Sunday 18 March 2018

Obituary: Mark Farren, Footballer

Born: May 1, 1982; Died: February 3, 2016

Mark Farren
Mark Farren

To break a club's goalscoring record is a momentous achievement for any footballer. To do it after coming back from a life-threatening illness, as Mark Farren did at Derry City, brings that achievement almost into the realms of the fantastical.

Sadly, the cancer which prompted early retirement in 2010 would subsequently return. After a courageous battle, Mark passed away this week. He was aged just 33.

Even more tragically, the Donegal man and his wife Terri-Louise had suffered the loss of triplets - named Terri, Marlie and Millie - who died in 2014 shortly after their premature birth. Mark was laid to rest beside the children this week.

He was born on May 1, 1982 in Greencastle, a fishing port and holiday town located in the north-east of the Inishowen Peninsula, on the shores of Lough Foyle.

His football career began inauspiciously: an early spell plying his trade in Britain, with Tranmere and Huddersfield, was dogged by injury and lack of opportunities. He returned to his home county to play for Finn Harps, based in Ballybofey. After making one substitute appearance in the 2000-01 League of Ireland season, Mark transferred again, to Monaghan United, where his career really kicked into gear.

Pace, skill and competitiveness - one fan this week described him as "a fighter on and off the pitch" - marked him out as one to watch. In 2003 he moved to Derry City; within two years he would be named Professional Footballers' Association of Ireland (PFAI) Player of the Year, and embarked on a record-breaking run of goalscoring for the club.

Mark finished the 2005 season as the league's second-highest scorer with 18 goals in just 31 appearances (22 across all competitions). He also won the first of a staggering five League Cups.

His brilliant run of form was rewarded with the highest honour from his fellow players - and this, it should be noted, in an era where future internationals like Wes Hoolahan and Kevin Doyle were playing their football in Ireland - but he was only getting warmed up.

The following season, Derry came within inches of securing a historic domestic treble. Helped by Mark's 18 goals, they won the FAI Cup and League Cup - Mark scored in the former, against St Patrick's Athletic - and were in the title race until the last day of the season.

Derry finished the campaign with three 1-0 wins, all goals courtesy of Mark Farren. In the end they were pipped to the championship by Dublin rivals Shelbourne on goal difference.

Further League Cups came in 2007 and 2008, completing an unprecedented four-in-a-row. A few months later, at Christmas 2008, he was first diagnosed with a benign brain tumour.

Incredibly, after undergoing surgery he carried on playing, initially wearing a rugby scrum cap. In November 2009, beset by huge debts, the club was expelled from the League by the FAI and dissolved.

A new Derry club, using the old name, was allowed into the First Division for the 2010 season - and powered by Mark Farren's 20 goals, they secured promotion back to the top flight, winning the second-tier championship for good measure. Needless to say, Mark grabbed the winner in their deciding tie against Monaghan.

His manager at the time, Stephen Kenny, commented: "He's had to deal with so much going through his mind about his future health, never mind his footballing career. He's been unbelievably courageous, I don't think people realise how brave he's been - although certainly all the players do."

At the end of that season Mark retired from football to battle his cancer, but returned by September 2011, his sights set on Derry legend Liam Coyle's all-time goalscoring record. The same month, he was a sub when Derry captured yet another Cup, against Cork City. (Mark also sat on the bench the following season as they annexed the FAI Cup, his second.)

In August 2012 it was announced that he would be moving to Northern club Glenavon. One month later, his 113th goal for Derry took him past Coyle - Mark added one more before leaving. His number 18 shirt was retired by the club, as a sign of respect.

He made his Glenavon debut on January 5, 2013 and soon got back into those familiar ways, with 15 goals in only 10 games. However, his over-the-border career was cut short when a check-up revealed that the cancer had returned.

The cost of treatment was a severe burden on him and Terri-Louise, who also had to deal with the devastating loss of their triplets. In 2015 a grade-four brain tumour was diagnosed and radical treatment only available in Mexico became urgently necessary, they went public on their situation - provoking an inspirational response from the wider football community.

Old friends and teammates, Kevin McHugh and Ruaidhrí Higgins, led a fundraising drive which raised significant funds, helped by donations from international stars such as James McClean and Mark's fellow Donegal native Seamus Coleman.

Mark and Terri-Louise travelled to Mexico last year, returning to their home in Moville at the end of the summer. Sadly, it was not enough, and he died on Wednesday.

Tributes flooded in for a brave, much-liked man this week. Kevin McHugh said: "He was a massive gentleman but a funny kid as well; he was as mischievous as the best of them. A typical Donegal man."

Stephen Kenny compared Mark to the current hot-ticket in cross-Channel soccer, saying: "You see the goals Jamie Vardy scores now - they were the goals Mark was scoring. Sheer pace, frighten defenders, one touch past the keeper and finish, or a ferocious left-foot shot."

James McClean described him as "not only a great player, but an even better man. Couldn't have come across a more gentle man. The help he gave me when I started at Derry as a youngster is something I will always be thankful for and never forget." England legend and Match of the Day host Gary Lineker simply tweeted: "RIP."

Mark Farren died on February 3. A book of condolence was opened at The Brandywell, Derry City's ground, the FAI lowered flags at their Abbotstown HQ to half-mast, and Glenavon pledged to observe a minute's applause in the 10th minute of their game against Glentoran on Sunday.

His funeral Mass was held in St Mary's Church, Ballybrack, Co Donegal. He is survived by his wife Terri-Louise, parents Michael and Kathleen, sisters Bridget and Katrina, brother Philip and extended family.

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