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Dublin: 13 °C Thursday 18 July, 2019
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Cork City youngster ready to be an asset to Clough's Championship challenge

It’s been a dream year for Ryan Delaney, who’ll head back to England shortly after Sunday’s FAI Cup final.

WHEN RYAN DELANEY returns to Burton Albion next month, he believes the English Championship club will see a much different player than the one who temporarily left Staffordshire back in January for a spell with Cork City.

“I’m not going to lie, my confidence was very low,” admits the central defender, who departed Wexford in the summer of 2016 to sign a two-year deal with Burton.

Ryan Delaney Ryan Delaney at Cork City's pre-FAI Cup final media event at the Cork International Hotel. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Having been unable to convince manager Nigel Clough that he was worthy of a first-team appearance during his first six months at the Pirelli Stadium, Delaney was sent out on loan to Cork City at the beginning of 2017.

He was due to return to England in June but City succeeded in extending his stay in Cork until the end of the season. If the Wexford native ends up being on the winning side in this weekend’s FAI Cup final, it will be the perfect ending to a year during which he won Premier Division, President’s Cup and Munster Senior Cup medals, a player-of-the-month award and his first Ireland U21 cap.

Delaney will start alongside Alan Bennett at the heart of City’s defence in Sunday afternoon’s decider, when John Caulfield’s side will look to retain the FAI Cup at Dundalk’s expense at the Aviva Stadium.

“I was playing reserve football over at Burton but it wasn’t competitive. To improve as a player, I felt I had to go out and play competitive football,” he explains. “Even in training I didn’t think it was going to give me the edge I needed to break into the first team. When this opportunity came along I knew I had to take it with both hands.

“I couldn’t have imagined how well it would go. It’s been fantastic. I can’t thank John [Caulfield] and the staff enough. They’ve made me the player I am now, helping me to progress along the way. A lot of the experienced players I’ve played with — the likes of Benno [Alan Bennett], Johnny [Dunleavy] — they’ve all helped me to develop my game. It’s been a fantastic year.”

Delaney has already tasted victory against Dundalk on three occasions this season, but taking into account the doubts and criticism that have been levelled at Cork City due to their recent run of poor form, another win against the Lilywhites on Sunday might be the sweetest yet.

As well as being part of the meanest defence in the Premier Division this season, Delaney contributed five league goals as the Leesiders won their first top-flight title in 12 years. After three consecutive seasons of runner-up finishes, the roles were finally reversed and Dundalk had to settle for second place.

Ryan Delaney celebrates scoring their third goal Delaney celebrates after scoring for Cork City against Shamrock Rovers back in May. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“It’s a brilliant rivalry,” Delaney says. “It’s two teams who can match each other in different ways. Both teams have strengths and weaknesses but we just know that if we bring our energy and our pace we’ll give ourselves a good chance.”

After he’s afforded a few weeks of post-FAI Cup final respite, Delaney will return to Burton in December. With his contract due to expire next summer, he’ll be keen to impress Nigel Clough, whose side look set for another relegation battle in England’s second tier.

He won’t be eligible to play again until January, but after a year of regular first-team football during which he won medals, played in Europe and was recognised at international level, the 21-year-old believes he’s now in a position to make his mark.

He says: “The manager [Nigel Clough] has been talking to John [Caulfield] and saying I’ve done very well this year, and when I get back over it’ll be up to me to show him I’m worth a place in the team. Hopefully this experience will stand to me and I can crack on when I get back over.

“I’m a lot more confident now on the pitch. I feel I’ve matured too. There have been plenty of ups and downs along the way this year and I feel I’m better for those experiences. Hopefully I can give it a push and break into the team.”

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Paul Dollery

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