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Delaney eyes central role

Ipswich Town's Damien Delaney has offered his services as a central defender for Ireland's European Championship qualifying campaign.

The former Cork City man has earned the tag of utility player in a career which has seen him play all across the back four and in midfield for his clubs in Ireland and England, while he won both of his senior Ireland caps as a left back at the very start of Giovanni Trapattoni's reign.

But Delaney, 28, is now firmly ensconced as first-choice centre half with Ipswich, where his central defensive partner, Gareth McCauley, is an international with Northern Ireland.

And Delaney is now keen to make up for lost time and win back his place in the Republic's squad in time for the European Championship qualifying campaign which starts next September.

With Kevin Kilbane -- who has started every competitive game for Ireland since 1999 -- now past his 32nd birthday and not getting much first team football at Hull, the left back position could be up for grabs, with players like Wolves man Stephen Ward pressing their claims.



determined

Delaney had a run at left back under Trapattoni already but he feels that a switch to the middle of the defence could be his ticket to the Euro 2012 qualifiers.

"I am playing at centre half for my club now, I have struck up a good partnership with Gareth McCauley so hopefully the next step for me will be to get back into the Irish squad and get a cap. I have been stuck on two caps for a long time now, nearly two years, so it's time for me to get another one," Delaney told the Herald.

"I came into the squad as a left back when the new manager came in two years ago. I was playing at left back for QPR at the time so I got a run as left full with Ireland. I haven't played in a long time and it's even been a while since I was in the squad. Kevin Kilbane came back in and played nearly every game at left back.

"I might have a chance at centre half now. Ireland have other options there; Richard Dunne and Sean St Ledger did very well in the World Cup campaign, people like Paul McShane and Stephen Kelly are around too, so I know it won't be easy.

"But I am determined to get back into the squad at least, and take it from there," added Delaney.

"I always felt that, to get a chance with the national team, I would have to be playing regularly and playing well for a good club. I am doing that now with Ipswich, I think my form has been good, so I have done my bit, now it's a question of whether the Ireland management think I am good enough.

"I was involved with the squad for a long time. I think I was on the bench as an unused sub for seven of the qualifiers but I haven't really been involved at all since the away game to Italy. I have missed it so I want to get back there."

There was a boost for Delaney -- and the other five Irish players in the first team at Portman Road these days -- last week when Marco Tardelli, Giovanni Trapattoni's assistant, went to Loftus Road to see QPR take on Ipswich, a happy trip to London for the Tractor Boys as Daryl Murphy scored in a 2-1 win for Keane's side.

"It was great to hear that Marco was at the game, though I didn't know it on the night. I only found out the next day," explained Delaney.

"There are a few Irish players here, lads who have been in the squad before like myself and Daryl Murphy, and players who haven't had a chance yet, like Owen Garvan.

"It's funny that Marco saw us win at QPR. He used to come and watch them a lot when I played for QPR as Marco was based in London. That's how I got my chance with Ireland as he spotted me playing for them and put me in the squad.

"We have six Irish lads in the first team squad and few younger boys in the reserves and youths as well, so it's good for us all to see someone like Marco coming to the games, and it gives you hope."





LEFT-BACK

Despite his current run of form at the heart of the defence in Roy Keane's side, the Cork-born player is not ruling out more service at left-back, for his club or his country.

"It's always been the way with me in my career, I play wherever I am told," said Delaney, who represented Cork at minor level in Gaelic football, helping them to a Munster title success in 1999, before he decided to concentrate solely on soccer.

"When I started out with Cork City youths, I was a central midfielder, I got a good few games for City's first team, but played in a few different positions. I went to England, to Leicester, and they played me in the middle and at the back as well.

"I suppose the longest run in one position was at Hull. I had four or five years in the team there as a centre half and I really enjoyed that. I played at left back and centre-half for QPR, started off at Ipswich as a left back but the manager has moved me into central defence in the last few months and it's gone well, so hopefully I can stay there," added Delaney.

"I don't care where I play as long as I am in the team. The worst thing in football is to be out of the picture and not involved, sitting on the bench or in the stands every week, so getting games is the main thing for me."

The priority for the club, however, is getting points on the board and moving up the table. Ipswich are currently only two places away from the relegation zone and are demanding better form.

"We have a very busy period ahead, that's why it was good to get a few days off last week and get home to Cork to relax," he said.

"We have games on the way against people like Scunthorpe and Sheffield Wednesday, who are down in the bottom half with us and we need to win those matches if we are to stay up."

Ipswich are away to strugglers Peterborough United tonight and then face another relegation-threatened side, Sheffield Wednesday, on Saturday.


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