With JJ Delaney announcing his retirement last year, Ashling Dalton takes a look back at what made the Kilkenny man so good.
It seems the winter of 2014 was awash with retirements in the GAA world, in particular Kilkenny. Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan, David Herity and Aidan Fogarty all walked away with a bucketful of All-Ireland medals between them.
However, it was the announcement of JJ Delaney’s retirement that really sparked people talking. The Fenian’s man was Kilkenny first choice full-back and many felt he still had tons more to give, but alas, when one has nine All-Ireland medals, seven All Stars, a Hurler of the Year award, eleven Leinster medals and eight National Leagues, who are we to stop him? The man is well entitled to walk away on a high.
Instead of surmising how Kilkenny will deal with the loss of Delaney, let us honor the man instead. The fact of the matter is, Delaney was the greatest defender of the modern era, and quite possibly the greatest of any era. From now on, every standout defender that comes along will have to play along to the question, is he as good as Delaney?
His decision to leave was probably summed up best by a fellow immortal, Henry Shefflin.
“As always, he comes from nowhere to make an impact.”
Throughout his career, Delaney has been a pro at ghosting into positions and making a valuable contribution, whether it would be catching a ball out of the sky, or making a vital hook. In his own understated way, he made an impact.
Brian Cody, a man who speaks with actions rather then words, made his feelings clear regarding JJ. He described him as being at the top in any era, in any generation. Then again, Delaney’s character matched that of Brian Cody’s, modest with preference to let his hurling do the talking, so it is no wonder Cody was willing to give high praise to JJ.
To pick a moment that best illustrates JJ’s greatness is difficult because, like Tommy Walsh and Henry Shefflin , every-time he stepped out onto the field, he seemed to do something special.
Many will say his hook to prevent Seamus Callanan’s near-certain goal in this year’s replay was the best, which can be viewed below, while others will say the countless times he caught a ball out of the sky.
However, I have gone with a moment that is a little bit more understated.
Kilkenny were playing a league game against Tipperary in Semple Stadium a couple of years ago, and Delaney was marking a young debutante by the name of Jason Forde, ten years his junior.
A ball spilled into Forde’s path and he made a dash for it with Delaney hot on his heels. Logic would tell us that age was to Forde’s advantage. Not so. This is Goliath we are dealing with, not David. JJ Delaney at 30 years of age subsequently retrieved the ball,
It was an understated moment for the understated Superhero.
Ashling Dalton, Pundit Arena