But now, with the 2017 title finally in the bag and another shot at the double looming, he’s confident that the new champions will have learned a lesson from history.
“John (Caulfield) will keep an eye on us as well,” he said. “It was a mistake in hindsight but at the time I was pretty young and didn’t know any different. But that Derry game when we won in ’05, there was probably only a little over a week to the cup final. At least now we have a bit more time so that will be good in terms of recovery. And first we have Pat’s tomorrow night. That’s a big game for them and a big game for the league so we wouldn’t do the league justice if we didn’t go at that game fully.”
A survivor of the 2005 league-winning team, Bennett is relishing the chance to make up for same year’s cup defeat to Drogheda United when City come up, yet again, against arch-rivals Dundalk at the Aviva next month.
“If we could do the double that would be amazing because this club has been massive for me as a person, it gave me my chance,” he said. “And now if it could give me that at the very end it would just be a perfect season for me.
“You learn from experience. We got that opportunity 12 years ago and we didn’t really take it and that was a regret. When I speak to ex-players now like Billy Woods, Colin O’Brien, and Deccie Daly, they say these opportunities don’t come around too often. And I can testify to that.”
After all the talk in recent weeks of the goal famine which followed the Sean Maguire-inspired goal feast, the man they call ‘Benno’ takes satisfaction in the fact that it was City’s defence which ultimately got the side over the line.
“I suppose we hit our bad patch at the very end but, look, two clean sheets to win the league, that’s a defender’s dream,” he said. “Our defensive record this year is something myself and all the back four are very proud of. It’s been an amazing season. People will look back at the big picture and the standards we set. We were chasing records from the early 1900s. That’s the level, that’s the expectancy we brought with us as a team.
“Highlights? Dundalk away, Seanie getting a hat-trick. It was a great night. One of those games when it was a real pleasure to be in this team.”
Asked which tasted sweeter, 2005 or 2017, Bennett puffed out his cheeks, smiled and said: “Can you ask me after the cup final? But I suppose now because you appreciate it more. In ’05, I was still a bit of a kid, you’re still a bit of an idiot, like. You don’t really know what’s going on, you don’t appreciate the magnitude of it. But now, having been away and come back, it’s been a great three years. John and the staff and everyone at the club have really pushed the club forward. That’s something I’m really proud of.”
Of manager Caulfield’s drive, he says simply: “He’s relentless. The intensity of the man just blows me away. You arrive in on a Monday morning — being a bit older you’re a bit tired — but after meeting with him for 15 minutes you want to burst into training. And that’s him every single day. He’s laying down foundations at this club which me, as a fan, I love to see. He’s setting standards that this club will have to stay at and, hopefully, this is a big watershed moment for Cork City.”
And not just in the short-term. Winning the league, Bennett hopes, will have a galvanising effect on the club for years to come.
“It can inspire a generation of future Cork City players, fans, sponsors, volunteers,” he said. “Garry Buckley was here watching in the Shed in ’05 when we won the league. I was there in ’98 when Cork City won the Cup. These things make an impression on you. So if even one or two or three players — the next Seanie, the next Kevin O’Connor, or the next David Meyler — comes out of this, that will be amazing.”
As for his own ambitions, the 36-year-old admits he’d love to extend his service with the club for one more season.
“It’s hard to walk away when the team is going so well and there’s Champions League football to look forward to next year,” he said.
“John will have to answer that. But me, personally, right now? Yeah, I’d love to stay on. I feel good and I hope the defensive record proves I’m doing a job. So I’d like to stay on for another year.”
n eir Sport 2 will broadcast live coverage of new champions Cork City’s clash with St Parick’s Athletic at Richmond Park on Friday. Kick-off: 7.45pm