Better late than never

IF GIOVANNI Trapattoni could just bottle Damien Delaney’s enthusiasm he’d be at least halfway to qualifying the Republic of Ireland for the next World Cup.

“Brilliant, I love being involved,” says the 27 year-old from Cork on retaining his place in Trapattoni’s squad. “I’m very passionate, want to do very well, so hopefully I’ll get a chance.”

The tall QPR full-back has every reason to feel positive, given that he wasn’t even in the Italian’s original squad of 40 for the training camp in Portugal and the games against Serbia and Colombia. But with Marco Tardelli having watched him a couple of times in the blue and white hoops, suddenly Delaney was on the list when the numbers were whittled down to 27.

“When I wasn’t in the 40 I thought, okay, and went on my holidays,” he recalls. “Then while I was back in Cork playing golf I got a phone call off (fellow international) Martin Rowlands at QPR saying you’ve got to be in Dublin next week. I was delighted.”

Just how delighted may be judged by what happened to his round of golf. “I walked in,” he smiles. “I actually did walk in after three holes.”

Delaney hasn’t had much time for the small ball since. After impressing in the training camp in Portugal, he suddenly found himself earning his first brace of caps, against Serbia in Croke Park and Colombia at Craven Cottage. And, as a late comer to the international scene, he perhaps appreciates the significance of the achievement more than most.

“Massive,” is how he describes the honour of playing for his country. “I remember Euro 88 (aged 7). Remember watching it. Remember getting ‘Shoot’ magazine and stuff like that. I massively remember Italia 90 and USA 94, watching the matches on the big screen in Douglas. The whole country ground to a halt. To think I could be part of something like that — obviously if it’s a successful World Cup campaign — that people could be flocking to see the boys in green and I could be part of the squad, well, that’s a huge motivation.”

WHEN you hear a member of the Irish panel referring to the team as “the boys in green” you know that you’re in the refreshing presence of a professional footballer who has not lost touch with his inner fan. But after leaving Cork City for a brief cameo in the Premiership with Leicester City – during which he played against Manchester United and got Roy Keane’s shirt for his troubles – followed by a tour of the lower regions with Stockport County, Huddersfield Town, Mansfield Town and Hull City, it’s not has if Delaney is an innocent abroad.

“Maybe, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself,” he says of his Irish ambitions. “I’m long enough in England to know that anything can happen and nothing should surprise me. But, obviously, getting picked for this Norway game shows that I’m in the manager’s thoughts. And if I can impress then hopefully I might be part of that World Cup qualifying squad.”

Not surprisingly, Delaney has nothing but praise for his international manager but also he makes a point of singling out Trapattoni’s Italian assistant for special mention.

“The manager’s been brilliant but Marco Tardelli’s been fabulous too,” he enthuses. “He came to our first game of the season against Barnsley at Loftus Road — I didn’t even know he was there at the time — and I’ve been talking to him about that. So it’s great, they make me feel welcome.”

Delaney describes the two friendlies to date as “decent enough, personally and for the team,” but clearly feels he still has much to learn at this level.

“I’ve watched both games on DVD since and there are a few things I’ve seen that I need to pick up on. International football’s a little bit different to the football I play week in week out. We played Sheffield Utd away last Saturday – they’re a big, strong, physical team — and there’s not many international teams that play like them. But, really, I was just pleased to be involved in the internationals. I just went out then and did the best I could. If it worked out, great, if it didn’t then at least I’d have failed giving it my best.”

As a proud member of the Republic’s independent Republic, Delaney is also aware that he’s following in some illustrious bootsteps.

“There’s Denis Irwin and Roy Keane and a few others too. Obviously I’m only starting out in my career with Ireland but if I can keep involved and get a game from time to time then I’d love to be thought of in the same terms as those sorts of people. It would be fabulous.”

Nor has he forgotten his former team mates at his old home town club though his initial take on Cork City’s current travails is a little black humour. “Jesus, I think it’s Joe Gamble’s new contract,” he quips. “Joe signed and, that’s it, they’ve gone bust.”

PUTTING his serious hat back on, Delaney admits he’s both dismayed and bemused by the crisis at Turner’s Cross.

“It’s hard to see how they got themselves into that mess, because they’re probably the best supported club in the country,” he reflects. “Back a couple of years ago they were getting massive gates so I don’t know how this has all happened. They’re obviously paying out too much money but I presume they’ll get it sorted.”

The contrast with his current club could hardly be more acute. QPR are paying out plenty of money too, but then with their moneybags Formula One backers, they can well afford to pursue their dream of becoming the Chelsea of the Championship – and beyond. But such grand ambitions exact other tolls too.

“There’s a lot of pressure,” says Delaney of life at Loftus Road. “Our owners, they’re very successful people in other walks of life, in the businesses that they’re involved in, and believe you me they expect an awful lot of success in this one as well. The first day that I signed, I was told in no uncertain terms that promotion was expected and either you’re with us or you won’t be. That’s the day you’re signing and it’s a lot of pressure to be throwing on a player. They say all this to you with a straight face and you’re thinking, ‘Jesus!’ but in a way it’s brilliant, I enjoy being involved in the kind of club that expects success like that. Hopefully we can deliver.”

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