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Ireland need Delaney for vital Bosnia trip

With John O’Shea set to miss the first leg, Martin O’Neill is set for a defensive dilemma.

Damien Delaney has been an important part of Crystal Palace's team in recent seasons.
Damien Delaney has been an important part of Crystal Palace's team in recent seasons.
Image: PA Archive/Press Association Images

AHEAD OF NEXT month’s vital Euro 2016 play-off games against Bosnia, Martin O’Neill has a number of defensive concerns.

For the initial away fixture, O’Neill will be without the suspended John O’Shea, who picked up a red card in the Irish team’s most recent qualifier with Poland.

As it stands, Ireland’s alternatives to O’Shea in defence don’t look overly promising.

Ciaran Clark is currently injured, though he is expected to be back prior to the play-offs. Even still though, the 26-year-old has not played a Premier League match since August and no longer seems to be first choice in defence for Tim Sherwood’s men.

Marc Wilson, similarly, has suffered from injuries and a loss of form, meaning he has made just one league start for Stoke all season.

And aside from the aforementioned names, the other obvious options at centre-back are all Championship-based — Richard Keogh (Derby), Paul McShane (Reading) and Alex Pearce (Derby).

The outlook is consequently not great. Bosnia are a formidable outfit on their day — they earned an impressive 2-0 victory over Euro 2016-bound Wales earlier this month.

In midfield and attack in particular, Ireland’s upcoming opponents boast some top players, such as Edin Dzeko (Roma), Miralem Pjanic (Roma) and Senad Lulic (Lazio).

The thought of these highly-rated stars coming up against a makeshift backline comprising of Premier League reserves and Championship players is more than a little foreboding.

Yet there is one potential solution — the best Irish defender in the Premier League over the past two-three seasons, Damien Delaney. The veteran centre-back has been an integral part of Crystal Palace’s rapid transition into a solid mid-table side, having been in the Championship just three seasons ago.

Although injury problems have restricted his appearances of late, Delaney has more Premier League starts this season than any other Irish centre-back with the exception of O’Shea.

Unless Wilson or Clark can recover their fitness and form before 13 November, Delaney will likely be the only Irish centre-back, aside from the suspended O’Shea, playing regular Premier League football.

The impressive manner in which Delaney man marked Diego Costa, thereby helping to inspire Crystal Palace’s improbable victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge back in August, suggests the experienced defender would be more than capable of keeping Edin Dzeko and co at bay.

However, there is one obvious problem — Delaney effectively retired from international football last August, explaining:

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“I know that at the age of 34 the future of Irish football does not lie with me, the rigours of Premier League football and the 24/7 dedication required takes its toll so I look on the international break as a chance to recover.

“That said I spoke to Martin O Neill and contrary to his recent comments I never asked for a regular starting position.”

Delaney also implied he disagreed with aspects of O’Neill’s footballing philosophy, which seemingly served to further alienate him from the side.

Soccer - International Friendly - Republic of Ireland v England - Republic of Ireland Press Conference - Radisson Hotel Source: Martin Rickett

(Ireland will be without the suspended John O’Shea for the first leg of their upcoming encounter with Bosnia)

Consequently, most people have assumed that Delaney will never play for Ireland again. Yet surely the Boys in Green could do with a player of the former Cork City man’s experience ahead of the trip to Bosnia. Would Delaney still be insistent on turning down the chance of playing in a vital Euro 2016 qualifier, with the potential reward being one last shot at competing at a major tournament?

Any development in this situation would probably require a level of contrition from both parties, given what has been said, but stranger things have certainly happened in football, and Delaney would by no means be the first footballer to come out of international retirement in his country’s hour of need.

And Ireland, as a small footballing nation with limited resources, surely should not be alienating its better players, particularly with so much at stake in the coming weeks.

The Crystal Palace centre-back is certainly no world beater, but in O’Shea’s absence, there is surely no more suitable candidate to fill the void in Bosnia, for what is likely to be a defence-oriented backs-to-the-walls performance prior to the all-important home second leg.

In addition to reading the game superbly, Delaney has genuine leadership qualities that will undoubtedly be required in O’Shea’s absence, along with consistent experience playing at a high level.

He may only have nine caps for his country, but the likes of Darren Randolph and Cyrus Christie have shown that it’s not impossible to adapt quickly to the demands of international football, even against world-class opposition such as Germany.

Ireland have enough problems, without having to deal with self-inflicted issues, while for Delaney, an appearance at the Euros would surely be among the highlights of the Corkonian’s career.

So ultimately, Delaney’s re-introduction to the international set-up, even if it’s just for a couple of games, would surely make sense from both parties’ perspective. At most, it would add an extra 5-10 fixtures to Delaney’s season and even at 34, he looks well capable of fulfilling such demands on the basis of his performances so far this campaign.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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