Northern Ireland

Ryan McBride: 'The bravest I've ever seen on the pitch'

Ryan McBride Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption 'The best centre half in Ireland': Ryan McBride achieved his dream and became a hero to Derry City's fans

When Ryan McBride was appointed captain of his hometown club Derry City in 2015, his modest reaction helps show why he was beloved by the club's fan base.

"Other footballers have dreams of going across the water and playing for Man United and Celtic," he told local newspaper the Derry Journal.

"But my dream as a boy was to play for Derry City and that came true."

On Sunday, many of those same fans gathered in shared grief at the player's home, just a kick of a ball from the club's Brandywell Stadium, after hearing of his sudden death aged 27.

Just the day before, McBride was leading the team in a 4-0 league victory against Drogheda United. Another win and clean sheet in Derry's impressive 100% start to the League of Ireland season.

That success now feels empty and void in the wake of an event that has devastated the Irish football world.

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Derry City players emerge from a press conference after the death of captain Ryan McBride

The club's scheduled game against Limerick on Tuesday has been postponed, while the Football Association of Ireland has announced that Friday's World Cup qualifier against Wales in Dublin will feature a tribute to the defender.

It is the also the third tragedy in just over a year to hit Derry City.

The club's record goalscorer Mark Farren died in 2016 after being diagnosed with a brain tumour, while a year ago to the day winger Josh Daniels lost family members in the Buncrana pier tragedy.

Since his debut in 2011, McBride had not only become a mainstay of the club's defence, but an adored hero of Derry City's Red and White Army - an embodiment of the local football ideal.

He made more than 170 appearances for the club, with more than 50 as captain after he took over the role permanently two years ago.

Image copyright Facebook
Image caption Derry City updated their social media pages with this illustrated image of Ryan McBride

A self-professed quiet man off the pitch, McBride said things were a "different story" on it.

"I switch on and then I'm in game mode."

Derry City watchers might describe that as understated - McBride's volume on the pitch was thunderous, whether vocally organising the defence, launching into tackles or winning headers.

It wasn't just his ability that made McBride a crowd favourite, although he had no shortage of talent. "Derry City have lost the best centre half in Ireland," club legend Liam Coyle said on Monday morning.

It was the number five's fearless attitude and commitment to the club's cause that secured his place in the hearts of the Derry City faithful.

'Fan's favourite'

Stephen Kenny was the manager who gave McBride his debut in 2011.

"A ferociously brave player, the bravest I've ever seen on a football pitch," he told RTÉ.

"He (McBride) just launched himself into every challenge. Aggressive in the air and brave to a fault nearly, which endeared him to everybody.

"He was every fan's favourite player and a great captain of Derry City."

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Ryan McBride celebrates scoring for Derry City in 2013

Ryan McBride was 21 when he made his league debut off the bench in a 1-1 draw against Bray Wanderers on 20 May 2011.

That season was an unexpected success story for Derry. After being promoted to the League of Ireland's Premier Division, they made an unlikely bid for the league title.

It was a talented team too - James McClean, now of West Brom and the Republic of Ireland, was on the wing, while Sheffield United's Danny Lafferty and Southend United's Stephen McLaughlin were also key members.

But, it was Ryan McBride who made the biggest breakthrough.

Ever present

"He was playing for a Saturday morning league team, Brandywell Harps, which was a massive jump to go from there to the first team," said Kenny.

In July, his second League of Ireland start was in a crucial televised game against Shamrock Rovers.

McBride starred in Derry's 1-0 win and while their title ambitions ultimately fell short, the centre half was well on his way.

He picked up two man-of-the-match awards and signed a new two-year contract, all in the space of a few weeks.

More success followed - McBride played and won in the 2011 League Cup final and was a substitute in Derry City's FAI Cup win in 2012. He went back to the final in 2014 and played, but lost out to St Patrick's Athletic.

While the club's fortunes fluctuated, McBride continued as an ever present in the side before becoming the club's captain in 2015.

This League of Ireland season was one that had started promisingly for Derry and their captain - four wins from four games, with McBride scoring twice.

Now, it's a season left shattered by his loss.

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