MARK FARREN starts his trip to Mexico today, a journey which will take in Belfast, New York and San Diego before a drive to Tijuana to start specialist treatment on the brain tumour that has changed his life.
The 33-year-old will travel after another weekend which emphasised the depth of feeling for him in the football community.
Martin O’Neill and Michael O’Neill were present at the Brandywell to manage the teams in the clash between a Derry City Select and a Northern Ireland XI with a host of former colleagues togging out to show their support along with some special guests.
The game was followed by a dinner in the Everglades Hotel where a number of signed jerseys and various bits of sporting memorabilia were auctioned off following generous donations. Aaron Ramsey, Seamus Coleman, Jack Wilshere and a host of other recognisable names have either publicly or privately done their bit for the cause.
When Farren’s family made the difficult decision to go public on the severity of his plight, they set a ballpark figure of €30,000 as a target to pay for his treatment. A remarkable reaction from the football world meant that they quickly moved past that conservative estimate. Indeed, it’s believed that the campaign has reached six figure sum territory.
His former colleagues Ruaidhri Higgins, Ciaran Martyn and Kevin McHugh have shown an incredible dedication to driving activities and have stressed that every penny counts. Farren’s wife Terri-Louise - who is travelling to Mexico with him along with nutritionist/physiotherapist Sinead Kelly - is taking a step back from her job to provide full-time care post-treatment. The impact of previous surgeries has reduced Farren’s speech and mobility and he needs the ongoing support.
Derry’s all-time record goalscorer simply does not have the money put away to be able to afford the cost of this process and Higgins says that the domestic football community has rallied around because they know the realities of plying your trade at home.
“We’re playing in a league where you’re never going to be a millionaire,” said Higgins on Saturday, “You don’t become wealthy playing in this league. So it’s brilliant that everyone sticks together when something like this happens. It was the same with Gary O’Neill (who was fought a successful battle with testicular cancer) - and the bar has been kept high with this here.
“It’s heartwarming to have the manager of the north and the manager of the south leading the two teams out onto the pitch today and I’m sure it gave Mark a big lift as well as his family. The response has been phenomenal, a credit to everybody. It just shows the power of football. He’s a really, really good person as well which helps.”
Michael O’Neill was alerted to the situation at the recent Northern Irish Football Writers Dinner where he spoke with Glenavon manager Gary Hamilton, the club that Farren joined from Derry. He duly rang his namesake to see if there was something they could do together.
“I was aware the first time Mark had a tumour when he was a Derry City player and I was at Shamrock Rovers and wrote to him wishing him all the best from everyone at Shamrock Rovers,” explained the Northern Irish boss.
“Obviously over the past six years, from speaking to his wife today, this has been a continuous battle. I’ve not done too much. I’ve made a few phonecalls and we’ve just turned up. It’s lad behind the scenes like Ruaidhri and Ciaran and the lads who played with him at Derry. And Glenavon have been fantastic as well.
“As I say, hopefully it sends him away knowing the level of support that’s here for him. We can only wish him well with what’s lying ahead. The treatment lasts for the best part of a month in Mexico and all our thoughts are with him for that.
“The money raised in a short space of time has been phenomenal and we have to keep adding to it, not only for the treatment but for the post treatment as well because of the care that Mark needs. We just have to support him and his wife as much as possible.”
Farren is facing into a long and testing road, but the last month has demonstrated that he will not be walking it alone.