Marie Crowe

Pain of Ryan McBride’s death is still felt by Derry City and their man­ager Kenny Shiels

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - MARIE CROWE

The pain of Ryan McBride’s sud­den death is still felt by Derry City and their man­ager Kenny Shiels. ‘This sea­son has had a big im­pact on my life, on how I am,’ says Shiels

FROM the win­dow of Craw­ford’s cof­fee shop in Maghera you can see the lo­cal ceme­tery. Kenny Shiels looks across as he speaks, point­ing at the spot where his brother David is buried. David Shiels was killed by the IRA in a case of mis­taken iden­tity al­most 30 years ago. He was shot four weeks af­ter his son was born.

The fir­ing started as he was out­side feed­ing his dog. He was hit. A hail of bul­lets rid­dled the car­a­van the fam­ily were liv­ing in — a makeshift home while their new house was be­ing built. His wife es­caped un­harmed but the baby re­ceived a ric­o­chet mark above an eye. Luck­ily, it wasn’t life-threat­en­ing.

It was a dev­as­tat­ing time for the griev­ing Shiels fam­ily, some­thing Kenny hoped never to ex­pe­ri­ence again. But just last March, the Derry City man­ager found him­self griev­ing once more when the cap­tain of his team died sud­denly.

“Come on down here quickly, Kenny.” These were the words ut­tered to Shiels in a phone call on that fate­ful Sun­day evening when the news broke that Ryan McBride had died in his sleep. These are the words he will never for­get. The team phys­io­ther­a­pist didn’t want to de­liver the news on the phone. He was con­cerned about Shiels rac­ing down the road from Maghera to Derry know­ing the tragedy that was un­fold­ing a stone’s throw from the Brandy­well.

“When I got there and saw ev­ery­one it was like there was numb­ness about the whole place,” ex­plains Shiels. “You had 20 play­ers there and the youth play­ers were there too just look­ing at each other and no one knew what to say. I’m think­ing I’m sup­posed to be the leader of this group of peo­ple. What do I do now? And you have to try and act like you are un­af­fected by it and you can’t. That emo­tion is there and you think about all the things that are hap­pen­ing . . . it’s re­ally hard to take and no one can un­der­stand it.

“I’ve lost a brother, he’s buried over there be­side my fa­ther, and that was trau­matic. This was dif­fer­ent be­cause a man­ager-player re­la­tion­ship has a close affin­ity to a fa­ther and son re­la­tion­ship. I speak to the team all the time about try­ing to be a fam­ily. I’ve al­ways done that with play­ers. I feel that builds up a good rap­port, re­la­tion­ship and dy­namic. Ryan was like that.

“Be­cause he was so quiet it felt even worse. He wasn’t an out-there guy. He was mod­est and quiet and it’s just hard to un­der­stand why it hap­pened. Even talk­ing to you now puts me into that train of thought. It’s hard to be­lieve it was this sea­son. This is Oc­to­ber. In some re­flec­tions it feels like a cou­ple of years ago and in other thoughts it feels like a cou­ple of weeks ago.”

When try­ing to get on with life, Shiels thinks of McBride’s fam­ily and how they might be dealing with things, how they get on with it. They have a foun­da­tion go­ing in his mem­ory and that helps; it’s ther­a­peu­tic and main­tains a con­nec­tion.

“You might think, you’ve only known him a short time, which is true, but it was a close re­la­tion­ship. He will never be for­got­ten that’s for sure. Hav­ing football to play makes it both eas­ier and harder. Eas­ier be­cause you have kept a con­nec­tion, an in­vis­i­ble re­la­tion­ship there, where you feel there is a wee bit of pur­pose as well as the nor­mal in­cen­tives that are there.

“You want to do well be­cause you work for that club, ev­ery man­ager is the same. We have a bit of ex­tra in­cen­tive be­cause in­side us we are do­ing it to try and con­nect with Ryan’s legacy. It’s harder then be­cause that brings a wee bit of pres­sure. You want to try and help the play­ers who are still there, you are more af­fec­tion­ate. It’s a sea­son where you com­part­men­talise; it will be next sea­son be­fore you have that clo­sure, that men­tal clo­sure. There are so many peo­ple who need an arm around their shoul­der and you are look­ing around the dress­ing room and won­der­ing where to start.”

Be­fore McBride passed away, Derry were fly­ing high in the League. They had the per­fect start to the sea­son — five straight vic­to­ries. But af­ter the tragedy they hit a poor run of form, em­bark­ing on a six-game win­less run. This was to be ex­pected given the huge emo­tional trauma of the team cap­tain’s death.

“The en­su­ing six weeks to two months were hard, you are try­ing to get nor­mal­ity back. Like ev­ery football team, we all have is­sues: Sham­rock Rovers, Cork, Drogheda and you have to try and go back to your men­tal­ity of, ‘I’m here to win football matches at this club’. This is cruel.

“You spend so much time think­ing about what you could do and what you haven’t done. You see someone who has had a dip in form and in a nor­mal sea­son if someone has a dip in form you are not think­ing is it be­cause of what hap­pened. Now if they aren’t play­ing well you are think­ing that what hap­pened is the rea­son and you can be so wrong. This sea­son has had a big im­pact on my life, on how I am.

