Saturday 25 May 2019

'It's very hard to take in. I don't know what these people are thinking' - Derry City mourns loss of McKee

Players and officials observe a minute’s silence in tribute to the late writer and journalist Lyra McKee prior to Friday’s match between Derry City and Shamrock Rovers. Photo: Stephen McCarthy. Photo: Stephen McCarthy
Players and officials observe a minute’s silence in tribute to the late writer and journalist Lyra McKee prior to Friday’s match between Derry City and Shamrock Rovers. Photo: Stephen McCarthy. Photo: Stephen McCarthy

Aidan Fitzmaurice

A defeat at home and a slide down the league table, from second to fourth, should cut to the heart of any football team. But the feeling around Derry City FC, like the city of Derry itself on Friday night, was numbed not due to football but as a result of the attack in the Creggan estate on Thursday night in which Lyra McKee lost her life.

It's not that defeat to Shamrock Rovers didn't hurt, but the hurt in the city as it struggled to come to terms with the murder of the 29-year-old journalist was there. Derry manager Declan Devine said: "It was a tough day for the city, it was a tough 24 hours."

A statement issued by the club on Friday said that the Belfast-born, Derry-based author "had become a part of the Brandywell community". The gates of the Ryan McBride Stadium are less than a mile from Fanad Drive, where she was killed by bullets fired by a dissident republican.

Devine's Derry City squad draws its players from all around Ireland, as well as Britain, Argentina and Algeria. However, local talent is at the heart of the club. Defender Patrick McClean, brother of Ireland and Stoke City player James, is a symbol of that, as he comes from Creggan.

"It's very hard to take in, Derry has been through a lot in the past and we've been trying to move on from what's happened in recent years. I don't know what these people are thinking," Patrick said of Thursday night's incident.

"I was standing beside where it happened. It's terrible for someone to lose their life, it's hard to put into words. It's a dark day for the city. I am from Creggan Heights, just 20 seconds away from where it happened, it's right beside where I live and that could have been someone in my family. Someone has lost a daughter, a sister, a friend.

"There were kids out standing there the other night, having a look and they saw it happen, and for someone to lose their life is shocking," added McClean. "But Friday night was a sign of what the city of Derry is capable of, the Brandywell sold out, 5,000 people there. That's what I was used to as a kid and that's what this city is really like."

The club was hit by wave after wave of tragedy in recent years: the death of City players Mark Farren (33) and Ryan McBride (27), and the then-Derry player Josh Daniels losing five members of his family in the Buncrana pier tragedy in 2016. Those names are an intricate part of the club.

Patrick McClean's links with the club remained strong even during his two-year spell away from the Brandywell, as he was released, against his wishes, by former manager Kenny Shiels at the end of the 2016 season. Stints at Waterford and Sligo Rovers followed before he returned for 2019, a season that has seen Derry as high as second in the table, a turnaround from last term when they finished third from bottom.

"I didn't want to leave. You get a sense of pride when you pull on the Derry City shirt," he says, turning to point to the framed jerseys of the late City players which hang on the wall outside the home dressing room. "You look at the names on those two jerseys there, Farren and McBride, you want to try and fulfil what they did and it's an amazing feeling to play for your hometown club.

"I wasn't a player here but I was a fan of the club last season. Coming to see your hometown team get beat at home most weeks wasn't pretty but there has been a huge improvement and the only way is up. We go into every game believing we can win and we'll do that again in Waterford (tomorrow).

"Losing is tough to take, especially at home. We played well in the second half and had a lot of chances, so we have to pick ourselves up and go again. We had been on a good run and it's only 11 games in, it's a long season so we can get that winning form back, but overall it's a massive improvement on last season and hopefully that continues."

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