One of the most memorable moments in the recent drawn Munster hurling final at:Pairc Ui Chaoimh was the re-action of the crowd to John Fitzgibbon's goal, the fourth for Cork, in the 54th minute of the game. Viewed from the Covered Stand the effect on the supporters at the Blackrock end and in the Uncovered Stand was incredible. It was as if a bomb had gone off and the crowd became airborne so great was the eruption of bodies.
From a Cork point of view it was a marvellous moment and surely a nail in the coffin of Tipperary hopes. It was a tremendous goal, one in a million, hit with speed and strength and it rattled the net to the consternation of the Tipperary defence. It was a typically Cork goal, in the mould of a John Fenton or a Jimmy Barry-Murphy, a goal that a backline and goalie are unprepared for because it is unexpected.
The goal resulted from poor defensive work on the part of the Tipperary backs, particularly John Madden, who took a swipe at the ball across the goal immediately beforehand and failed to connect. It came outside the square to the waiting John Fitzgibbon, who hit it on his left to the back of the net. As it made its way to the net it passed through the legs of the advancing Paul Delaney. How did it feel? 'Not very good. It was a major blow and it put them seven points ahead. But we didn't let out heads drop like we did last year. We were determined to come back, and we did.'
The Tipperary full-back line didn't have the happiest of games on the day. Paul admits that they were very edgy in the opening minutes and that the early goals prevented them from settling down. 'If we had got ten minutes or so, w'ed have found our feet and we mightn't have given away so much.' In fact, Paul did settle down in the second quarter and played an effective game for the remainder of the match. He admits that he had a tough game on John Fitzgibbon and that the player is quite tricky to look after. Other observers of Fitzgibbon would regard him as the smartest attacker that Cork have.
Skill and Intelligence
If John Fitzgibbon is a smart forward it is probably true to say that in Paul Delaney he is up against a very smart defender. He is a player with many strengths and few weaknesses. He is a very athletic player, exceptionally good on his feet and with a good sidestep. Not very big in size - he is a little taller than Tadgh O'Connor, after whom he seems to have modelled his play - he makes up for the disadvantage with his dash and his burst of speed. He is a good reader of the game and very able at anticipating the break of the ball. He is keen, a good attender at training sessions and, though he takes a drink, is well able to get into shape. Not only is he a skilful hurler but he is also a very able footballer, which he plays predominantly for pleasure and relaxation even though, if he turned his full attention to it, he could make it in that game also. Latterly, he has taken up golf at which he is improving and growing in confidence.
His lack of height is a handicap rather than a weakness. There's a bit of Jim Devitt in his play, in his ability to strike quickly and well in a small area. He's a deceptive player. He plays hurling all the time and yet his opponents will admit that he can tackle as hard and as tenaciously as most. He seems to be able to play well without apparently putting a great deal into the game.
On the field of play Paul Delaney reveals skill, ability and intelligence. There is no way an unintelligent player could play as well as he does. Also he is highly motivated, good to train and committed to his fellow players. One thing that worries his admirers is his failure to carry that motivation and intelligence into his working life. Unemployed at the moment and the holder of a number of jobs in the past it appears that some of his attitude is wrong. Paul answers his critics by stating that the proper opportunity for a steady job hasn't arisen. He has worked with Roscrea Meats but much of the work is seasonal. He has held other jobs and recently spent eight months in the U.S. This aspect of his life and his dropping from the county panel prior to the All-Ireland in 1989 makes Paul a 'controversial' figure in some people's eyes.
The 1989 episode centred around his playing with a London club without being properly transferred to do so. Was he bitter about the episode? 'Yes, at the time I was. I felt that Tony Keady and I were treated as scapegoats. Hundreds of players were going across to play with English clubs and none of them was properly transferred. Why pick on the two of us? It was very unfair. However. His attitude has mellowed in the meantime and the bitterness is no longer there. I suppose he was millified by getting an All-Ireland medal despite being dropped from the panel.
Today Paul Delaney has an established position at right corner back. His is miscast in this position. His proper place is left half-back and he played all his hurling up to 1988 either in that position or at centreback. In fact he is playing centrefield for his club, Roscrea, at the present. He would prefer the position outside. According to him there is more freedom in the half-back line. One can get more involved in the game and one can contribute to the forwards by moving up the field. One can enjoy the game more on the wing. In contrast the corner position is more of a stopping role. One has to mark closely and watch the corner-forward closely. There is less opportunity to contribute. He is still learning the corner position but has accepted it as his place in the future.
Babs Keating has informed him that he is needed in there and he accepts that. The attitude contrasts with his reaction to Babs telling him to move back there in the 1987 All-Ireland semi-final. He didn't like the request and reacted strongly against it. Yet, he played a good game on Eanna Ryan. Talking of Eanna Ryan Paul regards him as one of his most skilful opponents. Another is Michael McGrath. An interesting comment on the strength of Galway hurling. The player he admires most is Nicky English. He loves to see him play. He was disappointed with his inaccuracy in the drawn game but can't see him as bad again.
Asked about this greatest games he remembers two with pleasure. The first of these was the 1988 All-Ireland in which Tipperary had the edge in numbers and in fervour but Galway got the result that mattered. The second display he remembers with relish was that against Waterford in the 1989 championship.
1989 should have been the glory year for Paul Delaney but his dropping from the panel after the semi-final against Galway prevented that. His position had been queried through a Press item soon after the Galway game and the selectors deemed it better to drop him from the panel. However, he got his All-Ireland medal to add to his Munster victories in 1987 and 1988. In the latter year he also won a National League medal. He had made his appearance at the senior grade in the 1986-87 league and had established himself as a regular by the time the '87 championship Before graduating to senior ranks he played under-21 for three years. In 1985 he won All-Ireland honours but Limerick prevented Tipperary getting out of Munster in the next two years. In 1984 he played on the minor team that lost to a hard-hitting and most determined Limerick side, which went on to take All-Ireland honours. In the same year Paul captained Roscrea to win the county minor final against Kickhams. In the previous year he was centreback on the side that was beaten by Moycarkey-Borris in a replayed county final. He came on to the Roscrea senior side in 1985 and suffered defeat in both the divisional and county finals at the hands of Kilruane-MacDonaghs, who went on to win the club All-Ireland.
His ambition is to win a county senior final with Roscrea. To do so this year would be even better, since he is captain of the team. He is still a young player, 24 years old last November. Recently, he married an American-born girl, Kathleen Quinn, whose father hails from Bansha. He is hopeful of winning the replay on Sunday and believes they will be able to eliminate some of the errors in the drawn game. He hopes to be sharper and crisper in his play and to win his fourth Munster senior hurling final.
Hogan Stand, July 19, 1991