The big interview: Dan Murray on his iconic partnership with Alan Bennett 

Denis Hurley talks to former Cork City captain Murray on playing with Bennett
The big interview: Dan Murray on his iconic partnership with Alan Bennett 

Celebration time in Cork City's dressing room after beating Derry City to the title in 2005: Dan Murray, Alan Bennett and Neil Horgan. Picture: Brian Lougheed

DAN Murray sums things up perfectly when discussing the longevity of his former defensive partner Alan Bennett.

“I keep saying it to people and they laugh at me but the League of Ireland is a young man’s league,” he says.

“You don’t see many players his age playing for as long as that. Alan knew how to manage his body because he definitely wasn’t training every day of the week.

“Credit to him, he knew exactly what he needed to do to get on the pitch and perform every Friday night. Let’s be honest, that’s what it’s all about.

“Not many players can do that, so he deserves praise for that.”

Cork City legend Alan Bennett celebrates a win over Dundalk in the FAI Cup final at the Aviva Stadium. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Cork City legend Alan Bennett celebrates a win over Dundalk in the FAI Cup final at the Aviva Stadium. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

With Cork City’s three League of Ireland title wins have been spread out at 12-year intervals, it’s hardly surprising that there are very few players with two medals.

In total, three men have been part of two City championship sides and two of them are goalkeepers: 1993 netminder Phil Harrington filled in as an emergency third-choice in 2005 and that year’s back-up custodian Mark McNulty, was still present in 2017.

The third two-time medallist, and the only outfielder, is Bennett, who recently announced his retirement. For the 2005 win, he linked with Murray at the back, part of a unit which conceded only 18 goals in 33 league games.

Murray recalls how the duo clicked almost immediately after they were paired together.

“The first time I came over was in 2002, the last winter league, it was a shortened season from July-January,” he says.

“I was on loan that time and Benno was playing midfield most of the time. In 2003, when Pat Dolan took over, that was when we started playing centre-half together.

“It seemed to click straightaway, really. Hoggy was playing right-back and Danny came in at left-back and we ended up playing together for three or four years.

“The more you play together, the better you get and that was the way it was for us. As the two centre-halves, Alan and I complemented each other – what he was good at, I might not have been so good and vice-versa.

“We played off each other and it was a case of us playing together so often that it worked. We got on off the pitch too so that helped as well and things just went from there.

“We did work on things in training, obviously, but things just clicked from the start.

“We had it with Georgie [O’Callaghan] and John O’Flynn at the other end, too – it just worked and me and Benno were the same.

“We were a similar age but it never felt like we were fighting against each other for a spot. When Pat Dolan came in, he was trying to build a team and the two of us were part of that.”

Cork City ‘s Alan Bennett wins the ball from Red Star Belgrade’s Milan Bisevac during the Champions League in 2006.
Cork City ‘s Alan Bennett wins the ball from Red Star Belgrade’s Milan Bisevac during the Champions League in 2006.

The City attack featured O’Flynn, O’Callaghan, Neale Fenn, Liam Kearney and Roy O’Donovan while Kevin Doyle was there for the first half of 2005.

Talent abounded but it’s interesting to look back and see that Damien Richardson’s team scored ‘only’ 53 goals in the title season.

However, with such a mean defence, it meant that City went out knowing that if they scored, there was a good chance they would win.

Dan Murray lifts the title in 2005 as Alan Bennett roars his approval. Picture: Larry Cummins
Dan Murray lifts the title in 2005 as Alan Bennett roars his approval. Picture: Larry Cummins

“We didn’t go around shouting about it at the time, but all of us in the back five – Michael Devine, too – prided ourselves on keeping clean sheets,” Murray says.

“It was a big deal for us to be the team in the division with the fewest goals conceded. Not many people would be aware of the statistics but it was a source of pride.

“Most of the time, if you have the best defence, you’ve a good chance of winning the league. When you consider the attacking players that we had, we always felt that we were capable of winning matches because there was goals in all of them.”

Playing well so consistently meant that Bennett attracted the attention of scouts from English clubs. He signed for Reading in 2006, going on to win two senior caps for the Republic of Ireland in 2007 against Ecuador and Bolivia.

While he struggled to make an impression with the Royals – who were in the Premier League when he joined – he had loan spells at Southampton and Brentford.

Alan Bennett signs for Reading FC, with chairman John Madejski.
Alan Bennett signs for Reading FC, with chairman John Madejski.

When regular captain Bees Kevin O’Connor was injured, despite being on loan Bennett had assumed the role as promotion from League 2 was assured in 2009 and he was immediately made official captain when he signed permanently that summer.

From there, he went to Wycombe Wanderers – with whom he won promotion – and then Cheltenham Town – also captaining them, going close to promotion – before joining Wimbledon in 2013.

The Dons were flirting with relegation from the Football League but Bennett brought an assurance to the defence that helped them to stay up. Murray feels that his ability to shine at a number of clubs underlines his professionalism.

“It was a great move for him to go to Reading at the time,” he says.

“They were in the Premier League at the time so it was obviously difficult to get in the team when they were going well but he adapted and didn’t mind having to go out on loan to other clubs.

“Every club that you speak to that he played for would hold him in high esteem because he’s one of those players that’s honest and works hard, there’s no rubbish with him and he does his best for the team.

“A lot of the time, that’s all that supporters are looking for in a player and not many fans would have a bad word to say about Benno.”

Bennett with his nieces and nephews is clapped on by Cork City legends in his testimonial at Turner’s Cross.
Bennett with his nieces and nephews is clapped on by Cork City legends in his testimonial at Turner’s Cross.

He returned to Cork City for 2015 as John Caulfield looked to build on the previous season’s second-placed finish. It proved to be an inspired move for player and club as the success of his previous spell was matched and improved upon – the FAI Cup was won in 2016 before the historic double the following year, with Bennett as captain of the team.

Murray’s final year was Bennett’s first year back and he saw an improvement.

“He was a better player when he came back,” he says.

“He was a much more confident footballer, he knew exactly what he was all about and you could tell that he was even more of a leader than when he had left.

“He had kicked on and the leadership is something that you don’t find too often. He really helped that City team to earn the success that they got.”

Such were Bennett’s leadership qualities that John Cotter and Neale Fenn both enlisted him as a coach during their period in charge and his retirement statement summed up the levels of dedication he applied to his game to make sure that he made it to the levels he did.

Cork City's Alan Bennett and Dan Murray in action at Turner's Cross. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Cork City's Alan Bennett and Dan Murray in action at Turner's Cross. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

“I’m proud of the work I did when no-one was watching,” he wrote in his retirement statement.

“I was fully present in every training session. Losing hurt as much from the start to the end of my career.

“To football, thank you again. My greatest friend but also my greatest foe. What an incredible vehicle you are for passion, love, friendship, fitness, health and joy. You broke my heart, created self-doubt, paranoia, fear and mistrust. You also brought me sheer euphoria, freedom and relief.”

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