Amid all the speculation about who might come and go at the club, Delaney’s return to Burton Albion is one certainty.
“Yeah, it’s officially my last game for Cork,” said the 21-year-old from Wexford. “I can’t thank everyone enough. The club, John [Caulfield] and all the coaching staff who helped me develop as a player and helped me have this great season.”
Delaney’s acquisition back in January turned out, to say the least, to be a mutually beneficial move for player and club.
“I just wanted to get out and play football,” Delaney explained. “I was playing a lot of reserve football and, to develop into a better player, I needed to be playing more competitive games. John got onto me and asked me how I would feel about coming to play for Cork and I grabbed the opportunity with both hands.”
From his perspective at a Championship club, he had noticed a growing regard in England for the League of Ireland as a reliable breeding ground for talent.
“It’s had a lot to do with the success that the Irish clubs have had in Europe,” he says. “A lot of the players in the international team now have been a part of League of Ireland teams, too, and when they’ve gone on to England, they’ve proved they’re well able for the standard,” said Delaney, whose former City team-mate Sean Maguire is the most recent high-profile example.
“He’s an exceptional player and we knew when he was getting his move that he was going to kick on straight away,” said Delaney, who reckons he’s going back to England a different player after his year on Leeside.
“I feel I’ve matured a lot,” he said.
“I’ve moved out of my comfort zone again. This is the second time I’ve been away from home. Then, there’s the experience of playing with Benno (Alan Bennett) and Johnny Dunleavy, taking parts of their game and bringing it to my own.
"Even after Johnny’s injury, that didn’t really change his mood or attitude. He was always there looking out for you and that’s great for a young player.
“I was playing left-wing-back a lot in the reserve games at Burton, so it was nice that John gave me the opportunity to play at centre-hal,f where I feel most comfortable. I actually started off in my career as midfielder, but Mick Wallace at Wexford Youths thought I’d have a better opportunity at centre-half.
“I think now I’m a lot more confident going back over than I was when I was coming to Cork. At the start of the year, I’m not going to lie, I felt a bit nervous going into games, but I feel a lot more calm and composed now and more confident in my ability.”
That said, he needs no telling that he faces a stiff challenge when he returns to Burton next month after a short recovery break following his full season with City.
“It’s not going to be an easy thing to walk into a team in the Championship,” he acknowledged. “They have a lot of experienced defenders, a lot of players who’ve had great careers, the likes of Stephen Warnock, who was at Liverpool. So it’s going to be another learning experience and I’ll be fighting for my place with the lads who are ahead of me.”
Before all that, though, there’s the Irish U21’s first senior cup final and first game at the Aviva. It’s a chance to add a cup medal to the league medal he has already secured as a result of a loan move he freely admits has exceeded all his expectations.
“Just look at last Sunday when we had a training session and 1,700 people turned up to watch,” he said with a smile. “It’s a fantastic club to be involved in. I couldn’t have imagined how well the year has gone for me and for the club, but we’ve put ourselves in this position now and it’s up to us to make history.”