John Gerard on his testimonial day (Pic Gerard McHugh)
John Gerard McGettigan had two spells with Finn Harps spanning some sixteen years. “I don’t remember my competitive debut, but I made my first appearance in a friendly against Derry City at Gweedore United’s pitch in the summer of 1984.” John G. had graduated from the ranks of Milford United and was asked to sign for Finn Harps by manager Patsy McGowan. McGowan had been part of the management set up for a Donegal side in the Milk Cup tournament in Coleraine and liked what he saw. John Gerard saw two seasons service with Harps before departing to Thomond College in Limerick to study as a Physical Education teacher.
“Dave Maheedy was working in Thomond and he said to me that I was mad not to be playing football and organised for me to go to Newcastlewest (who were then in the League of Ireland). I played under Johnny Matthews first and then former Limerick goalkeeper Kevin Fitzpatrick took over as manager. I had some great times there and stayed for some two and a half seasons whilst I completed my studies.”
At that stage he had a choice of two teaching jobs. One in Athlone which offered around twenty hours a week, and the other in Wicklow offering around fifteen hours a week, both of which were part time. There was no choice in the one he would pick. Derek Wilkinson the then Harps Chairman lived just up the road in Bray and that swung the decision in favour of the Wicklow School. The two of them became travelling partners on the long haul up to Donegal. He had joined a young school and knew that it was going to grow anyway and that a full time position would eventually come in the school. He and the family are perfectly happy in Wicklow Town, and there are no immediate plans to return to Donegal.
He re-signed for Finn Harps under Chris Rutherford, who resigned mid-season before John O’Neill, the former Northern Ireland international, became manager. John Gerard recalls “He was a good manager, and I picked up loads from playing for him. Unlike say Patsy (McGowan), though he was only interested in the team, he wasn’t interested in anything else in the club.” After O’Neill decided to resign, the club plumped for Patsy McGowan as manager for a third time and John Gerard says “he is the best manager that I have played under. Several people influenced my career but none more so than Patsy, he introduced me to senior football and gave me a lot of advice when I was younger. Every manager has his faults and Patsy is no exception, but he is the best I have played under.”
The play off match in the 1993/94 season was John Gerard’s worst moment in senior football “I was absolutely gutted after the second game. It was the lowest I have ever felt in football and to this day the disappointment of that night is still with me.” The following season Harps lost out again in the play-offs to Athlone Town but finally in the 1995/96 season promotion was achieved “It is just hard to put into words what that meant. A lot of it was relief at finally getting up and being able to play in the Premier Division, as it turns out I didn’t realise I would have only three years in the Premier Division. It was the highlight of my career.”
John Gerard finally called it a day after the Cup Final defeat in 1999 to Bray Wanderers “I had a sour season leading up to the Cup Final. I had torn my hamstring in a League Cup game and rushed it a bit and came back to early. We played Bohemians early in the season and I had to come off after ten minutes, cause I was after tearing it again. From then on I found it hard to get into the first team and my knee started giving me problems, it was getting sorer and sorer towards the end of the season. I got five minutes in the first replay of the Cup Final and that was it!”
John Gerard had to have an operation on the cartilage in his knee before being able to turn out for Arklow Town in the Leinster Senior League for a couple of season and rounded off his playing career at Wicklow Rovers, a club he is still involved with today. “I am the manager of the Under 11 side, Kieran my son is playing on the team, but I am also involved on the sports development committee of the club.” When queried he readily admits “Yes, it is great since I stopped playing, I have taken a number of coaching courses, not only in soccer, but also in other sports. I have much more time now to do things like that when every weekend is not taken up with playing or travelling to and from matches.”
Home for the McGettigan family is in Wicklow Town and both John Gerard and his wife Nicola are well settled in the area. The children Niamh, who is thirteen, is very sporting and plays G.A.A., Basketball and Hockey, Kieran, who is eleven, is playing both soccer and G.A.A., Rioghna, who is eight and Sinead, who is six, were all born in Wicklow. Having said that with both John Gerard and Nicola being natives of Milford, there are many family visits to Co. Donegal.
John Gerard won a number of honours whilst in a Finn Harps jersey, he won two youth caps against Northern Ireland and Iceland, whilst Liam Tuohy was mananger. He represented a National League Division One team against the English-Semi Professional side, along with team-mate Jonathan Speak. He was also selected on the National League First Divison side in Harps promotion winning season. He holds a runners up medal from the First Division and a runners up medal from the F.A.I. Cup Final in 1999.
John Gerard’s contribution was recognised when the club awarded him a testimonial against Derry City in the summer of 2000. Regretably the week that the game was to be played the Chairman of Derry City died in a car accident and the game had to be put back. “It was a nice way to wrap up that chapter in my life. The game when it was played was a bit rushed as it had to be scheduled around league matches, but it was nice to be given the recognition.”
From an interview with Bartley Ramsay in October 2007