But to appreciate his standing in League of Ireland football as one of its most admired if low-key personalities, one only has to recall how the game rallied around him in his unflagging efforts to overcome a recurring brain tumour and, now, in light of the desperately sad news of his death at just 33, observe just how widespread the grief is in the wake of yesterday’s announcement from the Brandywell.
The Greencastle, Co Donegal, native had spells in England with Tranmere Rovers and Huddersfield as a teenager before his career encompassed spells with Finn Harps, Monaghan United, and, finally, Glenavon, but it was with the Candystripes that he achieved legendary status, overtaking the great Liam Coyle to score an all-time record 114 goals for the club.
As flags flew at half-mast at FAI headquarters in Abbotstown yesterday, and Glenavon announced that they plan a minute’s applause during their Irish Cup tie against Glentoran on Sunday, players, clubs, officials, and supporters from all over the island and beyond flooded social media with tributes to the striker.
The West Brom and Ireland international James McClean, who had been among many in the game who helped fundraise for Farren’s treatment, said that he was “gutted to hear news of the death of my former team-mate. Great player, even better man, prayers are with his family. RIP buddy.”
The chairman of Derry City, Phillip O’Doherty, spoke for the club but also many more far beyond the Brandywell when he said: “He was a superb player but, most of all, he was a decent human being.”
In what must have been a difficult interview for him to do, Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny, formerly Farren’s boss at Derry, was eloquent in recalling how the Donegal man triumphed on the pitch and, with enormous courage and determination, confronted his ill-health off it.
“You see the goals Jamie Vardy scores now, they were the goals Mark was scoring,” Kenny said. “A clever pass over the top, sheer pace, one touch past the keeper and finish, or a ferocious left-foot shot.
“I remember it was just over seven years ago when he walked into my office and said he had a brain tumour and that he needed an operation. Then he came back the year we were in the First Division (2010), and he told me the surgeon had given him the all-clear to return. He went on and broke the goalscoring record, which he was very proud of. And he should be.
“Mark was 26 when he came into my office to tell me about the brain tumour, which is hard to believe. Obviously I’ve seen him a couple of times over Christmas. I knew this day was coming.”
Summing up the man and the player, Kenny added: “He was just a very unassuming, gentle soul, quiet and understated. He certainly did not seek the limelight, that’s for sure.
“Everything about him was under the radar, except for his finishing. He was prolific. Mark was just a tremendous person to be around.”
Farren was part of the Derry City side that won the FAI Cup in 2006 and 2012, he also helped the club to the First Division title in 2010 and won the League Cup five times. He was presented with an FAI Hall of Fame award in 2014 and was voted PFAI Player of the Year in 2005. His final club football was played in the Irish League with Glenavon FC.
Speaking in his capacity as SSE Airtricity League director, Fran Gavin said: “We were all deeply saddened to hear of Mark’s passing. We were all aware of his battle in recent years. I met Mark and his wife Terri-Louise at the play-off in November, which was the last time I saw him. It’s just so sad that somebody so gifted is taken so young. We’ll all remember him for the brilliant football and his great goals.”
References to Ireland’s “football family” can sometimes appear trite but, with the passing of Mark Farren, there is an overwhelming sense that the League of Ireland has truly lost one of its own — not just a great goal scorer but also a man close to everyone’s heart.