LEGENDARY Cork City defender Alan Bennett has retired from football at the age of 39.
Ballinora native Bennett enjoyed two spells with City, winning the League of Ireland Premier Division in 2005 and 2017 – the only outfield player to win two league medals with the Rebel Army, captaining the side to the latter win as the domestic double was achieved.
The 2017 FAI Cup medal was the second of two in a row while he won the English League 2 with Brentford in 2008-09 and was promoted from the same division with Wycombe Wanderers in 2010-11.
Having initially come into the City team as a midfielder in 2000, he soon settled at centre-back, forming a durable partnership with Dan Murray for that 2005 league win.
His performances there brought him to the attention of English scouts and he signed for Reading in 2006, going on to win two senior caps for the Republic of Ireland in 2007.
While with the Royals, he had loan spells at Southampton and Brentford before joining the London club permanently in 2009. From there, he went to Wycombe Wanderers, Cheltenham Town and Wimbledon before returning home to Cork for the 2015 season.
His first two seasons back saw the club finish second to Dundalk, winning the cup in 2016, before the unforgettable double in 2017.
Bennett was awarded a testimonial by City in 2019 and served as a player-coach under John Cotter during his time as interim manager that season and also under Neale Fenn in the 2020 campaign, which unfortunately ended in relegation.
Overall, however, there were more positives than negatives and Bennett’s farewell statement, entitled ‘A final goodbye letter to professional football’, focused on the upsides.
“Firstly, thank you football, you took a country boy from Ballinora and showed him the world. Let him see and experience things that now when he looks back on, he doesn’t believe happened to him.
“To my family, I hope I made you proud, it was without doubt my sole focus. We had great days out. As a paradox, I was selfish as a brother and son.
“To my wife, thank you. The conversations I wasn’t fully in, the walks I couldn’t go on, the endless foam rolling and ice packs in the freezer. The cancelled events due to a moody manager, the last-minute change of plans. The living to the fixture list and the constant uncertainty. It also gave us incredible memories and opportunities, many more of these to come.
“To all my fellow players I defended the same in training and in matches. It was never personal, if you had the ball I wanted it. I wanted to keep a clean sheet. If the ball was to be won, I wanted it. Intercepting, reading, judging, tackling, organising, encouraging and winning. I’ll miss competing, laughing and living with you the most.
“Thank you, staff members, for your time. For one more look at that, one more bit of kit, one more rep, one more trigger point of a muscle, one more ticket, one more pass. To the fans and clubs I represented at Brentford, Wycombe, Cheltenham and Wimbledon. Thank you, I look forward to visiting. Any victories I was happier for you, any losses I carried personally.
“When I signed for Cork City youths in 2000 I told Jerry Harris I wasn’t good enough. That fear drove me my whole career. I grew up and got old as an athlete at Cork City. In 2002, Noelle Feeney got me a cake for my 21st birthday after we lost a cup semi-final. In 2015, City fans led by John Kennedy sang me happy [34th] birthday after a cup semi-final win.
“I’m proud of the work I did when no-one was watching. I was fully present in every training session. Losing hurt as much from the start to the end of my career.
“To football, thank you again. My greatest friend but also my greatest foe. What an incredible vehicle you are for passion, love, friendship, fitness, health and joy. You broke my heart, created self-doubt, paranoia, fear and mistrust. You also brought me sheer euphoria, freedom and relief.
“This is what true love does to you. Thanks, Benno.”