Sport League of Ireland

Tuesday 11 December 2018

Bennett craving more Cork success

Alan Bennett celebrates after Cork City clinched the Airtricity League title. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Alan Bennett celebrates after Cork City clinched the Airtricity League title. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Alan Bennett is ready to play on for another year after helping Cork City get across the line to become the new League of Ireland champions.

But he has challenged his team-mates to stay grounded following their league win and really cement their legacy by successfully completing the double when they meet Dundalk in the FAI Cup final on November 5.

Bennett was part of the last Cork side that won the league in 2005 but they lost their focus and were defeated in the cup final by Drogheda the following week.

They have a longer recovery period this time around and the veteran defender - who turned 36 last month - now wants to right that wrong.

That said, he did not lose sight of what had been achieved as he allowed himself to temporarily get caught up in the emotion of the celebrations following Tuesday night's scoreless draw with Derry that secured the title.

Bennett was in England when City hit on hard times and went to rock bottom before climbing back up again.

However, he retained a strong affection for the side he supported as a boy and that's why he has taken special satisfaction from this period of success.

Connection

"I was there in 1998 when they won the FAI Cup," he said. "Garry Buckley was a kid in the Shed in 2005 when we won the league. That's the connection you need. I'm a proud Corkman and this club has been massive for me.

"Me personally, I would love to stay on. It's hard to walk away when the team is going well, and there's Champions League football now next year to look forward to.

"You'll have to ask John Caulfield (about whether he wants him) but I feel good, the defensive record (19 conceded this season) is quite good and I hope that proves I'm doing a good job. I have a league medal tonight and I'd like to think I could stay on for another year.

"When you set out at the start in terms of being a pro footballer, you just want to get out and play. As you move through, you want to improve and stabilise your career. And, at the end, you think about your legacy and how you want people to see you. If we could do the double, that would be amazing."

Cork will face a job after that as they have struggled to cope with the loss of Sean Maguire and Kevin O'Connor to Preston. Skipper John Dunleavy has also been sidelined since the summer.

In the coming months, Cork may face a rebuilding job and key players such as Karl Sheppard and Greg Bolger have been strongly linked with Dundalk and Waterford respectively.

City also need to tie down the future of their manager Caulfield, who Bennett credits for re-energising the club.

"Sometimes you arrive in on a Monday morning and you're a bit older, a bit tired, and then you come in for a meeting with him and you burst out and you want to go out training," explained Bennett.

"He's setting up standards this club have to stay at and hopefully we've learned the lessons of the past and this is a watershed moment for Cork."

Caulfield, who has now won a league and cup both as a player and manager with Cork, admits that he is proud of how his group have steadily improved since his appointment late in 2013.

He felt there was a slightly negative perception around Cork and beyond of what he might bring to the table after being offered the chance to leave amateur football and manage at League of Ireland level.

"I remember the day I rang John Cotter (his assistant) and I said, they think the two of us are two bogtrotters, we haven't a clue, we're coming from amateur football. They don't know the work-rate we have or the knowledge we have.

"Our budget was ridiculously low and Shane Duggan had left, Daryl Horgan had left. Maybe people thought it was a goodwill gesture, go for the ex-player, the cheap option. But we knew we had a lot more than that about us. We said from the very start that we will be in Europe, and that we wanted to be top four. We wanted to compete for trophies."

Caulfield will also turn his focus to the Aviva, conscious that it would be a first for the club if the cup was added to the trophy cabinet in the same calendar year.

"It's never been done and it's a great carrot for the lads," said Caulfield, who feels it's appropriate that Dundalk are the opponent for the third year in a row with the sides at one win apiece. Dundalk had the upper hand in the league - with three successive wins - until the guard changed this term.

"It's fitting that it's the two of us in the final who have set the standards, and it's fitting that we will be there because we've both had to cope with losing serious, serious players."

Before that, Cork travel to relegation-threatened St Patrick's Athletic tomorrow night. Naturally enough, it's expected legs will be rested but Bennett says City are aware of their responsibilities to the other sides at the bottom. "We wouldn't do the league justice if we didn't go at that game fully," he said.

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