Monday 23 October 2017

Sad end to one of the bravest stories in sport

Mark Farren. Photo: Sportsfile
Mark Farren. Photo: Sportsfile

Eamonn Sweeney

Was there ever a braver Irish sportsman than Mark Farren? It was Christmas 2008 when, at the age of just 26, just a few months after he’d been top scorer in the League of Ireland, he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Not only did he beat that tumour, he returned to football after undergoing brain surgery, wearing a protective head covering as he restarted his career in 2012.

I don’t think many sportsmen anywhere have done something like that. Second time around Farren not only got back into the Derry City team, he broke Liam Coyle’s goalscoring record for the club before moving on to Glenavon in the Irish League. He scored goals there too because that was what he did. Then came another tumour which he fought off and a third one which led to his death last Wednesday at the age of 33.

League of Ireland fans rooted all the way for Mark Farren. It was a marvellous thing to see him back with the Candystripes because it seemed as though there had been a fairytale ending for this remarkable young man. But life is sometimes cruel and unfair and it gave him a very raw deal.

I could say that it was always a pleasure to watch Mark Farren in action. But that would be a lie. Because when he was at his peak, you dreaded to see him in action against your team. He hadn’t the physical presence or power of the other big striking beasts of the day, Jason Byrne or Glen Crowe, but Farren was probably the best pure finisher in the league. He was quick, clever and extraordinarily calm when he got through on the keeper. I’d say he missed fewer chances than any other League of Ireland striker in my memory.

Farren was such a Brandywell legend you tended to forget he was a Donegal man, from the fishing village of Greencastle. He’d been with Tranmere Rovers and Huddersfield Town as a youth player. When he returned home things didn’t work out for him at Finn Harps and Monaghan United. That was when Derry City’s then manager Gavin Dykes gave Farren an opportunity which he grabbed, playing perhaps his best football under Stephen Kenny, who described his star striker as “one of the most decent and unassuming human beings you could ever meet”.

He was the league Player of the Year in 2005 when Derry finished second. The year after, he got the first goal as City beat St Pat’s 4-3 in what has been voted the best FAI Cup final of all-time. And in 2008 he was top of the league’s goalscoring charts, just before his world turned upside down.

For six years he battled and endured and inspired and showed extraordinary courage. Mark Farren’s life was one of the bravest stories in Irish sport. His death is one of the saddest. No-one wanted to hear this news.

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