Ryan McBride born to lead by example at beloved Derry City
Ryan McBride was Derry through and through, a player with the type of personality that managers like to build teams around. Tough and formidable on the pitch. Quiet and unassuming off it.
In the aftermath of Sunday's shocking news that the Candystripes skipper had been found dead in his bedroom, there was a consistency in the words of opponents who simply knew McBride the player.
"An animal," wrote Cork City's Greg Bolger. "The hardest man I ever played against," said Bray's Ryan Brennan. "The toughest man in football," tweeted Patrick Flynn, high praise from the retired enforcer.
But there was also a theme prevalent in the stories about McBride the person, the late-developing local lad who lived in a house overlooking the Brandywell and set his heart on playing there.
He was playing junior football when Stephen Kenny drafted him into the fold in 2011.
"He was playing with a Saturday morning league team, Brandywell Harps, it was a massive jump to go from there to the first team," Kenny said yesterday.
"Brian McDermott, the (former) Reading manager, had come to watch James McClean. He came to me and said: 'We're not going to sign James but we're interested in signing Ryan'.
"He was a ferociously brave player, the bravest I've ever seen on a football pitch. He just launched himself at every challenge. And he was just a really decent guy. He wore his heart on his sleeve but he was a shy individual."
In 2015, he was appointed captain.
"Other footballers have dreams of going across the water and playing for Man United and Celtic but my dream as a boy was to play for Derry City and that came true," McBride told the Derry Journal.
"Off the pitch, I'm quiet, I work in a bar and just get on with things. When I'm on the pitch it's a different story."
And that was McBride. Speak to people from Derry and they remember the big man working behind the bar in The Gweedore, keeping the head down rather than courting attention.
Other hometown boys with bigger initial reputations would make a couple of appearances, lord it up and fall by the wayside. They wound up on the other side of the bar, talking about what could have been.
McBride, a 2012 FAI Cup winner, knuckled down to become the leader of a new generation, the ideal figurehead for a spirited team that has turned heads under Kenny Shiels. After a surprise third-placed finish last term, they have won all four games this season.
Last Monday, they defeated champions Dundalk at their temporary base in Buncrana -the Candystripes are playing out of Donegal while the Brandywell is redeveloped - and McBride was a key man and converted a corner.
He was struggling badly with a flu and Shiels said that the commanding display was remarkable in the circumstances.
"Ryan McBride couldn't breathe," he said. "He was vomiting at half-time but he played on."
On Saturday, he led the team out for an emphatic 4-0 win over Drogheda United. On Sunday, he died.
It feels incongruous to run through the facts and figures of his campaign, but it's the recency of his most accomplished displays that makes it harder to comprehend. This was a man in the prime of his life, 27-years-old.
The Derry dressing room has experienced too much tragedy in recent years.
His former team-mate Mark Farren passed away last year, aged just 33, after a battle with cancer.
The Candystripes' current squad also includes Josh Daniels, a talented youngster who lost his mother, sister, brother-in-law and nephews in the Buncrana pier disaster a year ago this week.
Tonight's game with Limerick and Saturday's game with Galway have been called off as an understandable mark of respect and it will take time for his colleagues to regroup and somehow turn their minds back to the trivial business of football.
But in doing so, they will be inspired by the memory of a player who would never speak of representing Derry in those terms.
In a league where players often hop from club to club and don't think twice about doing so, McBride was respected because the jersey he wore really did mean something to him.
"It is at times like this that we are reminded that our club is also a community of people," read the official statement from Derry.
"As in the past, that community will come together to comfort and support Ryan's family.
"In the coming days and weeks we will grieve the loss of our captain and our friend. Some time in the future, when we have got past the initial shock and have had the proper space to grieve his loss, we will find a way to celebrate his life.
"We will remember his civility and humility off the field, his commitment and passion on it and the deep love he carried in his heart for Derry City Football Club."