Irish clubs need to be realistic about Europe, warns Bennett
Cork City veteran Alan Bennett believes it is unrealistic to expect Irish clubs to hit the heights that Dundalk have reached this year on a regular basis.
But he says that Cork should have confidence in their ability to reach another level in continental competition next season after a year of progress that culminated with an FAI Cup final win over Stephen Kenny's side.
Bennett is enjoying his second spell in Cork after spending seven years away in England, and a trip to London which included catching up with old friend Kevin O'Connor at Brentford confirmed his view that it's European exploits that catch the attention of football people across the water.
He experienced that himself during his stint in the lower leagues when team-mates were captivated by tales about games with Red Star Belgrade and Malmo during his early days in Cork.
However, Bennett feels the League of Ireland has a long way to go before its top sides can aspire to reach group-stage football on a regular basis. The 35-year-old was speaking after his fine performance in the Aviva Stadium triumph earned him the Airtricity/SWAI Player of the Month for November award.
"I don't see it being a year on year thing right now," said Bennett. "Look at the Ireland rugby team and how they beat the All Blacks: they beat them once and then going into the second game everyone was saying they could do it again.
"It doesn't work like that. Now it might not take them as long to beat them again, and that could be the case with Irish teams in Europe. It will be hard to keep breaking down those barriers but over time hopefully it will be less sporadic.
"Dundalk were over playing a friendly (v Brentford) and people at the club have been asking about players. They're talking about how they've done against Zenit and that's really the only way they can compare or judge a player from the League of Ireland. It is the barometer where they can judge what ability and character a player has got. It makes sense.
"Europe is the key: one of the coaches at Brentford, he was an Icelandic goalkeeping coach, he came over to me and said he watched Cork's U-19 side play Helsinki (in the UEFA Youth League) and was impressed. With all due respect, nobody over there asks about how you got on against Longford or Wexford. The focus is on Europe.
"We did well in Europe this year and the game I always go back to and use a reference point for us was the away game in Genk. We lost the game but played some breathtaking football, it was our best performance of the season and that's the level I've kept telling the players we need to reach on a consistent basis.
"It's up to us now to push on and try and achieve what Dundalk have.
"It's great to have us both pushing and it is a genuine rivalry. I'd like to think there is a healthy amount of mutual respect there, too. We've got to up our game because Dundalk are only going to get better."
Meanwhile, Dundalk defender Paddy Barrett has signed a new deal, and Galway boss Shane Keegan has snapped up St Pat's midfielder David Cawley.