Mark Farren - A brilliant striker and a gentleman
Published 04/02/2016 | 02:30
Kevin McHugh, a good friend of Mark Farren, spoke the truth yesterday when he said that it would hard to describe his old team-mate in a paragraph.
The depth and sincerity of the tributes to the 33-year-old Derry City legend - who has passed away after a long battle with illness - illustrated the esteem in which he was held by everyone who crossed his path during a career packed with highlights.
Farren was a prolific striker that favoured doing his talking on the pitch, a humble character who developed a killer instinct when presented with a goalscoring opportunity.
"He was quiet off the field so many people didn't get to know him too well," said McHugh, the Finn Harps veteran who formed a strong bond with his fellow Donegal man when they lined out together during his stint at Derry.
"He was a massive gentleman but he was a funny kid as well. He had a good sense of humour. Anyone who played with him would say he was quiet but when he did speak it was always pretty funny. There was that side to him as well, he was as mischievous as the best of them. A typical Donegal man."
It was in Derry where he really made people smile. Farren is the Brandywell club's all-time record goalscorer, an achievement that is all the more impressive given that he reached his final tally of 114 goals in 2012 after coming back out of the early retirement caused by his first battle with a brain tumour.
It was Christmas 2008 when he first received the devastating news, yet he subsequently underwent surgery and managed to return to action, initially wearing a scrum cap, which he disliked.
When the club dropped to the First Division for non-football reasons, Farren was instrumental in firing them straight back up and, while his health issues contributed to lengthy spells out, he persevered to maintain a level of performance that saw him cross Liam Coyle's magic total of 112.
Stephen Kenny was his manager for most of that journey.
"He certainly did not seek the limelight - that's for sure," recalled the Dundalk boss, who saw Farren a couple of times over Christmas knowing that the end was near.
"Everything about him was under the radar, except for his finishing. He was prolific. Mark was just a tremendous person to be around."
Farren was voted the PFAI Player of the Year in 2005 - a recognition of his talent at a time when future internationals Wes Hoolahan, Kevin Doyle and Keith Fahey were amongst those plying their trade on these shores.
The following season, he was instrumental in a campaign where Derry missed out on a domestic treble by losing the league on goal difference - Farren was their only goalscorer as they finished the title tilt with three 1-0 wins. He also struck in a chaotic FAI Cup final defeat of St Patrick's Athletic.
"You see the goals Jamie Vardy scores now - they were the goals Mark was scoring," said Kenny, "A clever pass over the top, sheer pace, frighten defenders, one touch past the keeper and finish, or a ferocious left-foot shot."
Kenny admitted to a dilemma when Farren came back from his first bout of surgery to say he wanted to play on.
Barry Molloy, another stalwart of that era, was stunned by his contribution to the promotion season that moved him towards Coyle's record.
"On the back of him getting the news, he scored over 20 goals," said Molloy. "For someone to play a full season with that in the back of your head, it just shows you his character."
Farren eventually tried a change of scenery at Glenavon in the Irish League and made a positive impact before a check-up in 2013 revealed that another struggle lay ahead.
The costs of treatment created severe financial concerns, too, and Farren and his wife Terri-Louise also suffered the grief of losing triplets who were born prematurely.
In 2015, when it became clear that urgent treatment overseas was necessary, the family decided to go public on the gravity of the situation and it prompted an extraordinary response from the football communities on both sides of the border.
McHugh and Ruaidhri Higgins led a fundraising drive that was aided by generous donations from James McClean, Seamus Coleman and a number of other high-profile Irish players who had played with or against the Greencastle man.
"We're not doctors so we couldn't help him that way but it was the only way we could help the family," said McHugh. "But the true work was done by him with his belief."
He lived longer than some medics expected, but this talented gentleman was still taken far too soon.