Team boss, Kenny Shiels, bade an emotional farewell to his friend, confidante and enforcer, Ryan McBride, by reciting a moving elegy to close the late Derry City captain’s Requiem Mass at the Long Tower.
A bereft Derry City manager choked back tears to pay tribute to a young man who had seemed destined to form the very backbone of the Brandywell club for years to come, until his seemingly senseless death at the age of just 27 on Sunday.
“In your absence we will endeavour to fight; In your absence, with all our might,”
“Our Brandywell boy you wore stripes with great pride; It made you so happy to play in the side.
“In your absence we still feel you here; The big number five, so vivid so clear.
“Ryan, we love you with all our heart; A giant so gentle and now we’re apart.
“In your absence we still play the game; But in your absence it won’t be the same,” a shaken Mr. Shiels told a congregation of family, friends, fans and the wider Irish football fraternity.
Earlier that morning a lone supporters’ club drum sounded as Ryan was carried from his Bluebell Hill Gardens home for the last time.
Across the road, the Brandywell Stadium lay in ruins ahead of what yesterday morning seemed a near impossible rebuilding job. Even bleak skies and a chill wind seemed in sympathy with mourners, who watched as Ryan’s Derry City teammates formed a guard of honour and his casket was borne down the Brandywell Road as far as the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes.
Chief among mourners were his devastated father, Lexie, his sisters Colleen, Siuinin and Caitlain, and his partner Mairead.
Friends and neighbours stood at their doors as the cortège turned left and Ryan was carried down the Lecky Road and past the ‘Brandywell Past and Present’ mural.
There, a host of Brandywell heroes, including Liam and Fay Coyle, ‘Spider’ Kelly and Liam Ball, looked down on one of their own.
At the bottom of ‘The Folly’ Ryan’s coffin, which was draped with his Derry City shirt, bearing the number five, was placed inside the hearse and the cortège, made its way along into the Bogside and back up the flyover into St. Columba’s Church, Long Tower.
In the chapel grounds and church itself were gathered hundreds of mourners, including a long-time friend of Derry City, the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins.
Dozens of ex-Derry City players across multiple generations and eras where also there to pay their respects.
Past players, too many to mention, but including Liam Coyle, Paul ‘Higgsy’ Hegarty, Peter ‘Pizza’ Hutton, Paddy McCourt, Gary Beckett, Barry Molloy, Ruaidhrí Higgins, Harry McCourt and Michael Duffy, were among those who had come to say goodbye.
Irish international, Shane Duffy, a centre half very much cast from the same mould as Ryan, hobbled into the chapel on a broken foot.
There were representatives from most clubs in Ireland, including the managers of Finn Harps Ollie Horgan and Galway United, Shane Keegan.
Chief Executive of the FAI, John Delaney, was there, as were representives of the Irish Football Association.
Dundalk gaffer Stephen Kenny, who handed Ryan a man-of-the-match winning debut against a Shamrock Rovers side that had been conquering Europe back in 2011, also paid homage to the ‘bravest player he’d ever seen’.
Old colleagues from Peadar O’Donnell’s and the Gweedore Bar, where Ryan for years pulled pints as a courteous and diligent barman, were also among the mourners, including Willie McGuinness who would bury his brother, Martin, later in the same church.
However, as chief celebrant of Ryan’s Requiem Mass, Father Aidan Mullan, reminded us all, a family has lost a son, brother and grandson.
Fr. Mullan told mourners that visiting his wake house over the past three days, he had gotten an insight into the loving family environment in which Ryan’s character had been forged.
“I noticed, as I visited with his family, I could not help but notice in Ryan’s home, the spiritual presence of his dead mother [Noreen].
“His uncle James spoke to me, quite naturally, about the influence she had on him as a young man.
“And one of the sisters said to me that her mother: ‘Never got to see him play for the Candy Stripes, you know’.”
He recalled the pride his granda Eddie ‘Chelsea’, like his father Lexie, also an ex-Derry City player, had taken in Ryan.
Though not in attendance at the funeral due to ill-health, Fr. Mullan recounted a recent visit during which ‘Chelsea’ had literally beamed with pride at his grandson’s soaring performances for Derry in the weeks before his death.
“I went to him with Holy Communion after the Shamrock Rovers match and he said to me: ‘And he got the goal’! And I said, ‘Chelsea, I didn’t see or hear the match’, and he said: ‘I’ll tell you all about it’!
“Do you understand me? That love and that affection shaped this young man.”
Ryan’s casket was carried all the way from the Long Tower, down ‘The Folly’, pausing one last time outside his home and beloved Brandywell - all the way up into the City Cemetery, for his interment. With near neighbour and fellow-leader, Martin McGuinness, buried just a short time afterwards in the very same church, it seemed as though Derry had lost two of its cornerstones.
May Ryan rest in peace.