REPUBLIC OF Ireland U21 boss, Stephen Kenny made a poignant return to the Brandywell dugout on Sunday in honour of his late captain, Ryan McBride.
It was a fitting tribute to the memory of the Brandywell man who died suddenly in 2017 as Kenny, who will succeed Mick McCarthy as senior Ireland international manager after Euro 2020, led the defending champions, Derry City in the tournament which is in its second year.
The Dubliner gave Ryan his chance in senior football when both he and his then assistant and now City boss, Declan Devine, spotted the centre back playing for Derry & District League outfit, Brandywell Harps.
It would have brought memories flooding back for Derry City fans as club legends, Kevin Deery, Gary Beckett, Dermot O’Neill, Eddie McCallion, Peter Hutton, Barry Molloy, Gareth McGlynn, Ruaidhri Higgins and Stephen O’Flynn lined out in the red and white Candy Stripes once again.
In the end the City team fell short as they lost 2-1 in the final against Czech Republic with ex-City skipper, Molloy hitting the target for Kenny’s troops while McGlynn and Molloy both struck the woodwork in a competitive decider.
The Foundation are doing outstanding work and to attract such a star-studded line-up with Celtic bringing the likes of Jackie McNamara, Tom Boyd, Rab Douglas and Alan Stubbs, not to mention the ‘Derry Pele’ Paddy McCourt who netted twice against Derry City in a 6-3 defeat, was a major coup.
It was an excellent tournament and a proud day for the McBride family. It’s just a pity there wasn’t a better turnout with little more than 200 people taking to the Mark Farren Stand though ticket pricing might have played a part.
When I asked him about his memories of Ryan, Kenny’s thoughts flashed back to his debut against Shamrock Rovers at the Brandywell when he earned the ‘Man of the Match’ accolade in a 1-0 win for the home side.
The same game featured current Ireland internationals, James McClean and Enda Stevens while Northern Ireland manager, Michael O’Neill was in the Rovers dugout with Kenny, the next Ireland boss, managing City. But it was McBride who earned the plaudits.
“Ryan was part of a generation of players who came through together,” said Kenny. “James McClean, Daniel Lafferty, Stephen McLaughlin who are all playing full-time in England now were there; the McEleney brothers, Patrick and Shane, David McDaid, Ruiari Harkin. Ryan came through with all those players together and it was a great to have them all come through together.
“Ryan was obviously different as a lot of them came through the youth system but Ryan came through the D&D at that time with Brandywell Harps.
“He made his debut against Shamrock Rovers here in a televised game and got ‘man of the match’, it was amazing. That day you had Michael O’Neill in the other dugout, me in the Derry dugout, Enda Stevens playing for Rovers and James McClean on the left for Derry. Now they’re the left sided combination for Ireland,” he smiled.
“Daniel Lafferty scored the winning goal with a free-kick against Alan Manus in goal to win it 1-0 and Ryan got ‘Man of the Match’.
He went on to play the League Cup Final for me that year and we beat Cork in Turner’s Cross. He started in that and was very proud to do that.
“He went on to play with Declan (Devine) of course in the FAI Cup Final and was captain under Kenny Shiels here and was a tremendous player.”
Kenny speaks from the heart and while he claimed in a recent interview that he didn’t have a PR strategy when he went for the Ireland job following the departure of Martin O’Neill, the charismatic Dubliner doesn’t seem to need one.
He’s a PR dream and the way he worked the crowd at Brandywell on Sunday afternoon was evidence of that as he took time before the final match to sign a Republic of Ireland shirt for a young supporter, greeting everyone he approached with his trademark smile and a welcoming handshake.
It might be a while before he’s back in a similar capacity as he goes on to take his ‘dream job’ managing the national team in the coming months but as he took charge of a Derry team, most of whom had starred in the memorable 2006 European run and clinched FAI Cup and League Cup medals, it brought back plenty of fantastic memories from his two spells on Foyleside.
Kenny was delighted to be asked to be a part of proceedings and felt the memory of Ryan was ‘well served’ by the Ryan McBride Foundation who have done incredible work in his name.
“It’s a lot of credit to the organisers and the Ryan McBride Foundation for organising it in his memory and I’m sure all the funding goes to much needed resources in the area.
“It’s great to have the stadium named after Ryan and the stand named after Mark Farren. I think that’s tremendous. They were both in the same team that year we won promotion from the First Division.
“Ryan is a tragic loss to the club but his memory is well served by a lot of good people and the family and the whole Foundation worked hard with events like these which is tremendous. It’s a good tournament and it’s good to see everyone again.”
Ryan’s partner, Mairead McKenna said it was ‘heart-warming’ to see so many people make an effort to honour the former City skipper but she reserved special praise for Kenny.
“Stephen Kenny gave Ryan his chance and Ryan always had a soft spot for him so it’s nice that he still remembers and comes back, it’s lovely.”
“It’s just great for everyone to come out and support us,” she said. “The amount of work that’s gone on behind the scenes you wouldn’t believe it. It’s heart-warming seeing everyone come out and support us, it really is lovely.
“You’re just hoping that people will come out and support you but we did as much as we could and put on an amazing day.”
The Foundation hope the event will get bigger and better.
“You start off small and hopefully we can build on it. We try to make it professional and get people talking about it and they will want to come back because it’s such a good set-up. We want to make it bigger because at the end of the day it has Ryan’s name on it and we couldn’t be any more prouder when everyone comes to support us. It makes you feel what you’re doing is worthwhile.”