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COMMENT | Underrated and malleable Robbie Benson did a lot of Dundalk’s ‘donkey work’

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Caoimhín Reilly

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Caoimhín Reilly

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caoimhin.reilly@dundalkdemocrat.ie

COMMENT | Underrated and malleable Robbie Benson did a lot of Dundalk’s ‘donkey work’

But that is Benson: a player who, it would seem, would fit in at any level, be it elite, League of Ireland or junior football, without necessarily standing out. Malleable in the extreme. (Sportsfile)

Midfield is the most thankless position on the pitch. You have to have wing-mirrors and span 360 degrees in mere milliseconds to cope. So, from that point of view, it’s arguable that central operators deserve more slack, when they’re often the most criticised.

Robbie Benson was a player who many Dundalk fans always seemed to want more from. But the barometer of any individual should really be measured on how he is perceived by his team-mates and in that regard, the Athlone man was held in high esteem.

“People give out about Robbie, but he’s the one who does all the unseen donkey work in midfield,” said an established Dundalk star during an off-the-record chat late last year. It’s a reference which has aged well. Can his term with The Lilywhites possibly be summed up any more accurately?

The midfielder’s final act for the club who he represented with distinction for four seasons was a typical Benson move. Running from deep in the hope his gamble would earn him a clear path to goal, he got his reward after Georgie Kelly had made a physical nuisance of himself and finished with a dinked finish, one which held more than a minuscule resemblance to the technique he employed during arguably his finest hour.

That, of course, being the goal which wrapped up European group stage football for the first time in the Dundalk’s history, the third in the 3-0 Champions League qualifier victory over BATE Borisov at Tallaght Stadium in August 2016.

He will be forever remembered for his tangible input to that campaign and it speaks volumes for what was to follow that that finish, in the driving rain, isn’t the indelible highpoint of the former UCD captain’s Oriel spell.

Play it to the tune of silence, The Titanic or something of more heavy metal, and it’s still a thing of beauty. A dropping ball in Legia Warsaw’s penalty area and, right footed, Dundalk’s No.18 volleys so sweetly that the ball indents to the point of near explosion.

It may as well have been the winner, as Legia’s leveller only came with The Lilywhites adding numbers to attack in search of an extra-time enforcing second at the Polish Army Stadium, thus keeping their Champions League dreams intact.

In case this seems to be rambling into a chronicle of Benson’s goals, well, that can’t be helped. Throughout his term at Oriel Park his scoring prowess has been overlooked. Stephen Kenny regularly labelled Patrick McEleney as “a scorer of great goals; not a great goalscorer”.Perhaps Benson, who signed for Dundalk at the same time as McEleney, ought to be remembered as ‘a scorer of important goals’. His list of registers could be delved into further.

He was tremendous through every European campaign in which he played - which adds substance to the claim that technically-able Irish players, like the Westmeath native, would be better served heading to the continent as opposed to England - but particularly in 2016.

Not only did he score the lead goal, albeit the goalkeeper wasn’t spectacular, in the horrible home, 2-1 loss to Zenit St. Petersburg, but he also helped The Lilywhites boss midfield for periods of a game against recognisable internationals.

But that is Benson: a player who, it would seem, would fit in at any level, be it elite, League of Ireland or junior football, without necessarily standing out. Malleable in the extreme.

He and Stephen O’Donnell weren’t paired that overly consistently, Chris Shields’ excellence and them both being left booters are reasons as to why. But they’re now joined again by a common goal.

Fans in Inchicore will wait with bated breath every time a ball drops with snow on it. ‘Hit it, Robbie’.