THE HEARTBROKEN family of the late Ryan McBride believe the Foundation set up in his name has given them a purpose to help cope with their immeasurable grief, one year on from his tragic passing.
The Ryan McBride Foundation has helped keep the McBride family active and focused as they attempt to find some crumbs of comfort from the untimely death of the Derry City skipper, a beloved uncle, brother and son.
Ryan’s father Lexie, his sisters, Coleen, Caitlin and Siuinin, his partner, Mairead and his brother-in-law Gareth decided to set up the Foundation to keep his memory alive, celebrate his life and create a legacy.
And they enlisted the help of Derry City legend and fellow Brandywell native, Liam Coyle, City boss, Kenny Shiels, Candy Stripes’ supporter, Karen Pyne and goalkeeper, Gerard Doherty who had the unenviable task of taking over the captaincy of the club from his good friend.
They are determined to do their part in making a difference to people in socially deprived areas of Derry, all in the name of a man who will be forever remembered for his humility and generosity in spirit off the pitch and his heroics, leadership and bravery on it.
He was a man of the people and the Foundation aim to give something back to the people of Derry in appreciation of the overwhelming support they received following his death on March 19th 2017, aged just 27.
Ryan’s brother-in-law, Gareth McCay, who is the driving force behind the Foundation, says he ‘dreads to think’ what the family would’ve done had they not had something to help fill the immense void left by Ryan’s absence.
While normality quickly resumed for most following his funeral, Ryan’s family, while engulfed with grief, put the wheels in motion and embarked on an admirable journey which has the aim of keeping alive Ryan’s memory at its core and making sure his unique story is recounted for years to come.
They’ve visited schools in Derry with current Derry City players to re-tell Ryan’s story with the aim of striking a chord and being able to support, assist and inspire - the motto of the Foundation.
The PFAI’s FAI Cup Final Charity Run was held in aid of the Foundation last November but that was only the start. The Gala ball at the Everglades proved a huge success. However, the Foundation members are anxious to let people know their charitable work isn’t a flash in the pan. They’re here for the long term and want to make a real difference!
It would be a proud moment for Lexie, Ryan’s dad as well if we get one player on the pitch for Derry in the next 10 years. We can say, Ryan’s Foundation has been a success.Gareth McCay
The Ryan McBride Masters Sixes on Easter Monday has shown the esteem Ryan is held in the football world with Irish legends like Damien Duff, Kevin Kilbane, Keith Gillespie and David Healy all happy to get involved.
With the proceeds from the Master Sixes tournament and from the Gala Ball that evening in the Everglades Hotel, hosted by ex-Everton and Ireland international Kevin Kilbane, the Foundation aim to kickstart their eight week ‘Second Chance Academy’ this summer.
What makes Ryan’s story so inspiring is the fact he wasn’t a product of an academy. He decided, following the untimely death of his mum Noreen in 2009, at the age of 19, he would make a go of it and break into the Derry City senior side.
He was playing junior football with Brandywell Harps at the time and a combination of his raw talent, determination, and desire to make his mum proud saw him fulfil his boyhood dream of representing his hometown club, just yards from his family home in Bluebell Gardens. Of course he went on to captain the club and make more than 170 appearances.
And the ‘Second Chance Academy’ is targeted at players who have outgrown the youth system but still aspire to play senior football. And Gareth reckons if the Foundation were to unearth just ONE player over a 10-year period who makes it into the Derry first team, it will make it all worthwhile.
“We’re very much focused in setting up the ‘Second Chance Academy’ for people aged between 17 and 20,” explained Gareth. “All the teams in Derry are focused on ages six to 16 and we don’t want to be stepping on toes. You can’t add anything to what’s already there but we’ve identified the age group from 17 to 20 where players get lost and end up playing Saturday or Sunday Morning League. We want to put something in place where players who want to knuckle down and provide training.
“Ryan was a late developer and so we want to look at that age group and try provide high quality coaching in the morning before they go on to work or the ‘Tech’ or university.
“It’s aimed at players who maybe have finished up with teams like Ballymoor but still think they have something in their tank to offer but aren’t quite good enough at 17. We want to give them the chance to train and have access to good technical coaching so they could maybe go into a senior side at 19 or 20. We want to trial it for eight weeks over the summer but that’s our main goal, to raise funds for that and to have Ryan’s name on it.”
And it’s not just about football but improving the lives of people in deprived areas of the city.
“A lot of young players finish playing football at 16 or 17 and some of them maybe finished school at that age with little education. A lot of boys fall into a slump and don’t get out of their bed and have nothing to get up for because they can’t get a job.
“Most of the boys won’t make it through but we’re trying to instil the attributes Ryan had - commitment, dedication and give them a reason to get up in the morning and go to training.
“We’re actually talking to education providers for boys to go into essential skills, maths and English, employability skills, interviewing techniques and social skills for a few hours after training. It’s about Ryan’s legacy and if we can get one player through to Derry City in 10 years that’s a success for us.
“It would be a proud moment for Lexie, Ryan’s dad as well if we get one player on the pitch for Derry in the next 10 years. We can say, Ryan’s Foundation has been a success.”
Ryan’s father Lexie, who lost his father, Chelsea, just three weeks after burying his only son beside his late wife, is also heavily involved in the project which continues to evolve. And Gareth explains how his devotion to his beautiful grandchildren, Annie, Eden, Nora, two month-old daughter of Siuinin, and Alexandra Ryan, named after her legendary uncle, the eight month-old daughter of Coleen and Gareth, have kept him going.
“Without the Foundation, I just dread to think what way it would’ve turned out for everybody,” he said. “It keeps everyone busy. Lexie is involved in everything, in every decision. He gets to see all his children and family involved and it definitely keeps him going.
“The children keep Lexie going now and the Foundation helps because it feels like we’re still doing stuff with Ryan and it feels like he’s still here in many respects.
“There’s a massive hole now he’s not here and nothing will ever replace him but it feels like you’re doing something instead of having that feeling of uselessness.”
The significance of the number five, worn so proudly by Ryan, certainly wasn’t lost on the McBride family during Derry City’s first return to Brandywell Stadium two weeks ago.
A 5-0 win over Limerick and a 5-1 win over Bray Wanderers which saw Derry move into fifth place had even the most rational City supporter feeling a tad superstitious.
“If you go to the end of Bluebell Gardens and look at the gate, that’s gate number five,” said Gareth. “And for Derry to win 5-0 and 5-1 in the first week back at the Brandywell it was a bit special. And if you look back to when Derry got their first win after Ryan died it was on the fifth day of the fifth month.
“The number just keeps popping up everywhere and five will always be a special number for all of us for the rest of our lives.”