Friday 28 October 2016

Alan Bennett revels in Rebels return

After UK stint, Bennett relishing battle with champions Dundalk

Cork city defender Alan Bennett is enjoying his return to the club and he's looking forward to tonight's top-of-the-table Premier Division clash with Dundalk at a packed Turner's Cross
Cork city defender Alan Bennett is enjoying his return to the club and he's looking forward to tonight's top-of-the-table Premier Division clash with Dundalk at a packed Turner's Cross
Alan Bennett, with his former Cork City team-mate Joe Gamble, after playing for Ireland in a friendly against Ecuador in New York back in May 2007.

FINDING yourself back home in the bedroom of your parents' house at the age of 33 is just one of the adjustments which Alan Bennett has had to make since his move home to Ireland.

The defender has also had to get up to date with developments in football. Tonight, Bennett will line out in defence for Cork City in a mouth-watering clash with the current champions, a game played out in front of a full house at Turner's Cross with a live TV audience.

Back in the day, when he was on his way to winning a league title with Cork 10 years ago, Dundalk were anything but a threat, the Co Louth club then struggling in mid-table in the lower division.

"Yeah, when we were going for the league with Cork, your big battles were against the likes of Pats, Derry, Longford, Drogheda - Dundalk weren't on the scene then. I suppose you could say they are up there now," says Bennett.

"I do remember that when we won the league in '05, beating Derry to the title on the last day, I met Stephen Kenny after the game, he was devastated that his Derry side had lost the league to us, but he has an amazing drive and conviction and I knew he would be back with a title-winning side some day."

But the big centre half, one of three ex-internationals in the Cork City side likely to face the champions at Turner's Cross tonight, is pleased to be back home, almost a decade after he left the Cross to try his luck with Reading, and after spells at the lower end of the English club scene, Bennett reckons that more players like himself, Liam Miller and Colin Healy will be lured home.

"I can absolutely confirm that players don't come back to Ireland now for the money," says Bennett.

"But when you are over in England and dropping down the divisions it's tough, it's mentally and physically a challenge, you play 50 games a season and it's a real attrition. Back in Ireland you have less games, less travel, you're around family and friends.

"It's not a retirement home, don't get me wrong, but it's a viable career option and with the likes of Miller and Healy doing well, I think in time you'll see more and more Irish lads in the UK wanting to come home."

Bennett still had six months left on his contract with AFC Wimbledon when he chose to come home late last year, as events moved rapidly.

"I'm still not really settled here as the move back to Cork happened very quickly, one minute I was at Wimbledon, next minute I was back in Cork with a bag and my boots. My girlfriend is still over in the UK, some of my stuff is still over there, but the move home has been great football-wise."

Bennett came to prominence in a league which was awash with Celtic Tiger-era wages and top talents: in the season where City won the league (2005), the Premier Division featured 19 players who had been capped, or would later be capped, at senior international level.

"I played in a really good Cork side in a strong in 2005, maybe the league lost its way a bit after that but from what I have seen in the short time I have been back home, it's starting to come back," Bennett said.

"You have young players coming through and there are good signs. In terms of quality it's probably not back to the levels of 2005, but it's heading that way. I don't think we knew in 2005 what potential those players really had, but now I sense more awareness of what this Cork team is capable of."

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