THE good and the great of Cork soccer were out in force in Turner’s Cross on Saturday to pay tribute to one of their own.
Former Cork City players from the past 20 years togged out once again in the City colours to play in a testimonial game for Alan Bennett.
These players who were all different shapes and sizes were there to pay tribute to a great servant of the football club. A great football player and more importantly a great person, their love and affection for the centre half from Ballinora is clear and was clear to see on Saturday with the amount of joking and fun between both teams which showed what they think of Alan Bennett, the person.
And that was reflected about the man in their comments before and after the game.
There have been many players who have played for the club and some are lucky enough to be called legends and Bennett is one of those.
After starting out at Richmond, Bennett joined Cork City youths and went through the ranks. He then established himself as a first-team player becoming a cornerstone of that excellent side who won the Premier Division title in 2005 before his performances earned him a move to England and a call up to the International senior squad.
While in England he had spells with Reading, Southampton, Brentford, Wycombe Wanderers, Cheltenham Town and AFC Wimbledon.
He returned to Cork City in 2015 and since made a massive impact in the squad. In that time he led the team to four cup finals and of course, the double in 2017.
In this period Benno has enjoyed partnering some great footballers in the centre half position. The likes of Dan Murray, Kenny Browne, Ryan Delaney and most recently Sean McLoughlin and Conor McCarthy. Benno has had a massive impact on the team and the above-mentioned players which serves to underline the quality of player that he has been for the club.
There were many tributes paid to Benno on his illustrious career which outlined the great person he was on and off the pitch.
Colm Donovan, one of Benno’s former coaches at his schoolboy club Richmond, was full of praise for Benno’s ability on the pitch.
“The first time I met Alan was when he was 14 and I was coaching the U18s. We were slack on numbers and needed to bring up a few younger lads and Benno was one of those.
After two years with us, Benno signed with City but said to me straight up that if things didn’t work out at City that he would never play with any other club other than Richmond.
“Alan coming from a sporting background where he was playing hurling and football, in his mind he was going to play for a Cork team, regardless the code. And when he returned from England in 2015, he wasn’t going anywhere else but Cork City, he probably would have played for nothing.
“Alan has been a credit to himself and his family all his career. He is a systems guy, he eats, sleeps and breathes the right thing to do. He’s a sportsman through and through and he never forgot anyone.”
One of Benno’s first partnership at centre half was former City player Dan Murray and the latter believed they had the perfect combination.
“Our partnership clicked right away, we didn’t have to sit down and work it out,” said Murray. We were different kinds of players, but we complemented each other, really well. You don’t always get that with centre-halves, sometimes you can work on it but sometimes it just doesn’t happen.
"We just knew where the other guy was going to be, who was going to pick up the striker, who was going to attack the ball. It’s fair to say I never had much pace so I was the ballplayer, while he was big, strong and fast, he was fast at the time anyway.”
Another ex-City player Kevin Doyle was full of praise for Benno as a person.
“I always got on great with Alan but I hated training against him. He would man mark you and just plague you. Never seemed to be able to get anything out of him. You’d never know if he was doing it on purpose but he’d be standing on you, he’d be elbowing you, and this was only at training.
“It was frustrating to play against but in a good way, he was a very good defender.
“Benno will be remembered as one of the clubs greats and he has had a fantastic career in football. The impact he has had on the club has been enormous both as a player and a person. He is a Cork City man through and through. I wish him the best of luck in whatever role he continues in the club after his playing career.”
CORK CITY 1: Alan Bennett, Liam Murphy, Kelvin Flannagan, Dave Hill, Ollie Cahill, Philip Long, Stephen Napier, Stuart Ashton, Paul Bowdren, Paddy Crowley, Tony Tynan, Damien O’Rourke, Alan Molloy, Micky Greene, Richard O’Regan, Timmy O’Leary, Joe Gamble, Damien Delaney, Anthony Fennelly.
CORK CITY 2: Mick Devine, Declan Daly, Patsy Freyne, Achille Campion, John O’Flynn, LiamKearney, Billy Woods, Colin Healy, Neal Horgan, Derek Coughlan, George O’Callaghan, Greg O’Halloran, Dan Murray, Cillian Lordan, Denis Behan, Ciara McNamara, Nathalie O’Brien, Maggie Duncliffe, Danielle Burke, Katie McCarthy, Kate O’Donovan, Christina Dring, Saoirse Noonan.