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Irish Wimbledon star Alan Bennett: 'Lets see how Liverpool deal with us'

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Alan Bennett playing for the Republic of Ireland in 2007

Alan Bennett playing for the Republic of Ireland in 2007

Alan Bennett in action for CheltenhamTown in 2011

Alan Bennett in action for CheltenhamTown in 2011

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Alan Bennett playing for the Republic of Ireland in 2007

THE players and staff of Liverpool FC will have to leave more than their Premier League misconceptions at the door when they turn up at the London home of AFC Wimbledon for an FA Cup battle tonight.

Apart from sharing the stage in the 1988 FA Cup final, Wimbledon and Liverpool have a lot in common these days: both clubs are mid-table in their leagues, will not win the league title, see the FA Cup as the best way of winning a trophy this season and many of their fans trade off past glories.

But former Ireland international Alan Bennett, club captain of AFC Wimbledon, has picked up enough knowledge from his years in the game to understand that there's still a big gap between the two squads who will face off in the FA Cup tonight at the Kinsgmeadow Stadium.

"Our ground is not much in terms of luxury. I played at Brentford for a while and their ground, Griffin Park would be like Stamford Bridge for us. I could compare our ground to somewhere like United Park in Drogheda or Dalymount Park, but on a smaller scale," Bennett told The Herald as the Dons put the finishing touches to the game plan for the Liverpool tie.

"We played Chelsea at home in pre-season and they were talking about bringing four or five medical beds with them. Our physio had to tell them 'no chance', that they could maybe fit one of them in the shower room but that was about it. Same with Liverpool tonight, I imagine they have a huge coaching and medical staff but they will all just have to squeeze in.

"So it will be interesting tonight to see how Liverpool deal with all of that. We are in the world of League Two football, that's what we play every week and it's always nice to see how the top-quality players deal with the surfaces in League Two, deal with the surroundings.

"We will see on the night but I know that our crowd will be well up for it," added Bennett, the former Cork City man who joined the Dons two years ago after spells with Reading, Wycombe and Cheltenham.

Once the clubs were paired in the third round draw, it was marked out as one of the ties of the round, due to that bit of history from 1988.

"There has been a bit of talk in the last week about the '88 Cup final , but it's more from the older fans and board members, a lot of therm will like to tell you where they were when Wimbledon won the Cup that year and stopped Liverpool from winning the double," says Bennett.

"As players, we haven't really talked about it. I think I was only six years old when they won the Cup against Liverpool and I'd be one of the more senior players here so it's not an issue, but the fans are enjoying the trip down memory lane."

Bennett has been at the club for two years now and has seen the place transformed. "When I came here it was a mess behind the scenes and the manager, Neil Ardley, has turned it around a lot in terms of the medical side of things, preparation, travel," he says.

MENTALITY

"The first week I was here the manager was going through the plans for the week, one player put up his hand and said he couldn't come in for training the following day as he had to babysit. It was that kind of mentality, where football came second, I had just joined the club and I wondered what I had signed up for, but they've made huge strides since then."

Now 33, Bennett is unsure what the future holds and may not even get to start tonight against the Reds. He has been out of the first team in recent weeks, having enjoyed a spell as captain, and at the age of 33 does not want to sit on the bench so a move away is a possibility with a return to his native Ireland also an option - Bennett renewed his interest in the League of Ireland when he trained with Cork City for a spell during the summer holidays.

Yet he has a good record and reputation in the game, a CV that contains Ireland caps, from a summer tour of the USA under Steve Staunton in 2007, a tour mainly notable for the brief Ireland career of American-born college student Joey Lapira.

"When I went back after that summer trip with Ireland I went on loan to Southampton," Bennett recalls.

"We were in training and someone said 'We're having a look at an Irish international who is on trial'. Everyone was keen to see who it was, if it was a big name. And in walks this lad with the long blond hair, so it was a case of 'Oh, hiya Joe'. And all the other lads were asking 'Who do ye let play for your country these days?'."

That's a nice line in nostalgia but for now, there's a game to prepare for. Can the Dons side of 2015 do what the class of '88 did?

"We have a couple of players who are more than capable on the night of doing something special, but we'll have to play a couple of levels above where we usually play.

"I have played against Premier League teams in Cup games in the past and you need a strong referee to have any chance. You need a referee who will consider giving a decision in midfield against Steven Gerrard and Dannie Bulman, our midfielder. You need a strong ref, a slice of luck and if you get that you never know," he added.

Wimbledon v Liverpool, Live bbc 1 (KO 7.55)


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