REPUBLIC of Ireland winger, James McClean, paid a touching tribute to Derry City’s inspirational record goalscorer, the late Mark Farren, describing him as the ‘most genuine and nicest man’ he’s ever met in football.
Derry City will mark the first anniversary of the club’s legendary striker with a memorial game against Greencastle F.C. at Chapel Road tomorrow afternoon.
And ahead of that game several of Farren’s former teammates paid homage to a man they fondly remember as an iconic figure and an outstanding footballer with an infectious personality.
Farren netted 113 goals during a career which saw him win five League Cups, two FAI Cups and score the winning goal to secure the 2009 First Division title - remarkably just one year after he was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
It was that match at Gortakeegan, which will live long in the memory of West Brom star, McClean, who remembers Farren as the ‘model professional’.
“’Farrenso’ was the most genuine, nicest man that I have come across in football and I’ve been lucky because I’ve met a lot of great people,” noted McClean.
“But from my first day at Derry City until the last time I played with him - that Monaghan game where he fittingly clinched us the title - he always helped me and gave me advice. He never moaned and was always messing about and joking.
“He was the model professional and he was a great player. So I count myself lucky to have known him and fortunate to have had a good relationship with him.
“Reflecting back to that night in Monaghan, it was definitely my stand-out memory and the last memory I have on the field with a legend and true gentleman. It’s a memory I’ll never forget.”
Former Derry City midfield general, Barry Molloy, also forged a special relationship with Farren during a successful career with the ‘Candy Stripes’. And the former skipper recalled some of the humorous moments they shared in the City dressing room.
“Mark as a player was outstanding,” said Molloy. “He was one of only a few players I’ve played with over the years who could change a game with one moment of magic. His finishing was right up there with the very best.
“His header to clinch the First Division title down in Monaghan was the goal I will always remember. Not his best finish, but such an important goal for the club. But more than that, it finished off the season in perfect style as Mark had battled through that campaign with the head mask on.
“It was very emotional after the game as Mark was to go to receive treatment for his illness. Little did we know he would return again and break the scoring record which he deserved so much. Once you got to know Mark you realised how funny a fella he was. He always enjoyed the banter we had in the changing room.
“We always sat quite close together and always enjoyed having our own wee bit of ‘Stephen Kenny banter’ and even the odd Belfast accent moments. I’ve so many funny memories with Mark. He was always up to something or waiting for a moment to have a dig about someone’s clothes - that sort of thing. But all round he was a great player and an even better person.”
I’ll always remember when I shouted at him ‘come on, we need a goal here’ and he shouted back, ‘well why don’t you bloody score one then!’That was back of the net, 1-0 to Mark.Gary Beckett
Two of Mark’s striker partners at Derry City were Gary Beckett and Kevin McHugh who were both invited to play in tomorrow’s match in his home village of Greencastle. Fermanagh man, Beckett is unable to attend due to work commitments but he was more than happy to pay his respects to one of the most likeable men he’s met in his career.
Beckett recalls an occasion on the pitch when Derry were desperately seeking a goal and his enthusiasm didn’t quite rub off on Farren who uncharacteristically bit back.
“I’ll always remember when I shouted at him ‘come on, we need a goal here’ and he shouted back, ‘well why don’t you bloody score one then!’That was back of the net, 1-0 to Mark,” he smiled.
“I had two and a half maybe three years with him and we had a great rapport on the pitch and off it,” said Beckett. “I was 10 years older than him and he was one of those people when you came to training you always liked to see no matter what. That’s the kind of person he was. You couldn’t fall out with him. He was very professional on and off the pitch.
“He was a bit of a worrier at times but I always said to him, ‘play 10 or 15 yards up beside me and I know when I find you you’ll do the rest’, and that’s what he did. We had a great partnership. He scored something like 113 goals and the two years I was there I think he scored at least half of that. That tells a story on its own.”
Ex-Derry City and Finn Harps hitman, McHugh also formed a close relationship with his fellow Co. Donegal native and he believes Farren’s temperament both on and off the pitch was something he always admired, likening the late striker to Everton and Ireland defender, Seamus Coleman.
“It’s been a year now but most of the Derry fans will remember him every time a match kicks-off. He was very quiet off the field. He was true gent on and off the pitch which is very rare these days.
“I never came across anyone that was like that in my 19 years playing. The closest to him I ever came across was probably Seamus Coleman.
“No matter how bad someone hit Mark off the ball or in a tackle he never ever reacted He had a lot of dignity and coolness. They say the loudest person in the room is the weakest and he was as strong as anyone I ever met and he showed that the way he deal with his illness.”
Following a Prayer Service at Mark’s grave in Ballybrack Cemetery at 1.30pm tomorrow, the teams will kick-off at 2pm, with several of Mark’s former teammates set to feature. It promises to be an emotional day as the club honours the life and legacy of one the League of Ireland’s true greats.