Comment: Ryan McBride was everything you wanted in your team's captain
'Ryan's ball!" Since 2011, I have heard that shout in grounds across Ireland and woe betide the attackers or fellow Derry City players that got in his way. The captain, the lionheart, the giant that was Ryan McBride.
How do you pay tribute to someone when you can scarcely believe they are gone? I was in Berlin for the weekend and thus was confronted the shocking news on my return.
"Surely not Ryan? There must be some mistake."
Less than a week ago, the Derry and the League of Ireland community was alive with the news of Derry's 3-1 victory against Dundalk. McBride scored the decisive third and with the rest of the Derry players celebrated just yards away from my father and I. The raw emotion, the excitement and the youthful vigour of the players was a real connection between fans and the club.
Four days before the Dundalk game, I had been behind the mic covering the Shamrock Rovers game for local radio. McBride once again led from the front, scoring the winner and then manning a heroic defensive effort. The captain led the celebrations in front of the travelling support, showing just why he was adored by the fans. He knew what it was like to go to Dublin and bloody a few noses, and he knew what it would mean to supporters.
Ryan was a couple of years younger than me, and so I've seen him grow up in the colours of Derry City.
Born in the Brandywell in the famous footballing year of 1989, the unassuming McBride was spotted by Stephen Kenny and signed in 2011. We didn't know much about him when he signed but we immediately learned that he "liked a tackle".
He did not come through any academy system, he made the leap from local junior football in Derry to the Brandywell. It was only yards from his house and as he said himself, whilst others may have dreamed of Parkhead and of Old Trafford, he dreamed of the Brandywell.
He was everything you wanted in your side's captain. Only 27, he has been one of the elder statesmen of the side due to his tenure. Ferociously committed, he often put his body on the line for the Candystripe cause with complete selflessness. He could have gone elsewhere and there were plenty of offers. Over the close season there was reputed interest from some of the clubs in the capital. In the era of badge kissing egotists, Ryan was a throwback to a different era.
Off the pitch, he was a complete gentlemen. He was never a man for the limelight and even last week having scored the winner against Rovers, he was shy about describing his performance. To him it was all about the team, never the individual.
Ryan would always have time for supporters and it was a privilege to point him out, serving customers in the Gweedore Bar and saying "That's our captain".
There is a popular chant about players being "one of our own" - never has the phrase fitted the man better than it did Ryan McBride. He was a fan, knew the fans, and he relished the opportunity to represent himself, the club and the city on the field.
The fans loved him in way that is hard to quantify. His background, making the move from junior football, his quiet and unassuming nature, his undeniable pride in his team and his city. All of these came together to forge the high esteem in which the captain was held.
At 27, captaining his home town club and seemingly at the peak of his career. And then all of it gone. Whatever the grief amongst Derry fans and the football family, this pales into insignificance when compared to the feelings of his father and sisters at this time. Ryan was a son, brother, an uncle and all of those things are more important than whatever he did on a pitch.
As a club and as community, we must prepare to help them in the way that Ryan helped us all dream.
Kevin McDaid covers Derry games for local station Drive105 and also works on the club's social media team.