WHILE he played in England with a number of clubs, Cork City defender Alan Bennett never doubted that he would return home to Leeside.
Having left the Rebel Army in January 2007 to join Reading, Bennett played for Southampton, Brentford, Wycombe Wanderers, Cheltenham Town and AFC Wimbledon before coming back to Cork in 2015.
The four years since, coupled with six as a senior player prior to leaving, have seen the twice-capped international rewarded with a testimonial on Saturday against a team of City legends, with a percentage of the funds raised going to Samaritans Cork.
Bennett, who began his career with Richmond of Waterfall/Ballinora, was always going to listen to the call of home.
“Yeah, absolutely,” he says.
“That’s probably what made it so easy with Wimbledon, my last club. When I arrived there, from day one you inevitably get asked the question and I always said that Cork City was where I wanted to finish.
“Once the opportunity came up in January 2015, the manager knew that they were my plans, so it was an easier conversation and not a shock to him. They just accommodated it, which was brilliant.”
Bennett came back to a City side that had finished second in 2014 and he helped them to remain in contention, winning the FAI Cup in 2016 before claiming the league and cup double the following year, joining the 2005 league title in his medals cabinet.
“I always felt we’d challenge,” he says.
“When I had been there previously, we challenged in 2003, 2004, 2005, so that what I was expecting when I came back and that’s the way it worked out.”
“You can’t beat winning league titles. Both of those seasons were very different, obviously. In 2017, you had an amazing start and we probably had the season wrapped up halfway through. Then, the 2005 season was totally different because it took until the 73rd-minute-odd of the final game to wrap it up.
“They were both contrasting in how they went but both equally amazing and equally satisfying. To win two league titles and to be in those two teams was amazing.”
That the double was secured in 2017 was an extra bonus, especially as City had missed out on the chance to win it in 2005, losing the FAI Cup final to Drogheda United.
While the sale of Seán Maguire meant that City’s procession to the title in 2017 wasn’t as serene as would have been hoped, they managed to settle again and beat Dundalk after a penalty shootout in the final.
“It was special, just purely because I felt we fluffed the chance in 2005,” Bennett says.
“To be able to get to that level and win those two competitions takes a serious amount of effort and certain circumstances coming together.
“We knew how special it was on both occasions, but unfortunately in 2005 it didn’t really work out.”