As a supporter of Rochdale AFC as well as being a League of Ireland man, I was delighted when Ryan Delaney signed for us back in January. It was a brave move by the Wexford native, who first came to my attention as part of the 2015 Wexford Youth’s promotion-winning squad. Things didn’t look great for Rochdale, with the club in the EFL League One relegation zone and the FA Cup heroics that would follow later in the spring an impossible-to-imagine dream.
Fast forward to this last weekend and Rochdale survived relegation in dramatic fashion, beating Charlton Athletic at home and then waiting for 9 agonizing minutes for the result of the Northampton Town versus Oldham Athletic result to come through. That finished 2-2, a result that sent both those teams down to League Two along with Bury and the MK Dons and allowed Rochdale to leap-frog Oldham out of the last relegation spot. If Oldham had got a winner in those 9 minutes then they were safe and Rochdale were down.
Back in January Rochdale manager Keith Hill put Ryan Delaney straight into the squad. He’d signed the left-back to replace the long-serving Joe Bunney who had left for Northampton Town, and felt he was good enough so he put him in. Keith Hill is like that. He decides something is right to do and sticks to his instinct. Like bringing on Joe Thompson – a two-time cancer survivor – against Charlton on Saturday. Thompson stepped up to score the winner. Hollywood couldn’t have scripted a better escape story. Well, that’s not fair I suppose, they did give us The Great Escape.
Delaney had impressed League of Ireland crowds all last year, playing his part in Cork City’s double-winning season [actually, he got his hands on 4 pieces of silverware last term with Cork, if you include the 2017 President’s Cup and the 2017 Munster Senior Cup. He also was voted Player of the Month for May 2017]. He’s been impressing English crowds ever since moving.
Delaney’s first game in a Rochdale shirt was an FA Cup 4th round tie against high-flying Championship side Millwall at The New Den. Rochdale held them, then put them out in the replay at their own Crown Oil Arena to set up a mouth-watering home 5th round tie with Tottenham Hotspur. 8,480 packed into the stadium to see Rochdale hold their illustrious visitors to a 2-2 draw in a game that was broadcast live on BBC television. A replay at Wembley – although lost – gave Rochdale and Delaney another televised day out.
I was impressed with how quickly Delaney settled in. I suppose his time at Burton Albion had accustomed him to the English game somewhat. He didn’t play for the first team at Burton, and was loaned out to Cork City, so technically it was from Burton that Ryan moved to Rochdale, not Cork City. Ironically, Delaney will get to face his old side next season, as they were relegated from the Championship. He’ll get to play Sunderland too, who will also be part of League One’s Class of 18-19.
There was an Irish contingent at Rochdale which I’m sure helped Ryan settle in too. The first team coach is Brian Barry-Murphy, the former Cork City player and son of GAA legend Jimmy Barry-Murphy. Joe Rafferty, Keith Keane and Niall Canavan – who although born in Liverpool, Luton and Leeds respectively have played for Ireland’s underage teams – were three of Ryan’s new teammates.
Once the FA Cup adventure was over it was time to focus on the bread-and-butter stuff of trying to survive relegation. The task looked impossible. With 15 games remaining Rochdale were bottom and 12 points from safety. But, spurred on by the ties against Spurs [pun intended!] they hit form and their points haul from those games would have been enough to get them into the play-offs if replicated all through the season.
Delaney played a big part in the survival bid. He was solid at either centre-back or left-back and came forward for set pieces often, chipping in with crucial goals away at Bury on April 3rd in the ‘M66 Derby’ [Rochdale won 2-0] and at home to Plymouth Argyle on 24 April [Rochdale drew 1-1]. Ryan had often chipped in to the Cork cause with goals too, netting 6 times in his year there.
Wishing Ryan a well-earned summer break and a successful season in 2017-18. Looking forward to him earning a full international cap at some point in the future too.