Alan Bennett or Derval O'Rourke: Vote for your favourite Rebel Legend

The Echo wants you to help pick the best Cork sports star since 1970 to be in with a chance to win a €200 voucher
Alan Bennett or Derval O'Rourke: Vote for your favourite Rebel Legend

Vote in each round of the search for Cork's most popular sports star.

ALAN Bennett or Derval O'Rourke? 

The Echo is running a fun contest from here until March 11 where you can vote for your favourite Cork stars since 1970 and pick the winners in each round until we're left with an overall Rebel Legend winner.

There are 32 contenders, with the hero of the Shed and champion sprinter going head to head today.

This poll will be open until 8am on Friday morning.

Here's the case for each of the Leeside stars.

ALAN BENNETT

GIVEN the way that 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 Alan Bennett, who recently announced his retirement. 

The central defender leaves behind a strong body of work, having joined Neal Horgan, Dan Murray, and Danny Murphy in a mean back four that conceded just 18 goals in 33 league games in 2005; then, after a stint in England, he returned to City and won the FAI Cup in 2016 before captaining the side to the double the following year.

When Bennett signed for City youths, his honesty saw him tell Jerry Harris that he wasn’t good enough, but he still managed to make his debut as a teenager – in midfield – in 2000. Before too long, he was relocated to defence, with City finishing third in 2003 and second in 2004 before they went all the way in 2005.

Alan Bennett wins the ball against Red Star Belgrade. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Alan Bennett wins the ball against Red Star Belgrade. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

His performances brought him to the attention of English scouts and 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.

When regular Bees captain 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. 

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.

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.

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

“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.”

DERVAL O'ROURKE

IN Jacqui Hurley’s new book, Girls Play Too, there is a vignette which gives a real insight into the drive and determination of Derval O’Rourke.

Racing a boy in her neighbourhood in Douglas, she wanted to beat him so badly and she ran so fast that she couldn’t stop herself and ran into a concrete wall, cutting her knees. But she won.

At the start of 2006, O’Rourke held the Irish indoor 60m hurdle record, 8.02 seconds. Between the outset of the year and the day of the 60m race at the World Indoor Championships in Moscow in March, she had broken the record three times, revised downwards to 7.90. By the end of the day, the record would have been broken twice more.

In the opening round, she came second in a time of 7.93, before winning her semi-final in 7.87, leaving her “nervous, but everything was okay” prior to the final.

After the first hurdle in the final, she was second, knowing that any place in the top three would be a first sprint medal for an Irish lady at any major championship. By the midway stage, she had hit the front and would stay there until the end, but so tight was the field that a photo finish was needed to ascertain who the winner was.

There was an anxious wait before the big scoreboard in Moscow told everybody who the winner was, but then relief as Derval’s name and her time of 7.87 flashed up. 

Another new Irish record and she needed every bit of it to take the gold – four-hundredths of a second separated first place from fourth.

O’Rourke first came to prominence in 2005 when winning two bronze medals at the World University Games in Turkey. Having won the gold at the world indoors in 2006, there was no 60m hurdles in the European Championships later that year, but she did take silver in the 100m hurdles.

Derval O'Rourke celebrates her silver medal in the European Athletics Championships in 2006. Picture: Michael Steele/Getty Images
Derval O'Rourke celebrates her silver medal in the European Athletics Championships in 2006. Picture: Michael Steele/Getty Images

While the Beijing Olympics in 2008 proved to be a disappointment, she returned to form in a big way in 2009, taking third at the European Indoors before going agonisingly close at the World Championships in Berlin, crossing the line in fourth. That was a sizeable achievement in itself, as she set a national record of 12.67, which was also the fastest time run by a European in 2009 up to that point. It says much for Derval’s mentality, though, that she said after that race that she was “gutted” not to have won a medal, having been written off by many prior to the event, having struggled with injuries.

That progress was underlined at the 2010 European Championships in Barcelona. Her time of 12.65 was just 0.2 seconds behind the winner, Turkey’s Nevin Yanit, and set a new Irish record over hurdles at 100m.

In taking silver, she made herself the only Irish athlete to win medals at both the 2006 and 2010 European Championships, and she was honoured by the AAI as the Athlete of the Year.

After representing Ireland at the Olympics for the third time in 2012, she added a final major medal when she was belatedly awarded bronze in the 60m hurdles at the 2013 European indoors. Having finished fourth, in transpired that the winner — the aforementioned Nevin Yanit — had committed doping violations. O’Rourke was reclassified to third, but not until 2015, by which time she had retired. Her life post-athletics has seen her explore new avenues as an author, fitness expert and coach on Ireland’s Fittest Family, still displaying that same single-mindedness.

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