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Why the English Championship's relegation battle could be vital to Cork City's title hopes

Ryan Delaney’s future at the club is likely to depend on it.

CORK CITY MANAGER John Caulfield will be keeping a close eye on the climax of the Sky Bet Championship season, as the outcome of the battle to avoid relegation from English football’s second tier could potentially leave a hole at the heart of his defence.

Having played in all 11 of Cork City’s competitive games this season, Ryan Delaney has become a major asset for John Caulfield’s side since his arrival from Burton Albion. However, the 20-year-old central defender is due to return to Burton in the summer as his loan deal is set to expire in July.

John Caulfield John Caulfield Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

City, who have kept seven clean sheets with Delaney at the back, are currently nine points clear at the top of the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division. The Leesiders started the season by winning the President’s Cup and booked their place in the quarter-finals of the EA Sports Cup with a 3-0 win away to Limerick this week.

Caulfield is hoping to keep Delaney at the club until the end of the season, but it’s thought that the likelihood of such an agreement being made with Burton will increase significantly if Nigel Clough’s side can stay in the Championship.

The Brewers took a big step towards securing their safety on Monday with a crucial 2-0 win away to Birmingham City, which has put them three points clear of the relegation zone. With three games remaining, Burton must host promotion chasers Leeds United and Reading, as well as travelling to face 14th-placed Barnsley.

Delaney has yet to make a first-team appearance for Burton Albion, who he joined from Wexford Youths last July. He was offered a two-year contract with the option of a third after impressing Nigel Clough in a couple of trial games with the Staffordshire outfit.

“We’ve been talking to Nigel Clough,” John Caulfield said. “The way we left it was that we’d wait until we got to June and we’d have a chat and see where it’s at. They’re fighting to survive. Thankfully they won [on Monday] so it looks like they might beat the drop.

Gearoid Morrissey and Ryan Delaney Ryan Delaney Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“In fairness to them, they’ve been very good to us. Nigel Clough is a gentleman. He’s fighting to survive. We said we’d park it until their season ends and we’d have a chat about it then.

“At the moment I’m assuming that they’ll take him back. Ryan, I would say himself, would like to finish out the season, so at the moment there’s no point in me getting worried about it because we can’t do anything. Probably in six weeks’ time we’ll have a clearer picture on it.”

The success of Delaney’s move to Cork City has come as a relief to Caulfield, who was faced with a defensive crisis days before the season began when Kenny Browne departed for Waterford. Fortunately for the Leesiders — who have a 100% record in 2017 — the transition has been seamless.

The Cork City boss added: “We lost the best centre-back in the country on the eve of the season, no matter who’s talking about any other player. The best centre-back in Ireland was Kenny Browne and everyone knew that. You look at his cup final performance last year, absolutely incredible.

“Not only is he brilliant in the air, he’s a phenomenal footballer. We lost him on the eve of the season and very few people have noticed that, maybe because of the start we’ve had. That’s why it was disappointing because he was such a fantastic player.

Birmingham City v Burton Albion - Sky Bet Championship - St Andrew's Action from Burton Albion's win against Birmingham City on Monday. Source: David Davies

“But as things happen, Ryan came in and he’s been incredible. He’s 20 years of age, brilliant guy, I can’t get him off the training pitch. Every day after training he’s out there for another 20 minutes. He just loves it here and that’s great. He has a fantastic attitude.”

Alan Bennett, Delaney’s colleague in the centre of Cork City’s defence, also sang the praises of his new partner at the back.

“He’s been brilliant,” Bennett said. “He’s like a young lad; asks questions, wants to know my opinion on stuff, listens — more importantly — and he has a good attitude. I think he’s kind of still finding his game because he is quite young.

“He’s a good athlete; big lad, very strong, still kind of finding his body a bit as a young lad. At 21 to 24 you’re still kind of figuring yourself out. This was a great move for him and it’s worked out really well for him.”

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