STEPHEN Kenny has paid an emotional tribute to Derry City’s all-time leading goalscorer, Mark Farren, who passed away this week after a prolonged and brave battle with illness.
The Dubliner, who managed and mentored Mark for five memorable years at Brandywell, described the popular Greencastle man as an ‘iconic’ and ‘inspirational’ figure.
The 33-year-old’s fight against an aggressive brain tumour ended in the early hours of Wednesday morning and he’ll be laid to rest this morning (Friday) in St Mary’s Church, Ballybrack.
And, in an emotionally charged interview with the ‘Journal,’ Dundalk manager, Kenny, described the Inishowen man as ‘courage personified’ and a man who had showed such “dignity” during his six year fight with cancer.
“It’s a sad loss,” said Kenny. “He was genuinely one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. He was nice to everybody. He had great humility and dignity. He went through so much; such a tough time, and showed great strength during that period.”
Kenny, of course, was an influential figure in Mark’s career from 2004 to 2011, and under the Dubliner’s guidance he went on to become a true legend at Derry City, scoring a record 114 goals in 209 appearances.
In football, people regard bravery as a strong centre back who’s aggressive. But Mark was courage personified, he really was.Stephen Kenny
During his time at Brandywell, Farren, who made his City debut in 2003, won five League Cups, two FAI Cups, scored in the relegation play-off that kept Derry up in 2003 and played a vital role in securing promotion from the First Division in 2009 - incredibly just one year after he was first diagnosed with a brain tumour.
In a touching tribute, Kenny recalled the striker’s illustrious career in the League of Ireland and the ‘shocking’ moment the Greencastle man knocked on his office door to deliver the ‘heartbreaking’ news of a brain tumour - which threatened not just his career but his life - just before Christmas 2008.
Faced with a huge dilemma at that time, Kenny, after seeking the advice of the player’s surgeon and confronted with Mark’s determination and desire to play on after his diagnosis, watched him go on and heroically break Liam Coyle’s goalscoring record and play a key role in returning the club to the Premier Division - a truly remarkable achievement.
“He’s an iconic figure now for everyone in Inishowen, the small village of Greencastle and, obviously, in Derry. He was a terrific person,” declaredKenny.
“At just 33 years of age, he touched a lot of people in his life and it’s a real tragedy when someone so young dies, especially when they were so fit and healthy and at the peak of their sporting career.
“It’s been seven years since he was first diagnosed so it’s hard to believe he still achieved so much during that time - it really is amazing,” continued Kenny.
“He was popular with everyone because he found it impossible to offend anyone. He could never insult anyone, it just wasn’t in his nature. Mark was a real gentle soul,” added Kenny. “He was very understated. Some people are surprised when they hear that Mark Farren is Derry City’s all-time top goalscorer because he was so young.
“But everything about Mark was under the radar, except his finishing. He wasn’t one for the spotlight. He was that good he was voted by his fellow players as the best player in the country in the PFAI awards.
“He was intelligent and articulate and, yet, interviews didn’t come easy to him. He was shy in terms of the spotlight. He wasn’t interested in that but loved the game itself. He was a prolific goalscorer.
“He was very inspiring for me,” he continued. “Knowing that he was going in for the operation and, then, wanted to play on and, then, go on to score the winning goal to get Derry promoted to the Premier Division in that final game in Monaghan - it’s truly amazing. Making that subsequent comeback to break the record was unbelieavable.
“In football, people regard bravery as a strong centre back who’s aggressive. But Mark was courage personified, he really was.”
Having occasionally called into the home of Mark and his wife, Terri-Louise, during his illness, Kenny saw at first hand the tremendous bravery shown by his former striker.
“Both he and Terri have been incredibly strong. It’s been a long period since 2008 when he walked into my office and told me he had a brain tumour and needed an operation.
“It was just after the FAI Cup Final in the RDS when he scored a penalty. He was an absolutely dignified presence and always had great time for younger players.
“I remember it was a real dilemma for me as a manager at the time when he wanted to make his comeback. I had to ask myself if it was the right thing. I wasn’t sure but the surgeon was happy with him. Mark was determined to do it and, in fairness, he got back to score the goals that broke the record. So he had a magnificent fight.”
Such was the impact Farren had on the lives of his football peers and supporters, there was an out-pouring of grief and reaction to his death on social media this week from former teammates including James McClean, Danny Lafferty, Kevin Deery, Barry Molloy and, even, ex-England striker, Gary Lineker.
Supporters also paid their respects, laying wreaths, flowers and flying flags at Brandywell Stadium on Wednesday morning in memory of a true League of Ireland great.
FAI Chief Executive, John Delaney, also expressed the Association’s sympathies to Mark’s family, saying his untimely passing was ‘a devastating blow to everybody in Irish football’. Derry City Football Club issued a statement describing the player as ‘an inspiration, both on and off the pitch’.
And Kenny echoed those sentiments as he remembered Mark’s unassuming character and his uncanny ability to pop up at the right time with important goals.
“His sheer pace frightened defenders to death. He was lightening quick.
“For younger people who haven’t seen much of Mark, the goals that Jamie Vardy scores now, with balls played over the top and he takes one touch to pass the goalkeeper and finish, those were the goals Mark scored every week.
“When I came into the club he had a history of hamstring injuries from when he was at Tranmere at 15 years-old as a left-back.
“He got a run of games with us and was absolutely prolific the season we had the six games in Europe (2006) and won the FAI Cup when he scored a brilliant goal at Lansdowne Road when we won 4-3. And he scored the penalty when we won the League Cup that year on penalties against Shelbourne.
“The final week of that marathon season, we had to win the last three games. We were on our knees at that stage after 56 games.
“We beat Waterford away, St Pat’s away and Cork in the final game, and we won the three games 1-0 - and Mark scored the three goals. We were denied the league title, and the treble, on goal difference. He wasn’t one for shouting in the dressing room. He was very, very quiet. But the fact that he scored the winner in all those pressure games and scored in the Cup final in 2006 shows you his quality. He scored the goal to win the First Division title; he also scored a famous hat-trick against Linfield in the Brandywell in front of a full house.”
Kenny also praised the way in which Farren had a helping hand in shaping the careers of some of the city’s best talent.
“He played with James McClean and Danny Lafferty who are both going to the Euros this year and Mark was a great help to them and the likes of Stephen McLaughlin and Patrick McEleney and Davy McDaid. Mark was very influential to those players.”
Mark’s life had a lasting impact on so many people and, as Derry City FC made the touching tribute to retire his No 18 jersey this week, he will forever be remembered as one of the best strikers ever to grace the League of Ireland.