“I feel a wee bit dam­aged. You are al­ways ques­tion­ing your­self, we had re­ally tough train­ing that week and I think and hope that wasn’t the cause. (The cause of ) his death was in­con­clu­sive, you don’t know why; he just went to sleep and passed away. You don’t know why it hap­pened; you hope that it’s not be­cause we worked him too hard. They are young, healthy peo­ple, what can you do, and we will never know. It makes it harder but it’s not about it be­ing hard for me it’s about their fam­ily, they come first. They are so quiet and so like Ryan. He was such a great fella.

“Ev­ery other player in the League came through an academy struc­ture ex­cept Ryan. When he was 15 he went to play in a pub league, a big strong boy, and he came to Derry from there, he was unique.”

There are so many lay­ers to Kenny Shiels, so many emo­tions within the man that he is un­able to con­tain. As the con­ver­sa­tion bounces from topic to topic his de­meanour re­flects how he feels. He’s an­i­mated and ex­hil­a­rated when talk­ing about football and youth de­vel­op­ment. He’s trou­bled when talk­ing about the past and per­plexed when talk­ing about the fu­ture.

First, the past. He grew up in a Protes­tant fam­ily just out­side the vil­lage of Maghera. His fa­ther was football-mad and hav­ing eight sons meant he had the ba­sis for a team. He was a chicken farmer and he called his band of boys ‘Roy’s Chicks’. They played football from dawn till dusk. He formed the football club in the vil­lage so they would have a team to play on. This was when The Trou­bles were at their peak and divi­sions were deep.

“At the time ev­ery­one on one side of the vil­lage was one re­li­gion and ev­ery­one at the other side was an­other re­li­gion. The only thing that con­nected it was my fa­ther and the football club he started. Both re­li­gions played on the team.

“At that time you couldn’t play Gaelic and football but the boys sneaked away and played with us any­way. We built bril­liant friend­ships be­cause of that. There were very few cars back then so we went in a trailer to matches or in the boot. They were fan­tas­tic times.

“What my fa­ther did was un­be­liev­able; he would have went to the top of the town for a drink. He was on his own, he was the only one from his re­li­gion that did that and ev­ery­one liked him. He was a coun­cil­lor and he would get Catholics houses and Protes­tants houses. He just loved peo­ple. I see a lot of that in my­self, that pas­sion for peo­ple no mat­ter what. When I was in Col­eraine, I signed play­ers from Shankill and the Falls and we all be­came friends. It was the whole em­bod­i­ment of our sport.”

Be­fore re­turn­ing to Derry, Shiels, who has a de­gree in psy­chol­ogy, spent time man­ag­ing in Scot­land, most no­tably with Kil­marnock. He was ap­pointed Derry man­ager in Novem­ber 2015 and last sea­son they fin­ished third and qual­i­fied for Europe.

As to the fu­ture — it’s a re­ward­ing job be­ing the Derry City man­ager but de­mand­ing too and there are lots of chal­lenges that come with the role. Like try­ing to keep play­ers and also try­ing to en­tice play­ers to come and play for Derry City when they could re­al­is­ti­cally earn bet­ter money play­ing else­where.

“I go to coun­tries that have poor economies, like Spain, Por­tu­gal, East­ern Europe or lower leagues in Scot­land. I can’t go to the mar­ket in Dublin, you have the 20 per cent VAT and the Brexit sit­u­a­tion hasn’t helped.

“All these things are against us. I’m loath to talk about it too much be­cause it comes across as para­noia, ex­cuses, all those things. It’s hard to find the right age bal­ance; we have a very young squad. When we lost 5-0 against Bray it was hard to take but we had three teenagers in the back four. We had six teenagers in the team. We had an in­ex­pe­ri­ence and naivety, but there is so much learn­ing from that. We lost 5-0 to Dun­dalk last year and we went 20 games un­beaten af­ter that. It can be ed­u­ca­tional as long as it doesn’t de­stroy you psy­cho­log­i­cally.”

Derry City are on the verge of qual­i­fy­ing for Europe again and if they achieve that, their sea­son will have been a suc­cess. Hav­ing Euro­pean football will help fi­nan­cially and also be a draw for po­ten­tial new sign­ings. But with only 10 teams set to con­test the Premier Di­vi­sion next sea­son, the ge­o­graph­i­cal land­scape could be tricky.

“We have just lost Drogheda and if we lose Finn Harps and Sligo too that’s three of our four clos­est teams. And you are bring­ing in Water­ford and you have Cork and Lim­er­ick and Gal­way. If we lose them three then that will cost us £30,000 ex­tra in transport alone.”

As he pon­ders what lies ahead for both his team and him­self, he’s never sure what life will throw at him but he knows no mat­ter what he will keep go­ing and football will be with him ev­ery step of the way. There’s some so­lace in that.

‘He loved peo­ple. I see a lot of that in my­self, that pas­sion for peo­ple’

Kenny Shiels: ‘It’s not about it be­ing hard for me it’s about their fam­ily, they come first. They are so quiet and so like Ryan. He was such a great fella’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.