I like so many people who reports on and supports local football was in shock when I heard the news that Derry City and League of Ireland legend Mark Farren had lost his battle with cancer.
Anybody who knows me, knows that I’m a Manchester United fan but over the years I have slowly fallen out of love of the ‘over hyped English Premier League’ and started to care more and more about local football, most noticeably Derry City and Institute and that was because of players like Mark Farren.
He along with the likes of Paddy McCourt, Ciaran Martyn, Ruaidhri Higgins, Barry Molloy, James McClean, Stewart Greacen, Danny Lafferty, Stephen McLaughlin, Peter Hutton, Liam Coyle and Patrick McEleney have got me off my feet in various press boxes (professionalism goes out the window) and terraces, up and down the League of Ireland.
Farren, who was only 33, will always be in Derry City supporters’ thoughts every year the FAI Cup Final takes place.
They’ll remember ‘that pass by McCourt’ and ‘that cool, calm, ruthless finish by Farrenso’ in the 2006 cup final win over St Patrick’s Athletic.
That final, which was voted the best ever incidentally, also had the honour of being the last ever football match played at the old Lansdowne Road.
It was played in what can only be described as gale force winds, but that didn’t stop Farrenso doing what he did best.
He spun in behind the St Pat’s defence to latch onto McCourt’s eye-of-the-needle pass before blasting home his 18th goal of the season to spark wild celebrations amongst the City faithful.
That season Farren was in sparkling form finishing as top scorer at the Brandywell.
But for me, aside from everything Mark did on the pitch, which was impressive week in week out, off the field he was just as good.
No matter how many times I or any of my colleagues in the local media asked Mark for an interview, it was never a hassle, no matter the result or how he played; he was always honest in his assessment of the game and never praised himself no matter the amount of goals he scored.
Even when he scored a wonder goal he talked about the player who played the through ball or put in the cross to set-up the chance. He always praised his team-mates. It just showed the modesty of the gentleman.
His relationship with Stephen Kenny was also something special. The Dubliner got the best out of the Greencastle man.
His management along with the telepathic mutual understanding of players like McCourt, Ciaran Martyn and Gary Beckett to name but three, meant they were always on the same wave length as the striker.
They all seemed to know that Mark would be on the shoulder of the last defender and they knew nine times out of ten or, most of the time 10 times out of 10, if they played the ball in front of Farrenso, he would race clear and stick the ball in the net.
Kenny got the best out of him and he knew after his first training session way back in 2005 that in Farren he had a gem.
In his first year in charge City missed out on clinching the title on the last day of the season at Cork City, but Farren was still voted the Players’ Player of the Year.
Despite being diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2008, the ex-Glenavon man battled back and finished his career as the club’s all time record goalscorer.
The stand-out moments for fans will be his hat-trick against Linfield in the Setanta Cup and that 2006 FAI Cup Final goal, but it was his glancing touch at Monaghan United in 2010, which helped Stephen Kenny’s young side clinch the First Division title.
Farren was substituted in the final few minutes and every City player ran over to give him a hug and wished him all the best as he was about to start his battle with cancer.
Farren deservedly broke Liam Coyle’s goalscoring record at the Brandywell in 2012, when he netted a hat-trick in City’s 7-1 win over Mervue United in the FAI Cup quarter-final.
At the time no one would have thought that 113th goal would be his last in his beloved Candystripes jersey.
Only last year his ex-team-mates Ruaidhrí Higgins, Kevin McHugh and Ciarán Martyn organised a friendly at the Brandywell, where both Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill and Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill were the gaffer’s for the day, as everyone in the footballing community joined forces to help raise money for Mark to travel to Mexico for treatment.
The last time I saw Mark was at Ballybofey in November along with his wife Terri-Louise, after Finn Harps’ memorable play-off win over Limerick and although he was unable to talk, there was a glint in his eyes as I told him he was ‘Harps Lucky Charm’ and that I looked forward to seeing him next season when Harps and Derry faced each other.
Unfortunately that won’t happen, but I do know that both clubs will show great respect for the Greencastle native in that first game of the season in a few weeks’ times.
Derry City FC, the city itself and the footballing family throughout Ireland North and South have lost a legend, but heaven has gained another great one.