Damien Delaney on calling it a day and moving back home
Experienced defender in a good place – despite the sideways wind at the RSC
Damien Delaney: “I want to help the team, it’s a young squad, and I need to get back to playing with a smile on my face, to enjoying it again.” Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
The thought that his Premier League days might finally be numbered sort of occurred to Damien Delaney for the first time, he says, on the eve of his 36th birthday.
His age, he insists, still didn’t seem like too much of a factor with the Corkman happy that he and his legs had at least another year of top level football in them.
But Crystal Palace were in Hong Kong for a preseason tournament in which they were facing a Liverpool side that included a new signing . . . Mohamed Salah.
“I could laugh about it afterwards,” says the defender, now back at home and in preseason training with Waterford, “because I realised later just how good he was and even at the time I was thinking that the humidity and all of that didn’t help but that wasn’t a very good day for me.
“You’re thinking, ‘maybe it’s beginning to catch on you a bit,’ and I think that might have been the first time that I really thought that maybe it’s on the horizon, maybe it is time to start thinking about it. But I realised later, watching games, that I hadn’t been the first person that Mohammed Salah had torched and it made me feel a little bit better about myself when I saw him torching other people. It’s given me a warped sort of satisfaction.”
The Egyptian might have been exceptional but that didn’t change the fact that Delaney was actually approaching his Premier League expiry date.
He played just a handful of games that season for the London club, where James Tomkins and Mamadou Sakho had come in, before leaving, he insists, on very good terms Roy Hodgson and everyone else at Selhurst Park.
“The best thing about my career there was that it finished naturally. It just sort of tailed off that last year and that was fine. You can’t cheat time, it got me in the end and I can’t complain, I got to nearly 37 ultimately; I was playing regularly at 35. Some people have their careers ended for them by their clubs or their own rashness.”
He is a little less philosophical about the way his international career had ended in 2014 with Delaney recalling that, after a long club season then a night on the bench when Ireland played Italy in Craven Cottage, he asked Martin O’Neill if he could “sit out” a trip to the United States where games against Costa Rica and Portugal had been lined up.
O’Neill later suggested to the press that Delaney had said he preferred not to travel for international duty if he was not going to play.
“When I read that, I sort of went over the conversation that we had and I sort of wondered was there a chance that he might have misinterpreted what I was saying; did it come across wrong? But I don’t think there was or he could have come to that conclusion.”
The decision to come home, he says, preceded the decision to sign for Cork City. He and his Iranian partner Solmaz were starting a family (they have since had a baby boy, Bizhan) and his first priority, he says, was to focus on parenthood; “to share everything, the night feeds, all of that, I didn’t want to shirk any of it and I have no regrets”.
It came at a cost, he admits, however. Another year older, a little distracted perhaps and having failed to figure out or articulate what exactly he felt he could deliver, Delaney had a difficult time at City where he struggled to make the sort of impact expected from a player of his stature.
“Yeah, well, the expectation when you are coming home is that you are still a Premier League player,” he says, “but you’re not; if you were, you’d still be playing in the Premier League.
“Coming home; I think, was the best decision that I’ve made. Ultimately, though, I look back at the six months that I had with Cork as a massive learning experience and I take the education that I got from it because I did make some catastrophic errors. But I’ve learned from them.
“I realised that I would have to be more honest with myself and then more honest with my manager. In Cork, the training was so intense that come Friday night I had almost nothing because I’d spent nearly everything during the week.
This time, I’ve told Rennie [Waterford boss Alan Reynolds], ‘this is what I can give you’, ‘this is what I feel capable of but you have to work with me through the season, there will have to be a fair bit of trust in my judgement’.
“The training is the big one for me. I only have a finite amount of energy left in me. I can’t be spending it on a Tuesday morning in the muck down in Waterford because come Friday night I want to have an appetite for the game.”
Having thought and talked things through, his ambitions for what he suggests will be his last season are fairly simple: “I want to help the team, it’s a young squad, and I need to get back to playing with a smile on my face, to enjoying it again.”
But in the absence of any Mohamed Salahs is he really so sure this will be the end?
“Ah yeah, Jesus, definitely,” he laughs. “I can’t go through another preseason in January again. That was a new experience. I’d gotten used to preseason in mid-July somewhere abroad, warmer. The RSC in January with the wind coming in sideways . . . that was different.”