ONCE upon a time, Ryan Delaney’s main marking concerns were in trying to pass his degree.

Before the defender was offered a fast-track into professional football by Burton Albion just over five years ago, he had been studying sports and exercise and business studies at university, playing in his spare time for Wexford Juniors.

Delaney – now a regular in Wanderers’ improving back line – had always hoped to get a shot at being a footballer but his first opportunity, playing for Nigel Clough’s Brewers, was a whirlwind affair.

“Just after finishing my first year in university and finishing my exams, that summer I was playing with Wexford and my agent at the time just rang me randomly on Tuesday to say that I was going over to England on the Thursday because I had a trial with Burton Albion on Friday with a game on the Saturday,” he explained.

“It didn’t faze me because I saw it as an opportunity to showcase that all my hard work had paid off and it has just kind of gone from there.”

Settling in the Midlands proved a little problematic for Delaney. Burton do not operate a reserve side, so friendly games were few and far between, and the chance to bridge the gap from amateur to professional football was made that bit harder.

“There were a few obstacles when I first came to England,” he said. “I was only used to playing and training part-time and obviously Burton Albion are full-time with the demands it has on your body, physically and mentally. But I’ve relished the opportunity to become a professional footballer from there and just take it day by day.”

Lift-off, ironically, came with a spell back in Ireland. A loan at Cork City saw him excel, making 30 appearances and scoring six goals as the club romped to the league title and FAI Cup. From there, he was spotted by Keith Hill at Rochdale and offered a chance to go to Spotland having never played a senior game at Burton.

Before picking football in his later teens, the 6ft 5ins Delaney had played Gaelic football and hurling during his school years. And though the physicality of the two Irish sports have helped him with the rough and tumble of life in League Two, he continues to take the scholarly approach at Wanderers.

Learning the football ropes at Dale, and in a loan spell with AFC Wimbledon, he once again linked up with Hill at Bolton last season. And after finding himself out of the team at the start of the current campaign under Ian Evatt, he once again knuckled down to find the right answers.

“I am pleased with how I am playing but obviously want to improve as much as I can and I’m trying to do that on a daily basis,” he said of his recent run of form. “The gaffer has been good with us as a team, so hopefully we can repay him and obviously the fans with a good run of results.

“I have still got the same personal objective as I did coming into pre-season and that’s to keep my place in the team and play as much football as I can.

“My aims was to get into the starting 11, stay in the starting 11, and try my best to help this club get back to where it deserves to be.”

Delaney may only be in his fifth season as a professional but in terms of first team experience at Bolton, his 16 starts for the club can be bettered by only half a dozen players.

The huge overhaul of playing staff in the summer has presented its fair share of problems for manager, Evatt, and prompted a fair number of questions from the Bolton supporters during a slow start to the season.

And though several changes are expected in tonight’s dead rubber group game against Newcastle United in the Papa John’s Trophy, Delaney believes any time out on the pitch is beneficial for a group still trying to find its feet.

“The relationships are getting stronger and I think that comes with games, the more often we play together in that back three,” he said.

“Each game you learn different things about each other and I think as a team we have been defending a lot better as well.

“Results and performances have been very hit and miss but Friday gives us that fresh start, and afresh start to showcase how good a team we really are.

“The fans deserve to see this football club do well.

“We’re working hard on a day-to-day basis to try and make that happen. Over the last couple of years, the fans have had quite a tough time and we want to be the ones to change that.

“We want to want to bring the highs back to this football club; I feel like the club and the fans deserve that.”