Robbie Benson had the season of his life last year. Playing in Europe with Dundalk, winning a League of Ireland Champions medal, and playing the FAI Cup final against Cork City — a game they went on to lose in extra time.
The former Athlone Town midfielder played 10 games for Dundalk in Europe last season, including games in the Champuons League and Europa League. He also scored 2 goals for the Lilywhites, including a volley against Legia Warsaw which received worldwide attention.
Benson describes last season as special. Speaking about it he said:
“It was a special year for us winning the league and experiencing the heights of the Europa League group stages.
“It was an incredible journey and one that we are all hoping to replicate this season”
Having turned down the advances of Cork City, Shamrock Rovers, and St Patrick’s Athletic, Benson signed for Dundalk in December 2015, and he looked forward to working with manager Stephen Kenny.
Speaking about Kenny, Benson has nothing but good things to say:
“One of the manager’s big strengths is constantly reaffirming to the players the importance of the next game and never allowing complacency to set in.
“Last year he would regularly remind us of going in the history books as a team who did a three in a row.
“He sets challenges for players to become the best players they can be, and instills a huge amount of belief in every member of the squad.”
Benson studied at University College Dublin, playing for them in Europe in July 2015. When Stephen Kenny came calling for him, he found it hard to leave UCD, saying:
“It came at a point where I had finished my masters degree and I decided to pursue football full time as, if I hadn’t, it would be a thing I might regret in years to come. So I wouldn’t say it was a difficult decision.
“I had a fantastic time at UCD and am very grateful for everything they provided for me, but it was time for me to move on and once
“Stephen contacted me it [Dundalk] was the only club I was going to join. Thankfully it turned out to be the right move for me at the right time.”
Benson has scored some cracking goals during his time at Dundalk, as already alluded to, but the Legia Warsaw goal pales in comparison to a certain goal he scored while at UCD.
“I think the goals I scored in Europe were the most special and ones that will live long in my memory, but my best league goal probably came in the Brandywell [Stadium] for UCD.
“I picked the ball up in my own half, played a one two with Colm Crowe and burst to the edge of the box where I chipped Ger Doherty in goal.
“Actually Patrick McEleney went very very close with a lob of his own a few minutes later in the match, and we flashed each other a little smile.
“Little did we know we’d be teammates on a league winning team in Dundalk a few years later.”
Dundalk will arguably be favourites again this season, but Benson knows that a lot of other teams will be pushing to know them off their perch.
Speaking about the challenge of going for four in a row Benson said:
“The league this year will be fiercely competitive and a lot of teams will be out to deny us winning it again.
“Obviously Cork were our closest challengers last year and Shamrock Rovers have strengthened there squad this year, but you can’t discount Bray who finished last season as good as any team.
“Of course St. Pats will look to improve on last seasons finish and Derry, who had a fantastic season, will look to challenge again.
“With the nature of the league there’s no team you can discount from the outset.
“Not many people would have envisaged Dundalk to challenge in their first campaign under Stephen Kenny and perhaps we may see something like that again this year”
Most players have their favourite ground, and teams they look forward to playing against, but this is not the case for Benson.
“I look forward to every game really. We are very lucky to play the game we love professionally and because it’s a short career you have to relish every time you step on the pitch.
“I wouldn’t say there are any games I least like, but this time of year in training where there are no games on the horizon and training is full of running… it is not easy that’s for sure!”
Going in to the 2017 season in a few weeks Benson has set himself personal and team goals.
“My main aim is to do everything I can to help Dundalk be as successful as possible across all fronts.
“Winning the league last year was the best feeling I’ve had in football and there is no substitute for that winning feeling.”