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Interviews

‘Straight-talker’ Ben gets down to business!

Centre-back aims to pass on his experience to our young talents

17 November 2021

Ben Heneghan’s interest in business could spark a profitable second career after football, but his number one target at the moment is to help Wimbledon climb the table.

Following an impressive first year with the Dons, it’s hard to believe that Ben was without a club for five months after leaving Sheffield United. The no-nonsense defender has made a vital contribution on the pitch by racking up 42 appearances since joining us, but it’s his experience at various levels of the game that’s sure to prove invaluable for Wimbledon at a testing time.

His first taste of men’s football came at non league Droylsden Town, but he’s also played in front of 50,000 crowds at Rangers and Celtic when spending a season with Motherwell in the Scottish Premier League.

Now a senior player in a squad that’s one of the youngest in the English Football League, Ben is thriving on the responsibility of helping our rising talents to shine.

“It’s a new style at the training ground, a new structure that Robbo has implemented, and he’s trying to bring it all together,” said Ben. “It will take time in a sense, but in the group I’ve always been the straight talker! I always say it like it is and if we need to get better I will make my point.

“We had a frank discussion after the Cambridge game and that happens in football - it needs to happen. The younger players need to realise it. You go to some places and there will be a tear up after a game!

“We are coming up against sides with experienced players, but we have some good young players, and good senior players too. I’m trying to do my bit and I do think we will recover and get better results again. We can go on another run, and the sooner that happens the better.

“Some of the young players look up to the senior lads, and we are a close-knit group, so we look after each other. It’s all about learning how to deal with certain situations for our young players. They have to learn as quickly as they can, so that they improve as players, and help the team as much as possible. If they keep working hard they will get their rewards.

“We have some good young talent here and they will improve. Their confidence will increase and they can help the team to progress in the future.”

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Ben recalled his early professional years in football – and he would recommend going out on loan to any aspiring young player. A crop of our youngest talents have been doing just that and Dons academy products Huseyin Biler and Jack Currie both started for us in last week’s EFL Trophy match at Sutton United.

“I had a loan spell with Droylsden when I was young,” said Ben. “They were struggling at the time as they were bottom of the league and had conceded about 100 goals, but we won in my first game there.

“It was my first taste of men’s football, and it was completely different for me after being with Premier League clubs. Everything was run by the players and staff themselves. It was exactly what I needed at the time, and I would say to any young player, ‘as soon as you have the chance to go out on loan, get out there’. The experience will really help a young player to develop.

“With Under-23s football, there is not much tackling or hustle and bustle off the ball, but when you go out on loan you experience that physical side of the game. You are playing for points and people’s jobs are on the line.

“Jack Currie is on loan at the moment, but he came in for the Sutton game and did well. I thought that Huseyin was the stand-out player for us, so it will be brilliant if he can get some more games under his belt while he’s on loan.”

Following the international break, the matches are about to come thick and fast again, and Ben is relishing playing regular football after his spell out of the game last year, but he’s also making the most of his spare time!

“Football has always been my number one goal in life, and always will be,” said Ben. “I absolutely love the game. Outside of football I do a lot of gym work, though that’s obviously relative to the game, but I’m also working on certain things to go into business, including taking a look at the stock market.

“There was a course on business that was mentioned in our group chat, so I’ve taken an interest in that. As footballers we do our training, a bit of gym, and there can be a few hours at home when you are doing nothing, so it’s something to keep you occupied.

“I find studying the stock market, business, and the property market, very interesting. I want to get more into that, and it keeps my brain ticking over! It’s something I could pursue when my football is over, but I’m only 28 so I have a lot of time left in my career.”

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It’s certainly not stretching the point to say that Ben’s career could have moved in a completely different direction last year. After a highly impressive loan spell with Blackpool, Ben was offered a contract by the Seasiders, but Simon Grayson was sacked as manager and then the Covid-19 pandemic prematurely curtailed the season.

“I had been on loan with Blackpool, and I was offered a deal to sign there, but a week later the manager got sacked. The offer was on the table, but then there was a change of manager and football was curtailed due to Covid, so everything changed. I never heard anything after that, so the deal was off the table. That happens in football.

