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A true gentleman of our game

By Eamonn McCann

Published 04/02/2016

The last time I saw Mark Farren was in the tea hut at the Brandywell at half-time during a match last season.

He was in a wheelchair, his face gaunt, his voice weak. All I could think to mumble was some banality: "Got your boots? We need you out there", or something such.

He smiled and nodded: "Aye, okay."

At a personal level, I didn't know Mark well. Just well enough to bid him time of day if we passed in an aisle in a supermarket.

But I knew him well from my usual spot on the Lone Moor side, level with the goal-line at the Showgrounds end, - the best place to see Farren goals going in, for one half of the match anyway.

Mark was a genuine player, strong and skilful, played 90 minutes of every game, his demeanor (almost) always calm, never niggly, never that I can recall going in over the top.

As the club said in its announcement of his death on Tuesday, he was a gentleman. A rare enough species in the hurly-burly of local league football.

It is commonly said after a death from cancer that the deceased fought a brave battle. It's hard to know sometimes whether the accolade isn't a bit glib. Most sufferers struggle through the whole pain-wracked experience. There's nothing else for it.

But Mark did battle back. He was handed the cancer diagnosis once, twice, three times, on the first occasion halfway through the 2008/2009 season, and all of us thought that was it.

Against the terraces' expectations, though, he returned in his pomp, breaking the club scoring record in 2012. Diagnosed again a second time in 2013, had seemingly successful surgery, was reportedly recovering, before the brutal news that his brain cancer had progressed to grade four and was untreatable.

The fact that his death was a long time coming made Tuesday's announcement all the more poignant.

Mark was from near Moville over the border, considered (by Derry people) a Donegal suburb of the city. It's always strange when somebody from the neighbourhood becomes something of a hero.

Hard to put a person you know even a little on a pedestal.

But he will be well-remembered in his home-place and among football people across the island as up there with the very best who have graced our game: a credit to his family, a credit to football, to Donegal and Derry, to Ireland, north and south.

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