Bennett: It's a great honour to be Cork City captain but every successful team needs a core of leaders

Bennett: It's a great honour to be Cork City captain but every successful team needs a core of leaders
Alan Bennett celebrates after the President's Cup final last year. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

IN 2017, John Dunleavy was Cork City’s club captain, with Alan Bennett team captain, donning the armband as the club won the domestic league-and-cup double.

Last year, Dunleavy was succeeded by Conor McCormack, and for the coming campaign Bennett will fill the role. He will lead the team when he plays, with City manager, John Caulfield, opting for stand-in skippers as, and when, required, rather than appointing a vice-captain.

For Bennett, it’s a nice recognition, but he won’t be overwhelmed by the duties. “I’m very proud,” he says. “It’s an honour. I’ve said it before: nothing will really change with me and the way I do things, but it’s a nice title, a nice pat on the back to get.

“It’s probably become a bigger thing recently, with the naming of a captain and the title of club captain, but, ever since I’ve been involved in football, there have been six or seven lads leading a group and that’s the way it is here, as well.”

Alan Bennett with referee Robert Rogers. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Alan Bennett with referee Robert Rogers. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

City’s 2019 season begins in the same way 2018 ended, with silverware at stake as the Rebel Army take on Dundalk in today’s President’s Cup, at Turner’s Cross (5.30pm).

The 2-1 defeat in November’s FAI Cup final, at the Aviva Stadium, was tough to take, but Bennett resolved to channel the disappointment positively.

“I can’t wait for the season to start,” he says. “The end of last year was really difficult and then you spend Christmas stewing over it.

“I got a bike and I was tearing around the hills, keeping fit and just thinking about that game for a few weeks afterwards, if not a few months.

“All over Christmas, I was tearing around where I am in Glanmire, up around Knockraha, a nice few hills, and that’s where I took out most of my aggression and my anger.

“You are stewing for a few days and it never gets easier; you’re just doing as best you can, focusing towards the season.”

It’s a focus that he feels is present among the squad as a whole.

“I just got a kick from Aaron Barry, but I was able to get up after it, which is good!

“I feel good in general. I’m training really hard. Last week was one of the toughest weeks I’ve put down in a long time. The lads really gave it everything and to see that, putting it all out in those sessions, to get it in the bank is great.

“You feel that, once you get into the season, it definitely repays you.”

However, Dundalk certainly haven’t been weakened on the field, even if manager, Stephen Kenny, has departed, to be replaced by Vinny Perth and John Gill.

“They haven’t really lost anybody in terms of playing staff,” Bennett says.

“They’ve added some good players, but, obviously, their management has changed quite dramatically. That can have an effect within the group.

“They will still be the team to beat. They’ll be the team that, if you’re above them, you’re winning things.

“They set the standards last year and it’s up to us, now, to go out and put it up to them.”

Alan Bennett battling hard in the FAI Cup final. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Alan Bennett battling hard in the FAI Cup final. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

During pre-season, City have used a three-man central defence quite a bit, which means a need to adapt on the part of Bennett.

“For me, it’s more about the way you always have that balance with a four; you’ve seen it for years,” he says.

“With the three, it either becomes a three or a five, depending on whichever situation or scenario you’re in. The key to it is switching between those quite quickly, giving yourself strength when you’re defending with a five and then having more bodies attacking when you’re going forward.

“That is about as simple as I can make the challenge. At the end of the day, it’s about the same habits that you always have, regarding defending, focusing on the basics. In terms of general shape, you’re going from a four to three or a five.

“It’s been great. I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of it and the learning of it and looking at the different parts of it.

“We’ve gone through a load of it; it’s been quite refreshing, really, I’ve never really had it before, in my career.”

Whether it’s three or four at the back, minimising concession is the key to success, as Bennett is all too aware.

“It’s no coincidence that, when you’re keeping clean sheets and keeping scorelines down at ones and zeroes, over the course of the season, you’re in amongst it then, at the end,” he says.

“It’s like that for any good team and, for us, it’s the exact same; it’s about maintaining those habits. Defending is so much about being patient in a situation and keeping the percentage of opportunities for the opposition to a minimum, so that you’re slowly and surely just grinding them down.”

And that’s why, despite the large turnover of players, Bennett still has confidence that City will challenge, and despite the clamour among other teams to put themselves in the mix.

“I think the behaviours of this group, and the behaviours of the club, are quite strong, and, whether players come in or out, they stay the same,” he says.

“When new players arrive, they have to get into them pretty quickly, or else they’ll be told. I think that’s the strength in our club and in our group.

“Over the last few seasons, there have always been clubs that have recruited strongly. Rovers, St Pat’s, Waterford last season and the same this season. I would love an even league, with teams beating each other every week; good and competitive.

“I would love that and I think every fan would love that and I think it’s up to teams to go and put it up to Dundalk and not to be overwhelmed or overawed when playing them.”

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