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Wembley-bound Delaney highlights possibilities on offer from League of Ireland

“Guys like that who come back at that age, the opportunity here is massive if they can hold their heads.”

JOHN CAULFIELD HAS expressed his delight at witnessing the involvement of a member of his double-winning squad in Rochdale’s stunning FA Cup draw with Tottenham Hotspur.

The Cork City manager also agrees that Ryan Delaney’s achievement with his new club provides further evidence of how effective the League of Ireland can be in acting as a platform for Irish players aiming to launch their careers in England.

Britain Soccer FA Cup Ryan Delaney celebrates after Rochdale's draw with Tottenham, as Harry Kane looks on. Source: Rui Vieira

Delaney played all 90 minutes for Rochdale as they managed to hold the Premier League giants to a 2-2 draw at Spotland on Sunday, after Steve Davies equalised in the third minute of added time to cancel out Harry Kane’s 88th-minute penalty.

The teams will have to meet again in a replay at Wembley a week from today, with the winners advancing to face Swansea City or Sheffield Wednesday in the quarter-finals.

The result was the latest landmark in what has been a remarkable 12 months for Delaney, who made his Cork City debut a year ago this week. The 21-year-old defender moved to Leeside on loan from Burton Albion and played a key role for John Caulfield’s side as they ended 2017 as Premier Division and FAI Cup winners.

Delaney moved to Burton from Wexford Youths in the summer of 2016, but he had been unable to make a first-team breakthrough at the English Championship club before being sent back to the SSE Airtricity League on a temporary deal.

He made 49 appearances in total last season, during which he also won President’s Cup and Munster Senior Cup medals, as well as making his debut for the Republic of Ireland at U21 level. The Wexford native was named SSE Airtricity/SWAI Player of the Month last May and he was also included in the PFAI Team of the Year.

After returning to Burton in January, he was snapped up by Rochdale on a two-and-a-half-year deal and has become a regular starter on the left side of their back three. The Greater Manchester club are fighting against relegation from League One, but they’ll be hoping their shock result against Tottenham can act as a catalyst for a revival.

Caulfield is full of praise for Delaney for grasping the opportunity that was presented to him to play first-team football in Cork, which has allowed him to kickstart his career instead of remaining in Burton and having to be content with reserve team football.

“If [Ryan] didn’t come here, there’s no chance that he’d be where he is now. Absolutely. We’re delighted for him. It was great for them to get the equaliser,” Caulfield said, ahead of Cork City’s Premier Division clash with Waterford this Friday night.

“But to be fair to Ryan, even when he came in last year, he was a fantastic person, great attitude, really wanted it, and whether he was going to be here with Cork City for another two or three years or not, he was giving himself every opportunity to be the best he could be.

Ryan Delaney and Alan Bennett celebrate Delaney with Alan Bennett after Cork City were crowned 2017 SSE Airtricity League Premier Division champions. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“You admire a guy like that. Guys like that who come back at that age, the opportunity here is massive if they can hold their heads. But unfortunately too many of them don’t apply themselves in the right way.”

Caulfield added: “The biggest problem with a lot of young players who come back from England is that they don’t have the attitude, because they feel they’re better than what they are. They get lost and they never come again.

“We’ve had several examples of guys that have come out of England at 19, 20, 21, and in lots of cases people have told them that they’ve failed, that they haven’t made it. Before their careers even start, they’re gone.

“Not only is that all over Ireland, it’s all over Cork. This is always the challenge when you bring fellas in from England. They underestimate the standard that’s here.”

Caulfield cited Danny Kane as another player who could follow Ryan Delaney’s example. The Dublin-born defender, an Ireland U21 team-mate of Delaney’s, has joined Cork City this season after being released by Huddersfield Town.

“There’s no guarantees,” Caulfield said. “You have to be able to step up to the mark. You have to be able to run through a wall. You have to have the attitude and make sure that you can deliver when you come back.

“You can only give fellas the environment to do that. After that it’s up to themselves. That’s what, unfortunately, a lot of them don’t even come through. Ryan is a great case in point and hopefully we’ll have more of those guys.”

As Rochdale fight to avoid the drop to League Two, Ryan Delaney’s footballing mission is far from accomplished. But having won a league and cup double at home in Ireland, and with a trip to Wembley to come in seven days’ time, the young defender has made remarkable progress in the last year as a result of his return to the SSE Airtricity League.

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Paul Dollery

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