Comment - Ryan McBride was a true gentleman who served Derry City with complete selflessness
"RYAN'S BALL" Since 2011, I have heard that shout in grounds across Ireland and woe betide the attackers or fellow Derry City teammates 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 had to proof read this piece a few times as some of the descriptions were written in the present tense.
I was in Berlin for the weekend, and thus was confronted with last night's shocking news on my return, like a sickening punch in the gut that physically winds you.
'Surely not Ryan? There must be some mistake.'
Less than a week ago, the Derry and the LOI 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, as well as a real connection between fans and the club, was palpable.
Social media fizzed with the celebrations of Derry supporters all the way since the start of the season as City have started with a 100pc record. Since last night, the same social media brings a seemingly never ending wave of grief and sorrow from Derry and across the world.
From fellow season ticket holders, to those now exiled far from the Brandywell, there is acute grief and sadness that we have lost someone so close to us all, and so full of life and vitality.
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 to see Derry take three points away from Tallaght.
The captain led the celebrations in front of the travelling support, showing just why he was adored by the club support. He knew what it was like to go to Dublin and bloody a few noses, and he knew what it would mean to supporters.
To stop and imagine that I'll never see that face, so alive with joy, would make one's heart sore.
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 quiet unassuming McBride was spotted by Stephen Kenny and signed from 2011. We didn't know much about him when he signed, but we immediately learned that he "liked a tackle". Oh boy, did he like 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. Many dream of moving from their Saturday morning side to a higher level, but Ryan arrived and make it look as if he was born to play senior football.
Peter Hutton made him the captain in 2015, and if was possible that made those shoulders even a little bit more solid, and the tackles even more fierce. He was a consummate professional off the field and anyone who ever had the pleasure of his attendance at an underage prize giving will tell you that all the kids came away thrilled that they had met "the Ryan McBride".
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 body on the line 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. And why would there not be, McBride had grown into one of the these most complete centre halves in the League. In the era of badge-kissing egotists, Ryan was a throw back 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. We would laugh and joke before interviews and he would tell me not to use any big words to confuse him. To him it was all about the team, never the individual. He was never a player for interviews, for coloured boots, for any sort of limelight.
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".
During the pre-season trip to Holland this year, he told we were all mad for making the trip, and then gave us drinks vouchers that the players weren't going to use. 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. As the club pointed out in their statement, at a time in the future we will find a way to remember him in a fitting way.
For now, we are numb with the pain of grief.
Kevin covers Derry games for local station Drive105 and also works on the clubs social media team