Robbie Benson chats to Ryan Bailey about his progression with UCD AFC.
Robbie Benson has quickly established himself as a regular in Martin Russell’s UCD side and has played over a thousand minutes of League of Ireland football already this season. The 20 year old is part of the college’s highly successful scholarship programme and as he explained to ucdsoccer.com’s Ryan Bailey, he is enjoying the mix of football and study.
Not many players in the Airtricity League can boast having played for Ireland at U15, U16, U17 and schools level as well as achieving six hundred points in their Leaving Certificate but it was his talent on and off the pitch that earned Benson a soccer scholarship at UCD. He joined up with the first team shortly after completing his exams in June 2010 but a bad injury meant he had to watch his new team mates from the side-lines.
Speaking about the programme, Benson admits he had no hesitation in moving to UCD. “I had a great experience playing with Athlone in my hometown but playing in the Premier Division was a step in the right direction from a football point of view and the college itself is fantastic.” The Athlone native went onto say how much he enjoys the mix of college life and football. “I’m undertaking a joint honours degree in Chemistry and Mathematics and I love the mix. Both consume a lot of time and effort but I wouldn’t do either if I didn’t enjoy them. I’m used to balancing them from a young age so it’s almost second nature now.”
Last season was the versatile midfielder’s first full season at Belfield and despite several injuries hampering his game time, he found the net on five occasions and said he was pleased with his performances. This campaign has been a lot different however as he has become a regular in the starting line-up either just behind the striker or in midfield. “I’ve enjoyed the season so far although I don’t think our position in the table reflects some of our performances and we should be finishing ahead of a lot of the sides above of us. As for myself, I’ve put a lot of extra work in with our fitness coach George and feel myself getting a lot more able physically for the demands and my overall performances I feel have improved greatly.”
UCD is often regarded as one of the best clubs in Ireland for any young player to develop at and Benson is in no doubt that he has improved greatly as a player despite being in only his second full season. “I’ve developed immensely technically. But I feel the biggest improvement has come with my physical fitness in the gym. The average age of the squad is very young and the manager has no hesitation in playing anyone if they’re good enough. A lot of emphasis is placed on playing football in the right manner so I’d recommend any ambitious young player to come here.”
Heading into tonight’s game with Derry, Martin Russell’s side are two points adrift of Dundalk but Benson claims that the Students have been extremely unlucky so far. “Our performances have been mostly good and if we can maintain our form I believe things will come right for us. There is a great camaraderie within the squad and we all believe in each other. We have been unlucky with injures and have lost the likes of Ger [Barron] and now Ruskie to bad injuries and it’s tough to lose players of that quality for extended periods”
Despite his brief career to date yielding international recognition, Benson is keeping his feet firmly on the ground and not looking too far ahead. “I’m currently studying Chemistry and Maths and want to finish my degree and possibly undertake a Masters also. On the football front, I just want to keep improving as a player and if I can do that I’ll see where the road takes me. I’ve only just turned 20 so I have a long way to go in my career yet but I’m just concentrating on giving my all for UCD and not looking too far into the future.”
There is no doubt that he is enjoying his time at UCD and Benson concluded by explaining that he and his team mates certainly have the ability to go along way as a team. “We’ve been together for a year or two now and I believe we’re on the rise. We play in the right manner and I feel it’s only a matter of time before we start to win games more regularly. If we can keep this squad together I feel we have the potential over the next 2 or 3 years to claim a European place. We might even get a good run in the cup this year.”