Thursday 22 March 2018

Rory Delap: Throwing off the stereotype

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

RORY DELAP emits a broad laugh when asked if curiosity ever led him to tap his name into YouTube, the home to a weird and wonderful array of video clips from around the world.

When the fame from his long throw exploits at Stoke reached a peak, his surname became an ambition. For every YouTube video of the master of the work, there is another of some hapless individual trying and failing to 'do a Delap.'

"My son showed me one," he admits. "I think it was called the 'Painful Delap.' It was a kids match and the lad takes a long run back, runs up and throws it straight into the kid in front of him. Right in his face."

He's smiling now. There's no other option. He realised a long time ago that it was futile to try and get through a discussion without mentioning the secret weapon that became a global talking point when Stoke burst onto the Premier League scene in August 2008.

While top-flight managers wrestled with how to deal with the missiles being hurled in their direction, the former javelin thrower dealt with the kind of attention that was alien to him during the first 14 years of his professional career.


At first, it was fun. It opened doors and gave him the opportunity to meet some interesting people. However, the novelty wore off as the repetitive interviews stacked up. "Going from one person to the next, all with the same question," he sighs.

It reached a nadir when a PR guru asked if he would be interested in throwing a Christmas pudding over a double decker bus. "There were some weird ones, but none weirder than that."

The offer was refused. A line had to be drawn somewhere. The requests will never stop. He has two sons, aged 10 and 8, and occasionally coaches their schoolboy teams. In an ideal world, the enquiring minds would seek the advice of a well travelled footballer who has made almost 600 senior appearances. But they are children.

No prizes for guessing what they always want to see.

"Every bloody time," chuckles Delap. "I think it'll be going with me until the grave."

While the legend lives on, his days at Stoke are numbered. Amid the hype of transfer deadline day, his movements slipped under the radar. He joined Barnsley, agreeing a loan deal until the end of the season when his contract at the Britannia Stadium expires.

After six-and-a-half years that exceeded all expectations – they started from a low base considering he broke his leg a week into his initial loan deal – it is time to say goodbye.

The writing was on the wall on the final day of August transfer business when Tony Pulis recruited three midfielders.

"I've no hard feelings towards him," he says. "He was great to me, going right back to when he shook hands and promised he'd sign me permanently when I had the leg break. I thought I had a chance of being around the squad this season until the new faces came in. I knew the story then. I'm going the wrong way in age. It was just frustrating going into training every week with nothing at the end of it."

He turns 37 in the summer, and has no intention of hanging up his boots. Therefore, every outing is important with a view to proving to prospective employers that he is still a viable proposition. In a career that has taken him from schoolboy club Carlisle to Derby, Southampton, Sunderland and then Stoke, managers have respected his versatility. Stints in defence, midfield and attack provide a convincing counterpoint to the one-trick pony accusation.

Temporary Barnsley boss David Flitcroft wanted his experience to help in the fight against relegation from the Championship. He felt "crap" for the first 15 minutes of his debut at Blackpool, and lasted 55 minutes in that 2-1 win. Then came last weekend's trip to Middlesbrough, where he played the duration of a dramatic 3-2 triumph. Two games, two wins. Not a bad start.

This afternoon, they have the distraction of the FA Cup and a fifth round trip to MK Dons. Considering the opposition operate in League One, Barnsley fans will travel with confidence. "We can't take our foot off the gas," Delap warns. "And we certainly can't be complacent."

Victory would prompt giddy talk of Wembley, with the Capital One Cup exploits of Bradford demonstrating that anything is possible. Just two years ago, Delap was involved in an FA Cup final, a proud moment for a traditionalist who holds the competition in the highest regard, although it ultimately ended with a gut-wrenching late defeat to Manchester City. Still, the occasion was a reward for three successive campaigns as a Premier League regular, a rarity for an Irish international.

There was no call from Giovanni Trapattoni, who appeared to subscribe to the theory that Delap only had one string to his bow. When the player's name was mentioned, the Italian would jump to his feet and mimic a throwing action.

Delap, who was born to Irish parents, won the last of his 11 caps in 2004. Only two were earned competitively, a surprise involvement in both legs of the fraught Euro 2000 play-off loss to Turkey. In hindsight, he pinpoints a toe problem that ruled him out of the replacement trip to the US Cup as an opportunity missed. Others seized their chance and Delap became accustomed to travelling without playing.

Further injuries followed before the arrival of his first child and the associated commitment contributed to his exclusion during Brian Kerr's tenure. "I was gutted when I started not to make the squads," he says. "If you look at it, I made my debut in the same game as Robbie Keane and Duffer and Mark Kinsella and while I'm not saying that I'm in the same category, it's disappointing that I won so few caps. I never really managed to get three or four games in a row. It could have been different."

Trapattoni's lack of interest did hurt, yet he moves on with no regrets. He has always used his spare time productively. Stoke are a particularly active club when it comes to charity, and as a father of three kids, his head was turned by the work of the Donna Louise Children's Hospice.

By coincidence, he had taken up cycling and had planned to ride from Carlisle to Edinburgh with some lifelong friends, including ex-footballer Tony Hopper who had brief spell in Ireland with Bohemians. "I was talking to Mel, the girl who looked after the fundraising for the Donna Louise, and she was telling us they were struggling. I asked her if it would be worth doing it for the hospice. It went from there."

Four charity cycles later, he's picked up a hobby for the long road ahead post-football. His wife, Helen, has taken up the baton and when her husband was struggling with a sore back last year, she travelled to Spain to take the 'Tres Picos' (Three Peaks) challenge. With the mountain climbing box ticked, she is now concentrating on the London Marathon.

Their worthy endeavours tackle the perception of the average footballer, although Delap is keen to challenge the veracity of the stereotype. "There's a lot that people don't hear about," he stresses. "The majority of the lads that I've come across are decent, normal fellas who don't look for any fuss. But that's human nature; it doesn't sell papers. Sometimes, it seems as though it's only the ones who make a tit of themselves that get a bit of publicity."

He can live with the fact that his legacy will be shaped by ordinary people making fools of themselves in a vain attempt to carry off an impersonation. When he reaches the chequered flag he will reflect proudly on the memories but, for now, the throw must go on.

Irish Independent

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