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Ireland's standout Euro 2016 player will be key to their World Cup campaign

Burnley’s new midfielder Jeff Hendrick starred for Ireland in France this summer.

Image: Martin Rickett

IF THERE WAS any doubt before Euro 2016 about Jeff Hendrick’s place in the Ireland team, his displays in France emphatically silenced the critics.

Against Sweden and Italy in particular, the 24-year-old Dubliner caught the eye, and along with Robbie Brady, was Ireland’s standout player at the tournament. Moreover, he showed impressive resilience in the France game, continuing on despite suffering a painful dead leg during the match.

Hendrick, who has just become Burnley’s club-record signing after joining from Derby for a reported €12 million, is likely to be crucial again as Ireland’s bid to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia commences away to Serbia on Monday evening.

Consequently, much is now expected of Hendrick at both club and international level. Speaking during the week, former Irish international Niall Quinn backed the midfielder to become a star and help fill the void left by the recent retirements of big personalities like Robbie Keane and Shay Given.

“His performances at the Euros woke everyone up to how good he can be,” Quinn said. “It’s Burnley who went the furthest mile to break their record and bring him in.

He’s on an upward curve and is a player who could go anywhere really in terms what his performance levels could be like now. He has started to understand in the summer that he could play on the same stage as great players who get all the accolades around Europe.

“While they’ve had to dig deep by their standards to bring him in, Burnley have got themselves a player who could be anything. If he keeps believing in himself, I think he’s got a hell of a career ahead of him.”

Injury problems have resulted in a slow start to the season for Hendrick, though the fact that he came off the bench on Wednesday against Oman just hours after completing his transfer from the Clarets suggests he could be in line to start in Serbia on Monday.

Nevertheless, the Ireland star may not be quite 100% yet. He has played just twice for Derby in the Championship this season, and was taken off injured after 12 minutes of his most recent game against Barnsley on 13 August.

That said, Hendrick was far from a prolific starter for the Championship side last season and still managed to look sharp at the Euros. He came into the tournament having played for the Rams just once since March. In total, he featured in just 32 of their 48 Championship matches in 2015-16, and of those games, he completed 90 minutes in less than half (14 of the 32 fixtures).

Yet there is no doubt that Hendrick is a rare talent, as evidenced by the amount of money Burnley paid for him. For Ireland, he has already won 26 caps, and he has the potential to be a mainstay of his country’s midfield for years to come.

The Italy Euro 2016 game, in particular, highlighted how good he can be, and a few examples of his strengths are illustrated below.

Power

Hendrick set the tone for Ireland early on. Watch the clip below, as he controls the ball neatly, casually brushes aside PSG midfielder Thiago Motta, before launching a powerful shot that goes just wide of the top corner.

shot

The Irish player’s physicality was apparent on more than one occasion in this match, with the Italians struggling to come up with an adequate response.

Hendrick also made his presence felt early on, with a strong, unceremonious challenge on his opponent. It was, if anything, a message to the Italians that they were in a game, in a manner akin to Roy Keane’s tackle on Marc Overmars in the famous Ireland-Holland 2001 game at Lansdowne Road.

tackle2

Comfort on the ball

Hendrick is much more than just a big, powerful runner though — the young midfielder is also impressive technically. He set up crucial goals twice in Ireland’s qualification campaign — intelligently lofting in a cross for John O’Shea to score away to Germany, and beautifully beating two players in the build up to Jon Walters’ winner in the home game with Georgia.

Source: eoinfffp/YouTube

Source: Crossfield Ball/YouTube

Against Italy too, Hendrick always looked comfortable on the ball, showing some nice touches and seldom giving possession away cheaply.

comfortable

touch

Hendrick’s positivity set the tone for Ireland’s best display of the tournament, and he helped create their most promising moment of the first half, when James McClean was wrongly denied a penalty by Romanian referee Ovidiu Hațegan.

create

Versatility

Hendrick is also able to play a number of different roles. In the Italy game, he started off on the right side of a four-man midfield, though frequently drifted into the centre, while effectively helping to implement Ireland’s high-pressing game that meant the Italians struggled to get out of their half at times.

press Ireland frequently pressed the Italians high up the field.

Hendrick then became a virtual number 10 for a few minutes, once Aiden McGeady took his place out wide, after the 30-year-old Scottish-born star was substituted on for striker Daryl Murphy, with Shane Long becoming the lone frontman in the process.

advanced Hendrick played in a more advanced role following Daryl Murphy's substitution.

Shortly thereafter, as Ireland continued their search for a vital goal, Hoolahan became the most advanced midfielder when he came on for James McCarthy, with Hendrick reverting to the Everton midfielder’s deep-lying role in front of the back four for the final 15 minutes of the game, making one important interception shortly before Brady’s famous winner.

deep Hendrick ended the game in the James McCarthy deep-lying role.

His ability to alternate between these various roles says much about Hendrick’s positional intelligence, while the fact that O’Neill kept him on instead of a more established star such as McCarthy gives an idea of how highly the youngster is valued by the 64-year-old coach. Indeed, along with Brady and Coleman, Hendrick was Ireland’s only outfield player to feature in every minute of their tournament campaign in France.

Room for improvement?

Hendrick has an excellent shot and scores the occasional spectacular goal (see video compilation below), but he currently does not get himself on the scoresheet often enough. In 32 appearances for Derby last season, he managed to find the back of the net just twice.

Source: Derby County Fans/YouTube

In addition, Hendrick needs to be more consistent, particularly at club level. As excellent as he was against Italy, there have been recent suggestions that some scouts were unconvinced that the Irish international has the ability to put in that calibre of performance on a regular basis.

Such reservations may partially explain why both Robbie Keane and Marco Tardelli were previously rebuffed when they tried to engineer a big move for Hendrick, as well as why clubs bigger than Burnley didn’t make a move for the Dubliner during the summer transfer window.

Furthermore, as is often the case with young midfielders, Hendrick tends to drift in an out of matches. There are times when he fails to stamp his influence on games.

The clip below is a good example. Hendrick is poorly positioned and too far away from the play to influence it. He needs to run closer and show for the ball, but ultimately, he runs away from it, and the Ireland backline are put under serious pressure from the Italians as a result of their lack of options or support.

shout

Of course, Hendrick is still only 24 and was the second youngest member of Ireland’s Euros squad (after 23-year-old Cyrus Christie), so he has plenty of time to iron out these flaws.

Consequently, the former St Kevin’s Boys youngster is bound to be someone Ireland will now look to as a big player in the upcoming World Cup qualifying campaign, starting Monday against the Serbians.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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