Tuesday 12 December 2017

Sunny side up for Delaney Down Under

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

CLIVE DELANEY has a lot more than the snow to be thinking about at the moment. Once it doesn't stop him getting to the airport on Sunday, he'll be just grand.

This time next week he'll be in Sydney starting a new life, a decision that was effectively forced on the central defender by the turbulent events of the last six months.

For the UCD graduate, who spent a brief time at West Ham before forging a solid career as a recognisably tall centre-half with St Patrick's Athletic, Bray Wanderers and Derry City, the League of Ireland had nothing more to offer.

The chartered accountant packed in a safe job with Japanese investment firm Sumitomo Mitsui two years ago to join Derry for a second stint as a full-time footballer. Amid all the trouble Foyleside, the reality is that he hasn't been paid a wage for over four months.

He spoke to half of the current Premier Division managers and was shocked by what they now have to offer. Clubs advertising full-time football are offering 40-week-a-year contracts. "What do you do for the other 12?" Delaney asks.

Meanwhile, the part-time clubs expect players to take a couple of mornings off a week. "Maybe in the good times that might have been OK," he says. "But in the current climate, are employers really going to be that flexible? It's not realistic."

It's stating the obvious to point out that the financial services industry has changed dramatically in the space of two years.

The market is tight in Dublin. So, Delaney had to look further afield, a reality facing so many of those players who were let go by clubs across the country when the League of Ireland season finished in November.

With a brother and plenty of friends there already, Australia stood out head and shoulders above the other options. A stint there last year confirmed the stereotype of the lifestyle quality.

"I had no interest in playing in the League of Ireland this year after all that happened," admits Delaney. "I lost a lot of respect for it really.

"I've been surprised; I spoke to five out of the 10 managers in the Premier Division and I'm shocked by how out of touch they seem to be in terms of what they're offering. There seems to be no leadership or direction about the way things are going.

"What last year proves is that there's no sustainability as it currently stands. The last four and a half months have been the worst of my life with no income. I gave up a good job to give professional football a proper try, but it didn't work and it's hard to see a future here in the game at all."

In Australia, there is hope. Timing is important. He's in a slightly different boat to some of the others who are heading that direction. Jason Gavin and Shane Robinson, released from St Patrick's Athletic and Shamrock Rovers respectively, are prepared to head that way.

They plan to initially make their name in the part-time State Leagues which kick off in March and serve as feeder clubs to the brand new 'A' League, which is a growing professional entity built on a solid enough structure with marquee names like Robbie Fowler thrown in to excite the crowds.

The 'A' League season begins in the summer, which means there is a window for those going over to do enough to perhaps grab the attention of the large franchise.

However, Delaney is looking to base himself in Sydney and has prioritised working in the financial services centre there, with meetings and interviews lined up.

His football ambition remains, and he has an agent contacting various clubs in the State League but, right now, his only option is in Melbourne and that's not much help. Getting fixed up in Sydney is essential, and a March deadline gives him a reasonably large window to make an impression.

"The intention is to put work first; to work in the day and train in the evenings a couple of days a week with a game at the weekend," he says. "I think in the Premier Division here at home now, it's only really St Patrick's Athletic and UCD who are offering that kind of part-time football.

"I still feel I have a few years left in my peak in football terms so I'm not looking to take it easy. I want to do well there, but I have to be realistic -- I've spent a few years out of the kind of work I was doing before and I need to get back in there.

"The market seems to provide more opportunities in Sydney. But the football set-up seems to be good. And I will get paid."

He delivers a wry chuckle with the last statement. At least he can afford to laugh about his struggles now with a new start on the horizon. The frustration of the past number of months has taken its toll. His girlfriend retained reliable employment in Belfast but as the main provider with a mortgage to worry about, it was a stressful period.

Now, there's some light at the end of the tunnel. Along with Gavin, he will spin down to Bunclody in Wexford on Saturday, weather permitting, to get assessed for the early part of his coaching badges.

They are being accommodated in that by the PFAI who are left with the onerous task of looking after numbers of out-of-work individuals who don't quite have the same options.

From Monday week, the unwanted members of the transfer list will gather in the AUL for training sessions with Shamrock Rovers assistant boss Trevor Croly three mornings a week, hoping that interested managers, who are trying to sign players as late as possible for budget reasons, drop down to check on their fitness.

By then, Delaney will be in sunnier pastures, albeit also engaged in the process of impressing potential suitors.

The difference is that he'll be signing into a contract he can trust. After that, the weather is a bonus.

Irish Independent

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