THE career of Cork City FC legend Alan Bennett was fittingly recognised at Turners Cross with a testimonial last year.
Bennett recently presented Brian Lennox with a framed signed jersey from his event, as a thanks for sponsoring the game.
Benno joined City at youth team level in 2000, graduating to the first team before leaving for Reading in 2007. He returned to the club in 2015 after eight years in England, where he also played for Southampton, Brentford, Wycombe Wanderers, Cheltenham Town, and AFC Wimbledon.
Reflecting back on his testimonial a few months after that day, Bennett described to The Echo how it was great to meet up with some of his former team-mates from over the years again.
“That was the highlight really,” he said.
“Players-wise, it was fantastic, everybody was great and it was great to see lads coming from all parts of Ireland. It was great to see and meet all of these lads.”
Twice-capped by the Republic of Ireland, during his time with Cork City the defender won two league titles, two FAI Cups, three President’s Cups and three Munster Senior Cups.
Now, although still apart of the City first-team squad, Bennett also now is undertaking a coaching role as part of Neale Fenn’s backroom staff.
This is very much a rebuilding job at City and there could be some bumps along the way, as illustrated by the recent off-the-field news which has dominated headlines on Leeside.
Bennett however outlines that the support of the City fans will be crucial to the team during this period of transition.
“We will need 100% patience from the Cork public and we need 100% support from them,” he said.
“Because it will be a building situation and that takes time. I know the Cork City fans will be patient, and that will be important.
“It is a whole new group and it is a very young age profile across the squad. It is great working with the young lads, they want to learn and they want to ask questions.
“There is a whole new generation there of Cork City players who want to represent the club and want to do well for themselves.
“Hopefully over the next few months, we will have players step up to take this opportunity. It is important that all of those players start to see and feel like they can do that.
“It is time for them to take those positions and start making them their own.”
One interesting aspect of this current City squad is the recruitment of young footballers from England, such as Joseph Olowu on loan from Arsenal.
The 2020 season has seen quite a number of young players make the move from England, on loan or otherwise, to the League Of Ireland across the Premier Division to gain first-team experience.
Bennett describes howit is very important for players coming out of the underage sections of cross-channel football clubs to gain regular first-team action as part of their footballing development.
“I think it is positive that the players who come over have embraced the environment, and I am hearing quite positive things from them regarding the environment in Cork City and the league in general,” he said.
“There are around 90-odd clubs between the Premier League and the Football League and then there is 25 players in each one of those clubs. You can only play 11, of course.
“So it can be difficult to get an opportunity. Then all of the time the academies are producing players. You have to play men’s football. They know that, managers know that.
“You are just not getting exposed to the pressure, the environment, and the reality of football (in U23s). They know that and they can come over here and use it as a stepping stone, which lots of players have in the past.
“They will have to put the work that I have seen players in the past put in to get to that level.”
These feel like important times in terms of discussions about the future direction of the League Of Ireland.
On that topic, Bennett feels the League Of Ireland should play an important role in any future plans for Irish football.
“There has been a lot of talk regarding change in Irish football generally, which is always positive,” he said. "The League Of Ireland is in the conversation now, which is great. The whole League Of Ireland is a survivor and always will survive.
“But I suppose there is a healthy dose of scepticism as well because of lessons learnt in the past. So on the whole scale, I am hoping that there is change.
“I just want to see innovation and creativity, then to see that backed up with real plans and processes, finance, so that we can create something on this island.
“I have been saying it for a long time now that the Premier Division in Ireland was a source of a lot of the Irish national team players for a long time.
“But you need to create another source. So that you can play and develop players, right under your nose and on your doorstep. Why wouldn’t you invest in it?”
Bennett has had a stellar career in League Of Ireland football and especially with Cork City. One feels he still has plenty to offer in the game for plenty of more years to come.