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Ryan McBride: Warrior, gentleman and role model - Derry mourns its true local hero

By Leona O’Neill

The cold, ceaseless rain which battered Londonderry yesterday mirrored the sombre mood of its people as they mourned a lost hero. They stood on street corners and chatted over fences in his Brandywell neighbourhood and right across the city, the tragic death of Ryan McBride the only topic of conversation among locals.

No one could believe that Derry City Football Club's Captain Fantastic - a fit, healthy 27-year-old man who led his team to victory just 24 hours previously - was really gone, leaving his father Lexie and his sisters Colleen, Siuinin and Caitlain bereft.

Wave of grief as devastated Derry City players carry captain Ryan McBride's coffin home  

Outside his old school, St Joseph's Boys in the city's Creggan estate, people remembered Ryan as a quiet, reserved child.

They said he was a boy of few words but who was possessed of a great talent when he stepped onto a football pitch.

Some described him as like a Clarke Kent character in everyday life, becoming more like Superman when he donned his beloved Candystripes shirt. Others put the labels warrior, gentleman, lion heart, role model and leader upon their hero.

There were tears and laughs as they remembered the man who was a giant on the pitch.

Elsewhere in the Brandywell, where the club's stadium of the same name is situated, an image of Ryan is painted on to the walls, taking his place among the sporting greats immortalised as street art in this proud but hurting community.

The message on the wall reads poignantly: "Brandywell past and present. You are the future."

At Da Vinci's Hotel, a few miles away from the building site that is currently Brandywell stadium, Derry City boss Kenny Shiels broke down in tears as he described the pain felt in the club at Ryan's loss.

Those close to Mr Shiels say he thinks of all the players as his sons. They are a band of brothers.

Derry City have cancelled tonight's game against Limerick and Friday's away game against Galway, saying no one could face the game without their skipper, and that it would be too painful to see Ryan's empty seat on the bus to the ground.

Derry City teammate, striker Jordan Allan, said his friend was a passionate player with a "great heart", adding: "I'm devastated. He was one of, if not the most passionate players I've ever played with. He gave his all for the club every single game.

"I'm grateful to have been able to play with him. He was a great captain, great heart and an even better man."

Those who work at the club remember Ryan as a gentle giant who was "Derry City through and through".

He was the man who grew up in the shadow of his beloved Brandywell stadium, who would throw his bag over his shoulder and walk the two minutes home after big games and have a cup of tea in his hand before his teammates even got out of the car park. As a boy he had dreams, not of playing for Glasgow Celtic or Manchester United like his friends, but to don the Candystriped red and white shirt, and play for Derry City.

He lived that dream every week on the pitch, leading his men out to battle.

He was the man who gave so much back to the community. Derry man Kevin Morrison recently set up Oxford Bulls, a team of young boys with Down's Syndrome. He said he got a call from Ryan last week asking if he could come and meet the Bulls squad, so impressed was he with their spirit. He was due to meet them on Sunday evening. Unfortunately it wasn't to be.

Hugh Curran from Brandywell Supporters' Club said: "The word legend is bandied about an awful lot but Ryan is a Derry City legend. He is an absolute giant of a man, an absolute giant of a player, and an absolute giant of a leader on and off the pitch."

Mr Curran has followed Derry City since the 1960s. He added: "He was the captain but above all of that, if you ask any of our younger players and any of the young guys about Derry City they just look up to Ryan."

The club say that now is a time to grieve their loss, but down the line they will find a way to celebrate his life.

Ryan's number five jersey was mounted on the Brandywell Stadium fence facing his family home yesterday evening.

Soon it was surrounded by floral tributes in the club's red and white colours as supporters gathered to pay their respects to an icon in Derry footballing history.

A hero to so many, no-one here will forget him.

Belfast Telegraph

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