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Tuesday 31 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
Dan Sheridan/INPHO Damien Delaney is a pundit for Premier Sports.
# On the mic
Damien Delaney talks punditry, Ronaldo and Stephen Kenny's Ireland
The former Ireland and Crystal Palace defender says his new media career came as a surprise.

IT’S A BEAUTIFUL sunny day in Dublin, with the city beginning to feel something like it’s old self for the first time in what seems like an age. Students with new backpacks buzz around the vicinity of Trinity College, while in St Stephen’s Green, office workers stroll to and from lunch as another set of restrictions lift. 

On the terrace of a Dawson Street restaurant, Damien Delaney dishes out the fistbumps and sits down with a coffee. The former Premier League defender turned TV pundit is in a good mood. Life is busy. At home, there’s two kids to keep him on his toes, while professionally, there’s no shortage of media commitments to keep him occupied. 

“Feel free to say ‘I’m sick of fucking looking at you’,” Delaney smiles. 

His move into the world of football punditry had not been planned. Having finished playing with Waterford, Delaney was on holiday in Portugal ahead of the 2019-20 season when an unknown number flashed up on his screen. The voice at the other end asked if he’s like to try his hand at punditry for Premier Sports. 

“I couldn’t have thought of anything worse when I was playing,” Delaney says.

“I never enjoyed doing media work. I used to avoid it. I used to do the bare minimum that was required. I always kind of thought it took an energy from you that you would be better off spent somewhere else.”

What began as a curiosity has developed into a successful post-playing career pursuit.

Delaney doesn’t know how long it will last, or what could be the carrot to tempt him away from it. He’s open to the idea of going back to study, but is less enamoured with the thought of a move into coaching.

“I have considered it (coaching), but no I wouldn’t. When I had my two kids, that’s what I kind of want to focus on. I’m fortunate to be able to spend time with them. 

“I know what’s required if you go into coaching, it’s 24-7, your mind is always somewhere else. Even when you’re at home, it’s somewhere else. That’s what playing is like and coaching is even worse. I just don’t want to be there at the moment.

Absolutely (that could change), but I’m also aware that once you’re out of the game for a certain period of time, the train could be gone and that’s OK. I’m prepared to accept that because having young kids is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I love getting up with them in the morning, I love taking them to school, I love collecting them. That’s what I enjoy right now.

“This work with media allows me to have a good schedule that allows it, working however many nights a month it is. I’m content, I enjoy it, I’m glad people enjoy it, some people don’t and that’s fine too.”

Delaney’s new life in the media is all the more surprising given the fact that as a player, he made absolutely no effort to engage with that part of the football industry.

“I was never on social media, I was never prominent on that, I did interviews that I was contractually obligated to do and, when I went home… Like my last four years at Crystal Palace I didn’t have a TV. I swear to God. I didn’t have a TV in my house. It was Netflix and that was it.

“Things would happen and I would come into training and say ‘we signed who?’ because I would only find out when I came in that day, or whatever the latest scandal was, I wouldn’t find out until the next day.”

The perks of the new gig are obvious. He loves watching football, and enjoys digging into games and analysing the finer details, thinking about how he’d deal with different situations if he was on the pitch.

He covered Leicester in the Europa League recently, where Napoli’s Victor Osimhen caught his eye – “he would terrify me.” He looks at Romelu Lukaku’s form at Chelsea, and remembers the player he faced at Everton. 

“Whenever you are playing against somebody, there was always something they were missing, so you always try take the game to that area to level up the playing field,” he explains.

soccer-barclays-premier-league-everton-v-crystal-palace-goodison-park Alamy Stock Photo Delaney battles with a young Romelu Lukaku. Alamy Stock Photo

“I remember thinking don’t get caught in a footrace with him, don’t get caught in a battle of strength with him, but let him have to feet because it will bounce off him. His link-up play wasn’t amazing. Obviously now he’s developed that and he does look like the real deal.”

If he was lining out against Manchester United this weekend, how would he try level up the playing field against the Premier League’s current superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo?

“I don’t know really. Everything except scoring goals, because I don’t think he’s amazing at everything at the moment.

“But when crosses come into the box you would probably shit yourself. Watch how early he goes on crosses, he gambles. Defenders can’t gamble. So as the cross is coming in, as soon as the winger’s leg is drawn back, he’s gone. They (strikers) have that luxury because if they are wrong, it doesn’t matter, the cross just goes over their head. I can’t gamble on that. 

The second goal (for Portugal) against Ireland is a prime example of that. Seamus (Coleman) got caught, and people were saying he needed to be tighter. If Seamus gambles the cross is going there, Ronaldo is going to pull off his backside, and if the cross goes on the wrong side it’s a tap-in header. So as a defender, Seamus has to hold long enough to pick up the flight of the ball. By the time you know where it’s going, he’s already up. It’s hard man.”

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The conversation was always going to roll around to the fortunes of Stephen’s Kenny’s Ireland.

Delaney feels the squad will have taken encouragement from the performance in defeat against Portugal, but accepts that the results that followed have put huge pressure on the group.

“Players are capable of looking deeper at a performance and saying ‘Look, we were really really close.’ Ultimately we didn’t get over the line (against Portugal) and being close isn’t very good, and being in that position you should at least walk away with a draw. 

“But as a player yeah, you would say we’re not a million miles away. Obviously there are lessons for everybody to be learned there but yeah, you take encouragement from it, definitely. But this is a big international window this one, very big.”

And what of Stephen Kenny, a man with big ambitions for the future of Irish football, who finds himself under increased scrutiny with each passing international window.

“You have the three columns of developing young players, changing the style, and results, and he’s focused on the first two – I think naively – and forgot about the third one. Nobody gets a free ride like that, nobody. You can’t have that. So maybe he just needs to tip the balance slightly to take that into account.

“It’s not all about results, but they are fucking important, you know? And I think that if he just tipped the balance slightly and had four wins on the board, he would garner so much more good will from people. The people saying it’s about development and Irish football (are still on his side, but), he’d get all the other people on board with him.

“I think that he kind of came into it bright-eyed, bushy tailed and excited, and just went ‘I’m going to change Irish football! – and then didn’t go ‘Hang on, we need to protect the back-end here.’ 

“I’m not saying for a second that Stephen went in and said ‘I don’t care about results’, he didn’t (do that), but I think there were some games where he could have set-up slightly differently and just got a win on the board.”

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