'I feel like I’m ready for this now' - Wexford boy Ryan Delaney set for his big night at Wembley against Spurs
A little over three months have passed Ryan Delaney played his part in Cork City’s FAI Cup Final win at the Aviva Stadium and tonight, he will stroll out at Wembley Stadium to take on some of the most valuable players in world football.
Wexford native Delaney has made a huge impression since making a move from Burton Albion to Rochdale last month, with his role in a thrilling 2-2 draw against Tottenham in a memorable FA Cup fifth round clash at Spotland 10 days ago earning the powerhouse defender a ticket to the most famous stage in world football.
Now Delaney is preparing for his second meeting with Harry Kane and his fellow Spurs A-listers, with the latest leg of his fairy tale set to take place on the hallowed turf of Wembley Stadium, with the 21-year-old relishing his second big moment in the football spotlight alongside a team that gave Tottenham so many problems in the first game at Spotland.
On paper, the side sitting rock bottom of League One have no chance of upsetting Mauricio Pochettino’s in-form Spurs, but Delaney naturally prefers to adopt a more optimistic attitude.
“I only arrived at Rochdale a few weeks ago and now this massive game has come along and it’s great for the club,” begins Manchester United fan Delaney. “There has been a great buzz a round the training ground in the build up to this and we all know that games like this don’t come around too often to clubs like Rochdale.
“This is a chance for us to go out and forget about trying to survive in League One and see what we can do against one of the best teams in England and shocks can happen in the FA Cup and we have to go into this game believing we can cause an upset.
“Our manager (Keith Hill) has said to us from the moment we were drawn against Tottenham that we have to grasp the moment and not fear it. That is what we intend to do.”
Delaney’s adventure in English football is comparable to so many of best young players who have found the leap in class tough to breach in recent years.
Comic book heroics of the ilk served up by Kevin Doyle and Shane Long as they set the Championship and Premier League alight soon after a move from Cork City in 2005 have become the exception rather than the norm, with this latest League of Ireland graduate admitting his road to first team football has been strewn with obstacles.
With Premier League moves now harder than ever to secure, Championship and League One clubs offers a route to success for Irish players, yet Delaney admits the step up from League of Ireland football is bigger than he expected.
“I feel like I’m ready for this now after what was a difficult experience at Burton,” states the 21-year-old.
“The move to Burton came about so quickly as I was told it was happening on the Tuesday, I played in a training game on the Friday and they offered me a contract after that.
“It felt great to get a move to a Championship club, but I realised quickly that it is a very competitive and a lot of the lads in their squad had played 200-300 games at a high level in England, some of them in the Premier League.
“It’s very competitive. Everyone is fighting for a handful of contracts every summer and it’s pretty cutthroat. Your team-mates are rivals in some ways as you look to get your career moving and that is difficult.
“The football over here is so much more physical, the pace is quicker, the fitness levels required are so high. It was a lot to get used to coming out of a Wexford side and trying to make that step up.
“That’s why I decided to move back to Ireland with Cork City on loan last season because I was only playing the odd reserve game with Burton and needed more than that if I wanted to develop as a player.
“Then the offer of a move to Rochdale came up last month and I have come in here feeling like I know what is expected of me this time. The players here have made me feel welcome and the manager has put his faith in me and given me a run in the team.
“Keith Hill has a very good record of developing young players and that is one of the reasons why I felt this was the right move for me and so far, it has worked out great.”
Delaney’s abilities shone through in some fine performances for Cork last year and if he can catch the eye in this afternoon’s clash against high flying Spurs, his rise to prominence will continue to gather in momentum.
Delaney’s presence on the big stage against Tottenham today should serve as inspiration to Irish players looking to make a break in the English game, with the defender who has been capped by Ireland at under-21 level convinced more are ready to follow in his footsteps.
“I definitely think there are players in the League of Ireland who could play in the Championship or League One right now,” he adds.
“There is a lot of luck involved in getting spotted. You need to play well on the day when a scout is there and sometimes it is out of your control if your team has a bad day as it is hard to look good at times.
“You do probably need a little bit of time to get used to what is expected of you at this level, but we have a lot of talent back home and hopefully some of the lads will get a chance to come to England.”