Damien Duff to lead star-studded Ireland team to Brandywell on Easter Monday

The late Ryan McBride.
The late Ryan McBride.

Republic of Ireland legend, Damien Duff will lead a star-studded Irish team to Brandywell Stadium on Easter Monday for the inaugural Ryan McBride Masters Sixes tournament.

Managed by current Ireland U21 boss and former Derry City manager, Noel King, the Republic will go head-to-head with a Northern Ireland select, a PFAI League of Ireland team and a squad of Derry City past players led by the club’s title winning supremo, Felix Healy in what’s expected to be an afternoon not to be missed!

It’s hoped Robbie Keane can make an appearance. while former Chelsea star and Premier League winner, Duff didn’t hesitate to put his name forward for the tournament organised in honour of the late Derry City skipper, Ryan McBride one year on from his sudden passing.

Ex-Everton defender, Kevin Kilbane was quick to offer his services having met Ryan at a Ballymoor Football Club presentation evening not long before he died at his family home on March 19th 2017.

Such is the esteem the Brandywell lad was held in by his peers and fellow footballers, a host of ex-Republic of Ireland internationals, boasting almost 400 caps between them didn’t have to be asked twice to take part while a Northern Ireland team boasting the services of former Manchester United men, Keith Gillespie and Pat McGibbon and Irish League bosses, Gary Hamilton (Glenavon) and David Healy (Linfield) will look to get their hands on the specially engraved trophy and become the Ryan McBride Masters Sixes champions for 2018.

The events have been kindly sponsored by Peader O’Donnells and the Gweedore Bar and organiser, Gareth McCay of the Ryan McBride Foundation, is expecting it to be a competitive affair.

The Ryan McBride Masters Sixes will take place on Easter Monday at Brandywell Stadium in memory of Derry City's late skipper.

The Ryan McBride Masters Sixes will take place on Easter Monday at Brandywell Stadium in memory of Derry City's late skipper.

“It’s probably going to turn out to be more competitive than we had originally planned it to be because a lot of the players involved are more or less recently retired. Most of the PFAI players are retired about four or five years and the Derry team is the same while the Ireland team isn’t far off that either.

“It’s been easier to organise then you would’ve thought just because of the esteem Ryan was held in. His name opened up a lot of doors. We got Damien Duff a couple of months ago when we met him in Dublin at the Soccer Writers’ awards I spoke to him and straight away he said he would play.

“Pat Duffy from the FAI also did a lot of groundwork in terms of getting a lot of the Ireland players on board. Kevin Doyle and Stephen Hunt are driving up from Wexford to play and Wayne Henderson is flying in from Birmingham so they’re all going to great efforts for it which shows you how well thought of Ryan was.

“Kevin Kilbane had actually met Ryan a couple of weeks before he died in Derry in an awards ceremony for Ballymoor. They were chatting that morning and so he was happy to get involved as well.”

The Republic of Ireland Masters squad also includes Stephen Hunt, Stephen McPhail, Wayne Henderson and Mark Kinsella but favourites to win the tournament are the home team Derry City who will be managed by the last man to bring the League of Ireland trophy to Foyleside, Felix Healy. The Derry City squad has over 3,000 club appearances in it and sees the return of a fan favourite in 1995 FAI Cup winning goalkeeper Dermott O’Neill. The rest of the squad will be very familiar with

each other and includes Eddie McCallion, Peter Hutton, Barry Molloy, Ruaidhri Higgins, Kevin Deery, Kevin McHugh and Gary Beckett. An axis of players who have a number of League Cup and FAI Cup medals as well as being part of famous European nights against PSG, Gothenburg and Gretna.

The PFAI League of Ireland Select will travel north full of confidence given that they have the pick of the League and include players who have won multiple league and cup titles with Bohemians, Shelbourne, Shamrock Rovers and St Pat’s. In Shaun Maher and Gary Dempsey they have players who have played professionally in England and Scotland with Dempsey playing in the Dunfermline team who lost the 2004 Scottish Cup final to Celtic.

The League of Ireland side have a number of players who are very recently retired such as Stephen McGuinness, Ollie Cahill, Gary O’Neill, Stephen Rice, Barry Ryan as well as former Derry City player Ken Oman. The side should have no problem on the goal front given the inclusion of former Shamrock Rovers goal-machine Gary Twigg.

Northern Ireland Masters are another side who should have plenty of fire power with all-time record goalscorer David Healy, former Hibs striker Ivan Sproule, former Norwich City star Paul McVeigh and current Glenavon manager Gary Hamilton all familiar with finding the back of the net. Michael Gault, former Man Utd player Pat McGibbon and former Wolves man Mark Clyde will add some steel.

And it’s not just about the football on the day. It’s very much a family affair with face-painting, magicians and Britain’s Got Talent Balloon-maker, Ryan Tracey on hand to entertain the children.

“Children coming to the event will no doubt be asking parents, ‘who is Ryan?’ and that’s part of the Foundation’s aim is to make sure his story keeps being told.”

That evening there will be a dinner in the Everglades Hotel with a Q&A with former Republic of Ireland player and current BBC pundit Kevin Kilbane, music from the Clellanders, a memorabilia auction and a DJ to late. The Clellanders recently released a charity single called “Captain McBride” which was written by local man Seamus Kennedy. Many of the Masters players will also be in attendance at the dinner.

Tickets are priced at £10 adults, £5 children, £25 family. Gates open at 12.45p.m. with the football kicking off at 1.30 p.m. Tickets are available at Harkin’s shop, Gaza Stores, Brandywell and McCay Solicitors. Tickets for the gala dinner at the Everglades Hotel are priced at £55 or £500 for a table of 10. Tel: 07429402707