By Ursula Duddy

A mural of the late captain of Derry City Football Club will overlook his beloved Brandywell where he captured the heart of the city.

Ryan McBride was just 27-years-old when he died suddenly last March at his Bluebell Hill home.

Just hours before his death, Ryan had played a key role in helping his team to a 4-0 victory over Drogheda at Maginn Park in the League of Ireland Premiere Division.

Ryan had played for Derry for six years and had been the club captain since 2015.

The death of such a respected and tenacious player came as a shock not only to Derry City fans and the people of Derry but to the wider sporting world as tributes flooded in from the sporting world.

As part of the Gasyard Féile 2017 celebrations, in the neighbourhood where Ryan grew up and prospered as a footballer, a mural was unveiled this week to honour the local sporting legend.

Lexie McBride, Ryan’s father, said the family are very touched to have such a tribute to Ryan overlooking the Brandywell.

The mural is mounted at the Long Tower Youth Club where he cut his teeth training as a football-mad youngster.

“It’s emotional to see everybody out; we never realised how well thought of he was,” Lexie told the Derry News.

“To us, he was just Ryan. We just knew Ryan as a son and brother who played for Derry and went to his work in Peadar’s and that was Ryan.”

Lexie said that the turnout for his son’s funeral was overwhelming.

“When he died and we saw the funeral he had, we just never knew how well thought of he was,” he said.

“The young people are literally looking up to him now and this is where he came and learned his trade out here in the Long Tower Youth Club so it’s a great tribute to him, he’s overlooking the Brandywell and he’s nearly looking into the house.”

Lexie said he found the support from the community and the dedication of the mural to his late son a great source of comfort since his passing.

“I find people talking to me that I don’t even know saying how good a player he was. Ryan just loved football, loved the challenge and loved a tackle.”

He said his family are still coming to terms with the sudden way Ryan died but they draw comfort from the support of the community.

“The way he died was just so sudden,” he said.

“He came in from training that morning and was acting the cod with my grand-daughter, she was down from Belfast and Ryan was her godfather, then he said, ‘I’m away to my bed’, which he done all the time after training. Then my daughter went up to waken him and he was lying dead in his bed.

“He had everything going for him, he was flying with Derry. I would have loved him to still be here, he was really coming into himself; he was taking the captaincy on big time and had everything going for him.”

Lexie is on the board of directors of The Ryan McBride Foundation alongside Ryan’s sister, Caitlin are his partner, Mairead McKenna, Derry City manager Kenny Shiels, former Derry striker Liam Coyle, Karen Pyne of Derry City Cubs, club captain Gerard Doherty.

The Foundation, which was set up to help young people achieve their potential, was set up by Ryan’s brother-in-law, Caitlin’s partner, Gareth McCay.

Derry City manager, Kenny Shiels, commended the work of the Foundation in building something positive in Ryan’s name.

“Ryan’s brother-in-law, Gareth McCay, has done a lot of work for the Foundation in the organisational side and he is working very prolifically to get the Foundation up and running and he has advanced it to another level,” he said.

Speaking about the mural, he added: “It’s an emotional day but a fitting tribute, absolutely fantastic. If you look at this mural, it’s fantastic because you can see it from the Brandywell pitch.”

Derry City Captain, Gerard Doherty, who had the tough job of stepping up to the captaincy after Ryan’s death, said that while it is still hard to believe his team mate has gone, the team is heartened by the unity shown in the wake of Ryan’s death.    

“It’s strange, things have calmed down a bit after nearly six months but things like this bring it back home again and you’re hit with the realisation of what happened all over again; it strikes you.

“But it’s great to see, it’s a good turnout today even though it’s lashing down, it shows you how many people loved Ryan to turn up on a day like this. There will be more things like this to come through the Foundation over the next couple of months and, hopefully, over the years.

“If this had happened to any of us in the team, we all stick together.  It showed that, through the tragedy that happened, it brought not only the club together but it’s brought everybody in the town together.

“It’s great that everybody can come together today and have a celebration of Ryan’s life.”

The mural, which shows the stoic face of Ryan’s determination and his elation and celebration in victory, was painted by the artist, Ray Bonner.

Ray said he was delighted to see that his depiction of the much-respected sportsman had been well received.

“My sister, Donna, was friends with Ryan, she played football with him; she played for Northern Ireland and Institute,” he said.

“A lot of my friends worked with him in Peadar’s too and they knew him very well. I didn’t know him personally but a lot of people respected him and loved him.

“I didn’t think there would be so many people here for the unveiling and the reactions have been all positive so far. As long as his family like it, that’s all that matters. They are the ones that really knew him inside out, his whole life, so if they are happy with it, I’m happy.

“The whole aim of it was that we wanted it to look down over the stadium so that you could sit in the stadium and look out and see him.

“Derry City train there too so he’s always watching over them.”

The mural serves not only as a morale booster for Ryan’s team mates but also as a source of inspiration for promising young footballers.

One such youngster is 17-year-old, Conán Doherty, from Hampstead Park, who received an International cap for the Northern Ireland U18 team earlier this year.

As well as playing for Northern Ireland, Conán has played for Ballymoor, Institute, Brandywell Harps and Maiden City.

Conán said that Ryan’s legacy will be the motivation his example has provided for the youth of Derry.

“I think Ryan will always be an inspiration for all young footballers, especially those who grew up in the Brandywell and watched him playing for Derry,” he said.

“I always remember Ryan being at the Ballymoor presentations and giving out the awards to the young players who were looking up to him.

“This just made the young Brandywell kids idolise Ryan because they knew he grew up on the same streets as they did and they can be inspired by him and play for Derry too.

“For me, Ryan will always be an inspiration as he went through the local D&D youth leagues and then the Saturday morning league with Brandywell like me and finally got to live his dream playing with Derry.

“I think the mural is in the perfect place as it means whenever the Brandywell stadium is redeveloped, he will always be there and looking down on to the pitch.”

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