Gregarious, eloquent, astute — yes sir, that's Ihaia Delaney in a nutshell if you've ever had the pleasure of meeting him.
The chances are if you put Delaney's 1.87m frame in a police line-up, for a laugh, he's likely to come up as the control among the variables of the bad-guy experiment.
The 20-year-old clean-cut bloke will, no doubt, take that sort of profile every day but that's not what the disciple of the Ole Academy from Wellington yearns for nor believes the Thirsty Whale Hawke's Bay United team need before they kick off against the Hamilton Wanderers on the road tomorrow. "I expect them to be extremely physical and I know a couple of their players who are tough to break down because they'll kick you and make it a scrappy game," says Delaney as the Chris Greatholder and Bill Robertson co-coached side aim to collect three points in the 4pm televised affair at Porritt Stadium to help wash down the stuffed turkey with some bubbles in the last round of matches before the national summer league resumes on the weekend of January 11-12.
However, the Christchurch-born player says Bay United can be "nasty as well" but the intention always is to display a better side of the beautiful game.
He accepts the Bluewater Stadium faithful tends to howl at the referee every time the players succumb to gravity in challenges but feels they need to be much stronger on the ball, especially if the official allows for some leeway to raise the physicality stakes.
"The first 20 minutes of a game you're trying to work out the referee and where they draw the line on free kicks and things so you want to see what you can get out of them," says Delaney, reflecting on the match against Southern United in Dunedin as a classic example early this month.
Nevertheless, he says Bay United have the mongrel to deal with that sort of mind set.
"We have specific players who can go around to be dogs — the two boys with me and Sele up front and or Sacramento is a good hounder," he says of fellow foragers Ahinga Selemani and Dylan Sacramento add value to his game and, hopefully, he's reciprocating.
"Josh Signey — I think he's a great ball winner and everyone in the backline tend to chuck in their bodies so we have those player to be aggressive."
Delaney was training with Team Wellington at the start of the 2019-20 season but "some big-name players" made the cut so the onus was on him to find another franchise where he could hand out his business card from.
Ole mentors had contacted Greatholder and the rest is history. The striker's relishing his debut with the Bay franchise team operating out of Park Island in Napier. After two practice sessions he knew he was in an elite set up that's capable of footing it with bigger sides he has trained with.
"I think the team's really strong and a lot of people might have written us off at the start of the year but our results show that," he says after scoring five goals this summer, including a brace in the 4-2 victory against Waitakere United here last Sunday.
It pleases Delaney the squad doesn't have "any bad eggs" as they strive to eke out wins.
"There are no slackers and everyone's a hard worker so there are a lot of quality players who aren't getting into the playing side and that makes you look over your shoulder to want to be a better player."
He believes second-placed Bay United are stronger on paper but the Wanderers will be an ideal test in their quest to take Auckland City FC and Team Wellington out of their comfort zone.
"We think we're the best side to do that so every game's a cup final and you have to get three points to keep up with those two," he says.
Talent scouts had rubber stamped him and a few teammates for the Ole Academy at an under-15 national federation boys' tournament although a previous coach had a rapport with academy founder Declan Edge and had put in a word on his prowess.
Delaney, who says he's still a cog in the wheel, labels the academy as "extremely special".
"They want to look for the best ways to make the players, really," he says. "You look at the track record of the players they have made and it says a lot about what they can do. I think they are up there with some of the best academies in the world."
The people, he reckons, are the common denominator for him with the academy which fed players to Western Suburbs, among others, during winter leagues.
"People genuinely want the best for you and they're constantly looking at all the possible ways to bring out the best in you," says the former Tawa College graduate.
"Every day is almost like a job because 24/7 you're trying to be a better player so it starts on the field and continues there."
After attending college, it was training but it helped that he lived at the academy.
"I was eating there, sleeping there and you walk out and the field is right there so you train and get back in to get your dinner in."
Having trained with players of the calibre of Callum McCowatt (Wellington Phoenix) and Elijah Just (Denmark) for five years had reinforced his belief and commitment in pursuing a career in the code.
"They've been a lot of players who've come through there who are playing in Europe and America now so it's reassuring to know it's not that far a step away."
Delaney is patient, satisfied his got on a national platform to showcase his talent in his debut with Bay United.
"I don't think it [higher echelons] is too far away but it's about working hard so you never really know."
A Maori lad, he agrees he would have been playing rugby had it not been for moving to Brunei with his parents, Robyn and Peter, who went there to work as a pilot when he was 11.
While the code is Brunei's national sport he says those who played among the close to half million inhabitants weren't very good at it in a tiny nation stationed on the island of Borneo, sandwiched between Malaysia and the South China Sea.
"It wasn't the best football but part of the reason why we got back was because my brother was a good swimmer who actually [represented] New Zealand a couple of times," he says of James who is 23.
Delaney says there's more robustness and maturity about Bay United when juxtaposed with Ole teams who have younger and expressive talent.
"It's not about how far I can get — I wouldn't want to put a marker on it but to keep improving — or where I end up but about the journey as it'll be cool to get overseas although I'm focusing on Hawke's Bay right now."
The New Zealand under-23 player to the Pacific games in July, who sees the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as a dream, harbours a desire to play for the All Whites and join McCowatt at Phoenix.
Delaney was a member of the Team Wellington youth team in 2016 before spending the next two years attending Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, after winning an American sports scholarship.
However, he dropped out of his finance degree to return to Auckland before deciding "you've got to chase the dream".