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Emotions run high as Derry City players bid farewell to fearless captain Ryan McBride

By Leona O'Neill in Londonderry

They carried the coffin of tragic Derry City skipper Ryan McBride through the streets where he grew up before stopping, heads bowed, outside his beloved Brandywell for the final time.

The grounds were dark and the stands silent. A flag pinned to the fence read 'Heaven has got a new captain'.

Ryan, who lived in the shadow of the Brandywell all his life, died suddenly on Sunday night, plunging his family, friends and team-mates who called him 'captain fantastic' into crushing grief.

Players, who had followed their fearless leader out into many battles on the pitch, walked slowly behind their captain.

They filed solemnly past the streets he played on as a child, past the gable wall upon which he practiced his goalscoring as a teenager, and past the floral tributes and Derry City scarves which had been pinned to the fences surrounding Brandywell stadium which is now a construction site.

Younger members of the team, who had looked upon their captain as a warrior and hero, held on to one another as they passed the home ground Ryan was so fiercely proud of, but would never see completed.

In the hearse, a huge floral tribute spelled out 'captain' and another was fashioned in to the image of his number five jersey.

Hundreds of people, many wearing Derry City jerseys and scarves, lined the streets of his home city as the young man was carried to the church.

Behind the coffin, his father Lexie, wearing his son's training jacket, sisters Colleen, Siuinin and Caitlin, and his partner Mairead clung to each other as the cortege weaved its way through the Brandywell and into the Bogside.

Mourners - including Irish President Michael D Higgins - packed the tiny church which overlooks the stadium and Ryan's family home just outside the football grounds.

Some of the biggest names in the Irish sporting world descended on Derry to bid their final farewell to a footballing hero.

Republic of Ireland international Shane Duffy followed along in silence, as did Derry City legends Liam Coyle, Jack Keys and Paul Hegarty. Outside the church, hundreds of mourners, many wearing club colours, wept as Ryan's number five jersey was removed from his coffin, folded and placed in his heartbroken father's hands. He clung to it throughout the service.

Mourners bowed their head as chief celebrant, Father Aidan Mullan, and Bishop of Derry, Donal McKeown, welcomed the coffin into the St Columba's Church through a guard of honour consisting of Ryan's devastated team-mates.

Mourners wiped away tears as a single female voice sang out, telling them to "remember me, when you are afraid, and all your dreams seem so far away".

In his homily, Father Mullan said that everyone was "grateful for Ryan's powerful example".

"When we reflect on Ryan's life, we think at the outset, we think of him as an athlete on his prime, who achieved much and still had great potential," he said.

"He was a versatile and accomplished footballer, who brought many thrilling moments to so many supporters of Derry City, and across Ireland, over the past seven years. As has been said many times, Ryan would put his head where other players would not put their boot. He was brave and knew no fear. As captain, he was an inspirational leader in the dressing room and on the field of play."

Derry City manager Kenny Shiels (right) paid an emotional and tearful tribute to his young captain, reading a poem from the altar, before breaking down. "Ryan, we love you with all our heart," he told mourners through tears. In your absence we will still play the game, but in your absence it won't be the same."

Earlier in the week, as the news of his death sunk in, his heartbroken team-mates paid an emotional tribute to their leader. Friend and striker Ronan Curtis said he knew his captain would be looking down on the team and that they would continue to make him proud on the pitch.

Ryan was laid to rest wearing his club kit beside his mother Noreen in the city cemetery on the hillside overlooking the Brandywell, the field of dreams for the boy who became a Derry City legend.

Belfast Telegraph

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