Brian Strahan looks back at the career of one of the greatest League of Ireland strikers of all time, Mark Farren, following his passing on Wednesday.
The 2006 League of Ireland came right down to the final day. The quartet that had broken comfortably away from the remaining teams consisted of Shelbourne, Derry City, Drogheda United and Cork City. Cork City’s visit to the Brandywell was, on paper, a tougher task than the Dublin derby between Shelbourne and a Bohemians side with nothing left to play for.
In the crisp night air, the stadium on Lone Moor Road erupted. With a little over ten minutes played, Mark Farren scored what would prove to be the game’s winner. At that point, Farren, his teammates and his manager, Stephen Kenny, dared to believe. Four minutes later news filtered through. Barry Ferguson had put Bohemians ahead.
Bohemians might have had little to play for, but evidently, they had little to lose. Within ten minutes, though, Stuart Byrne had equalised for Shelbourne. As it stood the title was still going north. It was nearly a decade in the waiting. Glen Crowe, though, ruined the party.
Crowe scored a winner that would see Shelbourne win the league on goal difference alone. The swansong for a club heading for financial decay. Kenny’s next stop was an ill-fated sojourn to Dunfermline. He would only be gone a little over a year, before returning to Derry. Farren would still be there. Still scoring. Still offering hope to supporters of the club just south of the Bogside. Still part of the essence of Derry City Football Club.
Farren had a triumvirate of Irish players to look up to when he was part of the youth set-up at Tranmere in the 1990s. An attacking midfielder from Dublin in Alan Mahon, goalkeeper Joe Murphy, who wasn’t long on Merseyside himself and flamboyant if inconsistent Irish international centre-back Phil Babb. But it was the first team manager, John Aldridge, who was closest to what he aspired to be. A sub-six foot striker, with a sharp instinct for goal and a swift turn of pace too.
The move north to the McAlpine Stadium brought limited opportunity at Huddersfield Town, as did a return to Finn Harps. When the opportunity to move from Ballybofey to Gortakeegan and Monaghan United came, he took it. It was the first move that would bear real fruit for Farren. In 2003, he would make the move that proved the most sustainable and successful of his career.
On that night in 2006, when his goal illuminated the Derry crowd and instigated hope of a league title, his goal saw him finish as the league’s second top goalscorer, wedged between Shelbourne’s front two of Crowe and Jason Byrne. The previous season he also finished second behind Byrne. 2005 also saw him secure the PFAI Players’ Player of the Year award.
In 2008 Farren received the news that he had a Grade 2 brain tumour. A serious blow and potentially life-threatening, the good news was that Grade 2 tumours are unlikely to spread and can be successfully treated. This was the case for Farren and he came through it – a relief for the player and his family, a relief for a club and a league that had recognised how this quiet man who caused so much goal-mouth mayhem was integral to not just the success of the club, but the fabric of what it represented.
In September 2012, Farren overtook Liam Coyle as the club’s all-time top goalscorer with his 113th goal. His second last for the club also.
2013 saw him move to Irish League side Glenavon. Unfortunately it also saw the pain of his illness return. Hard working in training and on the pitch, Farren showed the same application as he took on this crisis with determination.
In 2014, Farren was finally forced to retire. His spell at Glenavon remarkably wasn’t barren in front of goal. Testament to what Farren signified. In April 2015, results showed that he had developed a Grade 4 tumour – the most aggressive and rapid spreading form. To treat it wasn’t a possibility in Ireland or even in the United Kingdom. This was when Farren was made to believe the esteem in which he was held was genuine, strong and warm.
His wife Terri Lousie considered selling the car. Even the house. She was in a place of darkness with the disease and the harsh financial reality. The ideal destination of Mexico for treatment was out of reach. Terri and Mark were proud too. However, the Mark Farren Fund was set up. This was somewhere for the people of Derry to give back and for the people of his home county, Donegal, to show support.
An unassuming man, who didn’t want the fuss, deserved the fuss. Seamus Coleman, Conor Sammon and James McClean all contributed and raised the profile of the fund. What was earned dwarfed the target. Mexico was going to happen. It was a 5,625 mile trip to Tijuana in north Mexico; and it was a trip they were going to take.
Tijuana is steeped in equal measure in industry and culture. Just over the border from California, Tijuana has over sixty hospitals and treatment centres, some unconventional. But what this destination offered was hope.
It wasn’t just the money that helped. Jim Roddy, the former Derry City chief executive, put Mark and Terri-Louise in touch with the Irish embassy in Mexico. Sinn Féin party member and Northern Ireland deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, put the couple in touch with the Irish embassy in New York.
In the treatment centre, Farren was left exhausted. Six days of treatment, from 8 am until 5 pm, saw him go through the mill, including heated chamber therapy, ozone therapy and even the necessity to adhere to a strict vegan diet. A return home to Moville in Donegal had little restbite as Mark took on a further course of chemotherapy.
The support continued and the fight continued. Until it ended in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
The 2006 FAI Cup Final. It made up for losing out on such marginal goal difference terms in the league. What fools were those who didn’t join the 16,022 who faced the rain and wind. Derry City 4–3 St. Patrick’s Athletic. It was one of the most memorable finals in recent years. For its drama and for its football. Two teams playing with freedom. With just under twenty five minutes gone, St. Pat’s Dave Mulcahy got in behind Peter Hutton and lifted the ball over Derry’s goalkeeper David Forde.
Six minutes later Paddy McCourt strode into midfield in possession, and delivered an adroit pass at a tight angle for Farren to run onto. He still had work to do, under pressure he guided the ball marginally left. Barry Ryan had no chance, he spread himself but Farren simply lifted it to the goalkeepers right. It was a fine goal. It was a goal of finesse, vision and positioning.
As he turned and made his way towards Lansdowne Road’s old West Stand to celebrate, he spread his arms and then left it as a single handed wave. Modest and measured, as he was submerged in his teammates’ elation.
Appreciated and important, but never making a fuss until those who cared about him insisted on making a fuss of him.
Brian Strahan, Pundit Arena