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From Wexford to Wimbledon

Defender follows in the footsteps of fellow Irishman Alan Bennett

26 September 2019

Ryan Delaney is aiming to make a similar impact to a Wimbledon hero from the past after signing here on loan.

Ryan earned his first Wimbledon Man of the Match award for his display against Bristol Rovers and he's aiming to play his part in helping us to climb the table. 

For those that missed it in Saturday's programme, the full interview with Ryan is reproduced in full below.

The 23-year-old, who arrived here on transfer deadline day from Rochdale, played alongside Alan Bennett at Cork City, where they combined to help win an Irish league and cup double. “Benno” became a favourite with Wimbledon supporters back in 2013 after playing a major part in keeping the club in the English Football League.

“We won the league and cup double and also played in the qualifying round of the Europa League,” Ryan recalled. “It was an unbelievable experience at Cork, winning trophies and playing in different countries in Europe. Benno was great with me. He’d played for a number of years in England. He gave me little tips in each game to help improve my game. He was a great player to play alongside. Benno had a wealth of experience, and he also played for Ireland. You couldn’t really ask for much more as a young professional learning the game. I wanted to follow in his footsteps and make a successful career in England.”

Ryan has had no problems settling in at Wimbledon. And Dylan Connolly’s loan move to Bradford City created a vacancy, so he could move in with two of his new team-mates straight away.

“It’s been quite easy settling in as they’re a great bunch of boys here. I’ve moved in with Shane and Rod, so we’ve swapped one Irishman for another! I want to try and help the team as much as I can – to get clean sheets. At the same time, I want to learn from the staff around the club.

“I’d been chatting to my agent, and he said there was a bit of interest in me ahead of the transfer deadline. I wanted to come here, and it was all about trying to get the two clubs to agree. I was ready to come and excited to get started with Wimbledon. I wasn’t really that settled up at Rochdale, and football comes first for me.”

Ryan first moved to England back in 2016, when he left Wexford Youths to join Burton Albion, and he reignited his career with a loan spell back across the Irish Sea with Cork City.

“Though I went over to Burton that summer, I was loaned out to Cork City later that season. It came to the end of January, and I’d not played any first-team games for Burton. I’d only been on the bench six or seven times, and I wanted to get more experience and play regularly. I wanted to progress in my career, and Cork City came up as an option, which was a great opportunity for me. I thought that challenging for titles would help me develop a winning mentality. That certainly happened, as we won the double and got into Europe.”

Ryan grew up playing local football for New Ross Celtic AFC in Wexford County. His rise was proudly flagged up by his old club on social media when he helped Wexford Youths to win Irish league honours. This was a post on the club’s Facebook page five years ago: “Congratulations to Ryan Delaney who was one of the mainstays of the Wexford Youths side, which swept all before it to clinch the Airtricity League First Division title, with a comprehensive 3–0 victory over Athlone Town. The result means that the Youths have wrapped up the title with two matches to spare and will compete in the Premier Division next season for the first time in their short history. Ryan played all his schoolboy football with Celtic, and his hard work and dedication to his sport are an example to all young players. So often in sport, talented kids fail to fulfil their potential because they ignore the importance of possessing the correct application and attitude, but Ryan has received the reward for his endeavours, and continues to blossom with each passing season.”

As one would expect for someone growing up in Ireland, other sports provided tempting options for Ryan, but he decided that football was the sport for him.

“The first thing on my mind as a child growing up was to try and be a professional footballer. When I was young I always played other sports, including Gaelic football and hurling. I enjoyed playing for my local Gaelic football team, but my main focus was on football. I wanted to do all I could to give myself the best possible opportunity in the game. It’s harder to make a living from playing football over in Ireland, so my main focus was on trying to become a pro footballer in England.

“There are a lot of young kids that want to play professional football, but they don’t get the opportunity. I was determined to take my chance when I got it. I played as a defensive midfielder until I was 16. At Wexford I was playing centre-back, but for my first couple of years in men’s football I was playing left-back.”

Former Irish international Stephen Hunt, who acts as Ryan’s agent, helped him make the breakthrough, the pair first getting to know each other at Wexford Youths.

“My agent, Stephen Hunt, was at the end of his playing career and without a club, so he came down to play at my team, Wexford Youths. He was just coming down to train with us to keep himself fit. Three months later, he messaged me to say that he would like to take me on board. I had a good opportunity to come to England. It started when I was offered a trial at Burton Albion, just for two days, and I thought I’d come over and give it a go. I did quite well in training, and I played in a game against Stoke. I did quite well in that, and afterwards the manager told me he was trying to get a deal done for me. It came about quite quickly.”

Ryan made his debut for the Ireland U21s in 2017. The following year he joined Rochdale, and he has since made over 50 appearances for the League One club. Ryan’s performances helped to save them from relegation – and there was also the highlight of facing Tottenham Hotspur in the Emirates FA Cup.

“Playing against Spurs at Wembley was one of the highlights of my career so far. We’d drawn 2–2 at the Crown Oil Arena, but they beat us 6–1 at Wembley. Still, it was a great experience to be involved in that game, playing against top-level professionals.

“Keith Hill was great for me – he really helped me to push on in my career. I played quite a lot of games for Rochdale, but football has its turning points. You know when you get into pro football that things can change quite quickly. But I can’t complain about my time so far at Rochdale. I love being around the place with the squad and the staff. I’ve really enjoyed my time there.

“When you’re a long way from home there are obviously times when you can get quite bored, and you miss your friends and family. You perhaps miss not being able to go out and socialise as much. My family get to come over a fair bit to watch me play, but the only time you get to see your friends is in the summer, so I try to make the most of that. You do have to make sacrifices as a footballer, but it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do since I was a boy.”


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