“With the gyms being closed I kept myself fit by road running, and I bought my own equipment to turn my garage into a gym! I kept myself fit and I was in good nick to be honest, but you are always thinking, ‘tomorrow I will get a call, and it will come’.

“After months without a club I got a phone call from Glyn, who I had worked with when I was playing for Stoke Under-23s. I just wanted to play football again and as I knew Glyn it was a great opportunity for me.

“I also knew Woody because we had played together for the England C team. I shared a room with Woody when we played a game at Sutton and when I first came down here I ended up in the same hotel again – the Hilton in Cobham! I was in there for about three weeks before I found a place of my own.

“Since I’ve been here I’ve played regularly and if asked by a manager I always say, ‘I’m prepared to play every game’. That is my mentality and how I am. I was out for seven weeks after I got injured on Boxing Day at Oxford, but I got through that and then Robbo took over. We had that really good spell of results and performances in the latter part of the season, and we started off well this season. Now we need to work hard to recapture that form.”

Released by Stoke City, a club he joined from Everton as a teenager, Ben showed the desire and determination that has become his trademark – reigniting his career with non league Chester after impressing during a trial.

“It is frustrating when you are without a club. I believe in myself, and in my ability. I went on trial at Accrington, but I was told there was no budget and they were going to bring someone through from the youth team, which was understandable. Then I went on trial at Oldham, but George Elokobi also came in at around the same time, and he had played in the Premier League, so they decided to go down that route.

“I ended up going to Chester through a family friend, who said he knew the manager at the time, and he would put my name forward. Steve Burr was the manager and on the second day of my trial they offered me a deal. I was buzzing with that. I had a great time there as I had a very good bond with the fans and staff – it’s a great club. It was the right move for me at the time as it offered me a chance to play men’s football regularly.

“I had put on my CV that I could play right-back, but I had never played there! I just wanted to play football, and after I signed I was put on at half-time away at Braintree. We ended up winning the game, so I stayed in the team. I waited for my opportunity at centre-back and I took it.

"I managed to score quite a few goals for Chester, and I need to start doing that here at Wimbledon!"

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One of his goals for Chester is still warmly remembered to this day by their fans as it was the winner in a televised derby match versus Wrexham, but it was his overall performances that caught the eye and he made the massive step from non league to the Scottish Premier League.

“I was willing to go up to Scotland to progress in my career as it was an opportunity to play top-flight football. It’s a good level of football and I don’t think it gets the credit it deserves down here.

“After playing in non league football, all of a sudden I was playing in front of 50,000. You want to play in front of big crowds, that’s what being a footballer is all about. It was a fantastic experience to play in the Scottish Premier League with Motherwell.

“Kenny Miller at Rangers was a very tough player to come up against and Moussa Dembele at Celtic (now at Lyon) has gone onto big things, but whenever I go into any game I back myself.”

Manchester-born Ben’s football career with Everton got off to an uncomfortable start though as he was kicked in the teeth – quite literally!

“I was spotted at a Primary School tournament at the JJB Soccer Dome in Wigan by a scout called Martin Waldron, who I’m still in touch with now. Within a week of going to Everton I played in a friendly game, but I got kicked in the face and one of my teeth came out!

“I managed to carry on though, and I was on trial for quite a long time, to the point of my family saying, ‘do you want to carry on going?’ It was a bit of a burden for my parents driving me back and forth all the time. I had to be there after school at 5 pm, so I owe my Mum and Dad a lot for taking me to and from training all the time. I got offered a two-year deal, and I ended up staying there until I was 18. I joined Everton as a midfielder, but I got converted into a central defender and I’ve enjoyed playing there ever since.”

Having joined the Dons at a time when no supporters were allowed into games, Ben has loved playing in front of our supporters – and he’s determined to reward their backing with victories.

“Playing without fans was flat, and it didn’t feel like proper football. Since the fans have come back it has been fantastic. Our fans are very passionate, and that’s shown by the support we receive every week, including for midweek away games. As players that is massive for us to have that support. The lads love it, the support we get is unbelievable, and we’ve got to start repaying them with a few results.”


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