Tuesday 20 March 2018

Ryan graces the field of dreams in Rochdale fairytale

Alan Aherne
Alan Aherne

On the Line with Alan Aherne

I watched my television with no little admiration last Wednesday as a proud son of New Ross fulfilled every football-loving young boy's dream on the hallowed Wembley turf.

Any pre-teen lad kicking a ball around in the back garden wants to play there, just like those with a preference for hurling and Gaelic football are pre-occupied with making it to Croke Park.

And in the middle of last week, an ambition became reality for Ryan Delaney as the talented Barrowsider played a full 90 minutes on English football's field of dreams.

Of course, it wasn't quite how he would have imagined it during his boyhood days. For starters, the pitch became whiter and slippier with every passing minute as the snow fell relentlessly.

And then there was the not insignificant matter of Premier League opponents Spurs dishing out a 6-1 FA Cup replay hammering to the minnows, with Fernando Llorente bagging a twelve-minute second-half hat-trick along with two from Heung-Min Son before Kyle Walker-Peters completed the rout.

There may have been an inevitability regarding the outcome, but that didn't stop it from being a special night for Ryan and his new club, Rochdale.

It was only the third time in the lowly Lancashire outfit's history to reach the fifth round, and it was a welcome diversion from their regular Saturday struggles as they are in serious relegation trouble at the foot of League One.

As a matter of interest, Ryan's first team coach is none other than ex-professional Brian Barry-Murphy, son of the man known and revered simply by his initials - JBM - in his native Cork.

As a Spurs supporter, I guess you could say I had a foot in both camps last Wednesday. And from that point of view I was happy with the outcome, given that the FA Cup probably represents the club's best chance of silverware at this stage of the season, notwithstanding the admirable Champions League recovery away to Juventus.

I was thinking, as Ryan tried to deal with the attacking threat posed by Llorente, Lamela, Son, Moura and Alli, that it's not much longer than two years since I was watching him regularly as the left-sided centre-half during Wexford Youths' promotion-clinching season.

I didn't single him out then as someone who would play professionally in England, and on the hallowed Wembley turf, at the tender age of 21.

However, that says more about my inability to recognise talent than Ryan's application, single-mindedness and willingness to listen and learn that has propelled him onto this grand stage.

He was back in his alma mater, New Ross C.B.S., on a flying visit before Christmas, and what a wonderful ambassador he is proving to be for the school as his pleasing progress continues.

After winning a league and cup double with Cork City, and gaining international recognition at Under-21 level, the sky really is the limit for a young man with his feet planted firmly on the ground.

By all accounts from those who know him, Ryan isn't the type to let things go to his head, and that comes from a solid family grounding.

It's also encouraging for his long-term prospects to note that the lack of opportunities afforded to him at Burton Albion didn't weaken his resolve to make it in England.

After his success-laden loan term expired on Leeside, it was clear that he wasn't in the plans of Nigel Clough, manager of the under pressure Championship club.

First-team football was what he needed and wanted in equal measure, so when the chance came to sign a two-and-a-half year deal with Rochdale he didn't hesitate.

I've taken out a subscription for their award-winning match programme since Ryan joined the club, and it's clear from what I've read thus far that Keith Hill is a down-to-earth boss with a long track record in the lower divisions, destined to bring out the best in his new signing.

While Ryan's league campaign is nearing the critical stage, his ex-colleagues at Ferrycarrig Park are only starting out for 2018.

I wonder will any of the current Wexford F.C. crew follow in his footsteps with a lucrative cross-channel move? Why not support local the next time the chance arises and judge for yourself.

New Ross Standard