RYAN McBRIDE: Derry City's Eternal Captain
RYAN McBRIDE was the heartbeat of his hometown club, an inspirational warrior born to wear the armband of his beloved Derry City.
Today he was symbolically flanked by his teammates for the final time as they formed a poignant guard of honour at his funeral at his Long Tower parish. He was just 27 years and it’s hard not to feel a great sense of injustice.
Born fittingly in 1989 - the year of Derry City’s historic treble - and reared on the doorstep of Brandywell Stadium, he fulfilled his ‘dream’ of captaining the Candy Stripes and endeared himself to City fans with his loyalty and leadership qualities. He was made for the role and has left an indelible mark on the club.
As hundreds of mourners turned out at his funeral, it finally hit home to me after a week of shock and numbness, that we’ll never see him lead out his club at the refurbished Brandywell, just 200 yards from his home in Bluebell Hill Gardens. It’s a heartbreaking realisation!
A man of few words but a fearless leader of men, he’ll forever be remembered for his generosity of spirit and his commanding presence - a proud Derry man who had time for everyone, who wore his heart on his sleeve and had Derry City in his blood - a one club man!
But, of course, his own family are at the forefront of our thoughts and prayers at this time and we can only imagine the immeasurable grief felt by his father Lexie, his sisters Colleen, Siuinin and Caitlain and his partner Mairead.
Let’s hope they can take some crumbs of comfort from the many tributes paid to Ryan over the past few days.
There will be a minute’s applause on the fifth minute of Ireland’s World Cup qualifier in Dublin on Friday night as the FAI honour the no-nonsense centre half while his former teammate, James McClean, will wear the No. 5 shirt as a mark of respect.
It was evident that the city and, indeed, the island of Ireland and beyond have been affected in some way by the death of a man who will be remembered as a true legend. Derry has lost a hero; a man of dignity and honour who will be so sorely missed.
I’ve covered Derry City for the ‘Journal’ throughout Ryan’s City career and he was someone I could always approach; someone who would always tell it as it was. There were no airs or graces, no nonsense, no ego.
It was a familiar sight to see him climb up the office steps at Brandywell after matches with his bag over his shoulder and make his exit out the front door and take the short walk home. Win, lose or draw, the skipper would always have a farewell word or a witty one-liner about the result.
It’s deeply regrettable he didn’t get the chance to reach his full potential as he was clearly maturing into one of the best centre backs in Ireland. His final appearances epitomised his career in the red and white candy stripes as he appeared to be in the prime of his life.
His recent match winner against Shamrock Rovers and the emotion etched on his face as he wheeled away to celebrate, is an image which will stick with me forever. His final media interview after that game was conducted with his usual professionalism and despite his heroics on the pitch, he was reluctant to take personal plaudits. It was typical of the man.
Fast forward four days and he was again demonstrating his unique strength and will to win as, despite suffering from the ‘flu and chest pains at half-time, he remarkably emerged with his typical gusto and netted the decisive goal in the 3-1 win over the champions, Dundalk,
The following Saturday at Maginn Park, Buncrana he played for the final time as he helped keep a clean sheet in Derry’s 4-0 win over Drogheda. There was so much optimism surrounding the club that afternoon, optimism which was shattered into insignificance just 24 hours later.
It’s been a privilege to follow the career of Ryan and his interviews were always honest and frank. Although our conversations outside of football were limited to pleasantries, whether it was to simply say hello or goodbye, he always struck me as a real, honest gentleman.
I remember interviewing him on the day his captaincy was formally announced in January 2015 and what struck me most was his genuine desire and pride to represent his hometown club. He was a supporter first and foremost and it was the height of his football ambitions to don the red and white for the club he supported as a young boy.
It was fitting that he was kitted out in his treasured Derry City jersey with a beautiful picture of Brandywell Stadium hanging on the wall next to his coffin as hundreds got to pay their respects at his family home this past few days.
Signing for Derry City was the realisation of a lifelong ambition and he galvanised those around him, teammates and opponents alike, with his passion and determination. In the words of another club legend and former skipper, Peter Hutton, ‘he was Derry’s rock and everything was built on Ryan’.
There was a consistency in the tributes paid by some of his peers this week. Words like ‘irreplaceable’, ‘legend’ and ‘colossus’ were all used to describe Ryan. Words like this are bandied about flippantly in football parlance these days but they all ring true with Ryan. Stephen Kenny, who gave him his City debut, described him as ‘the bravest player I’ve ever seen’; the FAI called him ‘a true great’.
He fulfilled his captain’s duties without complaint. Posing for photographs with mascots, visiting junior football clubs for prizegivings or representing the club at schools, he did so with such distinction and always with a smile.
He touched so many people from various walks in life. Whether you knew him from being a footballer or from pulling pints in Peadar O’Donnell’s, he was the same, unassuming, humble and approachable character I will always remember him as.
There’s an irreplaceable void left behind and I’ll sorely miss his presence. The No. 5 shirt he wore with such pride will surely be retired in memory of not only a wonderful human being but a family man, a brother,an uncle, a teammate, and a true gentleman who we can feel proud and honoured to have known.
The club and the city are in mourning once again as we come to terms with another tragic blow. To borrow Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Bradley’s words, ‘he was the glue that kept Derry together.’
One wonders how much more this proud club can endure but may the memory of a special man, a gentle giant and fearless leader help galvanise this young City team and heighten the sense of togetherness Kenny Shiels has helped instil. Shiels’ beautiful words read with such emotion at Ryan’s funeral captured the character of the man perfectly. ‘You were our captain: without all the hype, the one and the only our top Candystripe.’
Ryan has made a lasting impact during his seven years at the club and in his short 27 years.
He will never be forgotten. He is Derry City’s eternal captain . . .