NEWPORT County AFC would have missed Scot Bennett badly but his dramatic return after a summer of worry has given the whole squad a lift, says his former teammate Mark O’Brien.

The 29-year-old was left hunting for a club when financial fears because of the coronavirus crisis meant the Exiles were not in a position to offer fresh deals.

While fellow key figure Jamille Matt was snapped up by Forest Green Rovers, utility man Bennett remained unattached but thankfully didn’t have to wait long before signing a new one-year contract.

That was with County after manager Michael Flynn, who had told the defender/midfielder that he wanted to keep him in January, was in a position to add to his squad ahead of the new League Two season.

Bennett’s versatility in a hectic season will be vital for an Exiles squad that will be without defensive rock O’Brien after the 27-year-old Irishman was forced to retire in June because of a heart condition.

Free Press Series:

“It’s a big boost for all the lads,” said O’Brien. “He is part of a core that you need to keep around and knows what it takes to make this club successful and what it takes to build a successful team.

“Everyone knows from the years that he has been here how versatile he is and the quality that he brings to the squad.

“Put him at centre-back and he looks like he has been playing there every single day for his whole career, put him in midfield and it’s the same.

“You know what you are going to get with Scot because his quality shines through every single game and having him back in the squad is a massive boost for everybody.

“You can’t turn your nose up at a player of that quality who does the job whatever the position. He would have been missed terribly for everything that he brings to the team.

“He does it all and is a player who doesn’t moan or kick up a fuss, he just gets on with things even if it’s not his favourite position.

“You just can’t let someone like that go, so it’s a boost for all the lads.”

Free Press Series:

While the Exiles are being put through their paces ahead of the League Two kick-off on September 12, O’Brien has a different fitness regime.

The defender first had heart surgery when an issue was discovered while he was a youngster with Derby County in 2009 and a post-season check-up revealed that he would have to go under the knife again.

READ MORE: O'Brien reflects on County career

O’Brien had an operation at the start of July and left hospital at the end of the month to continue his rehabilitation.

“It all takes time and it’s a slow process but each day you get better and each day you build it up,” said the defender, who secured a place in County history with his late winner against Notts County in the Great Escape of 2017. 

“There is no quick fix, it just takes time to get back to a bit of normality.

“When I had the operation at 16 it was a slow process but I had football to get back to, starting with a fitness coach and having to push myself a bit more than I have to now.

“I can take my time with things and build up slowly this time. I know the process with the long, boring walks and getting yourself moving and feeling better.

“It’s about not pushing yourself too much and listening to your body; if you get tired then maybe leave it the next day.”

And O’Brien had a spring in his step after heading to Undy Athletic to watch Flynn put his squad through their paces in a football session after a morning fitness drill.

“It was nice to just turn up and see old faces again,” said O’Brien. “It was like I had never left – everyone was coming over and asking how I am.

“Little moments like that give you a boost. I will miss not being out there but I have had this decision hanging over me for the last 10 years, so I am not sitting there with any bitterness.

“I enjoyed watching them train and will enjoy watching them play when we get back into games.”