherness and they outworked teams before their quality shone through.

“Looking back at my success there, you probably don’t realise what you were a part of until it’s gone. I don’t think any other team has won the League Cup four times on the bounce and without being arrogant, it was a case of winning that competition was a given and it wasn’t overly celebrated.

“Our season was judged on securing European football and challenging for the title and thankfully we were able to do that.

“The last couple of years I was played out of position and the manager wasn’t getting the best out of me. As such, I knew I had to move on but my time at Cliftonville was marvellous.”

The Irish Cup remains the only trophy missing from McGovern’s impressive CV – although he has had a few near misses throughout his career.

“I think the Irish Cup has a curse or a blackmark beside it,” he joked.

“It would have been nice to have lifted that competition as I lost two finals with Cliftonville to Glentoran and Coleraine.

“However, when I look at my medals and what I’ve achieved, I realise I’m in a privileged position and most players would snap my hand off for something similar.

“A lot of people always say to me ‘you’ve been around for ages’ and that’s probably true as I burst onto the scene with Glentoran at the age of 19.”

So, how would Jaimie describe himself as a captain?

“A big thing for me in changing rooms is making sure the players look after matters themselves and get them resolved,” he concluded.

“I try and drive standards in training, making sure players arrive on time and keep a code of conduct, although I realise that with a new generation of younger players you need to adjust.

“I prepare for a game like I’m 18-years-old and that has always been the case and I was blessed to share a changing room with the likes of Paul Leeman, Colin Nixon and Gary Hamilton throughout my career.

“I feel like I’m fair on my team-mates, I try and give advice for the betterment of the team and they know it’s never anything personal as I want us to be successful.”