I remember watching Alan Bennett in the early days of his football career.
When I say the early days, I don’t mean playing with Cork City’s underage side — I mean when he used to play in the blue and white hoops of Richmond Football Club.
After initially trying to convince his team-mates and the management of the local in club in Waterfall that he was best suited as a goalscoring striker, young Benno was asked to fill in at centre-back in a pre-season friendly, due to a shortage of players.
He never played up front for the club again; from that moment on, he was a centre-back.
Even in my primitive years, watching him marshal the Richmond back four and dominate opposing forwards, you could see that was definitely his best position.
And the rest is history. The boyhood Cork City fan finally got the chance to represent his club when he joined at youth team level in 2000.
He would continue to grow as a defender and he would then graduate to the first team, helping them to a memorable league title in 2005, before leaving for Reading in 2007.
Bennett would return to the club in 2015 after eight years in England, where he played for Southampton, Brentford, Wycombe Wanderers, Cheltenham Town, and AFC Wimbledon.
He was also capped twice by the Republic of Ireland during their trip to the United States in 2007.
And arguably of most importance to the Ballinora man, in his time with Cork City, he won two league titles, two FAI Cups, three President’s Cups, and three Munster Senior Cups.
That list of achievements makes him one of the most decorated players in the club’s history and gives him a strong claim to being one of the best defenders to have ever played for Cork City.
It was only right that the club’s officials gathered at the Cork International Hotel last week to launch his upcoming testimonial fixture, which will take place at Turners Cross on Saturday, September 14, with a 3pm kick-off and will see a Cork City Legends team take on a team comprised of current players.
“When the club approached me about this, it was something I felt honoured and privileged to be in this position,” Bennett told the gathered reporters on the day.
“The first person I rang was Neal Horgan because he was the last person that had something similar for this club. The first thing he told me was that it is like marrying yourself — that’s what the whole day is like and I kind of get that feeling alright, it’s slightly embarrassing.
“But look, there is a charity element, there is the Cork City Academy element which are my main drivers, to be honest, with regards to this whole thing.”
A percentage of funds raised will be going to Samaritans Cork to help with their work helping with the mental health of Cork’s young people, while funds will also be going to the Cork City FC Academy, where Bennett currently coaches the U13s.
So even on a day when he is supposed to be marrying himself, the 37-year-old is focussing on helping one of Cork’s major charities and supporting the next generation of Cork City Football Club. That’s the hallmark of the man.
Also on a day when the club will come together to see Bennett kick a ball around with his current and former team-mates — it is likely he will play for both teams in the match — it was a noticeable gesture that he endeavoured to include the club’s women’s team.
“I felt I wanted to make it a family day, a community day and a club day where Cork City celebrated as a club,” he added.
“I am very happy that Ciara McNamara from the Women’s team has brought some of the members from the 2017 FAI Cup-winning team with her.
“I think it was very important to get them involved. I started off by thinking about players that I was going to bring in, and I wanted somebody from the 2005 team, I wanted somebody from the 2017 league-winning team, and I wanted successful teams in Cork to be recognised.
“So that was my initial idea and once we headed down that line, you have the 2017 Women’s FAI Cup-winning team and that was a huge achievement, as ours was on the same day.
“The effort was equal, the sacrifice was equal at the end of the day in my mind, so I got on to Ciara and she said there are eight players in the squad that played that day.
“She asked all eight and hopefully we will get all eight involved. I would love to see Ciara nutmeg Dan Murray or someone, that would be great,” he laughed.
It promises to be an incredible day and hopefully it will get the huge crowd that it deserves.
Alan Bennett has had remarkable success in his career since he cemented his place at centre back for Richmond and abandoned his notions of being a striker.
His career deserves to acknowledged in front of a huge crowd at his testimonial, even if his own thoughts are about the club itself.
“I started out watching and dreaming from behind the wall as a City supporter, to then always feeling privileged to play in front of the City support and soon I’m heading back behind the wall to continue supporting City,” enthused Bennett.
“September 14 is a Cork City FC club day. A family day because that’s what we are — a big family.”