Robbie Benson eyes silver lining to Dundalk season

For a player conversant with numbers, Dundalk’s Robbie Benson knows he still has many years left in his footballing career.

Shamrock Rovers' Dave McAllister and Dundalk's Robbie Benson at the FAI National Training Centre, Abbotstown, Dublin. Picture: Inpho/Oisin Keniry

The midfielder graduated from UCD with a masters degree in actuarial science, a mathematical qualification he intends utilising in the workplace, but not before his footballing ambitions are realised.

Last year’s maiden season with the Lilywhites delivered a league title and European journey, which included his stunning, volleyed goal against Legia Warsaw.

Today’s EA Sports Cup final meeting with Shamrock Rovers provides another opportunity for silverware, while the same opposition stand in his way of consecutive FAI Cup final appearances.

After that, the 24-year-old may become the latest member of Stephen Kenny’s side to seek a fresh challenge at a higher level. Suitors have been circling, mostly in the UK, and he has finally acquired the self-belief to follow his dreams. Back in his teens, Benson shared an Irish underage international team with Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick, yet, rather than follow their cross-channel route, concentrated on his studies.

“I probably struggled a bit, confidence-wise, when I was younger, not even thinking I’d get to play full-time in the League of Ireland,” he said. “Even early on, at UCD, the plan was to play part-time and work alongside it.

“It helped when I played against some big players in Europe, for UCD, and then I met Stephen Kenny for the first time. I was finishing college, saying I had something to fall back on, but he was quick to say ‘look, you can’t think like that. You have nothing to fall back on. That’s the attitude you need to have.’

“I’ve gone from strength-to-strength. Stephen has talked to me about his plans for next year, but if a big offer comes in from abroad, I’ve got to consider it. I weigh up my options at the end of each year.”

For the time being, football still takes priority. While the actuarial industry is lucrative, the thought of ditching the tracksuit for the three-piece suit is far from his mind.

“Maths subjects were always my favourites — I was a bit nerdy at school — and I didn’t do the course not to eventually work in it,” he says. “I’ll be working on a Friday night until 6 o’clock so, now, I’d much rather be getting ready for a game in front of a big crowd.”

At Benson’s former school, Marist College, in Athlone, rugby international, Robbie Henshaw, holds pride of place, but now another Robbie is shaping up to make his own bit of history.

“Robbie was a year behind me in school and when my friend told me he was going to become the next Brian O’Driscoll, I hardly believed him,” he said. “We want to finish the season by winning both Cups. Everyone in our dressing room has that hurt from losing to Cork in last year’s FAI Cup final, so, hopefully, we can do a different kind of double this year.”

The Football Association of Ireland yesterday approved €180,000 in funding towards the Shamrock Rovers Academy.

The cash will be used to help the club complete their ambitious plans in Kingswood, Co Dublin.

Shamrock Rovers chairman Jonathan Roche said:

“The backing of the FAI in putting our five-year strategic plan into practice is essential to the future of the club.”

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