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Dublin: 7 °C Monday 25 March, 2019

Ireland's Jeff Hendrick comes of age on the international stage

The Derby midfielder impressed in the 1-1 draw against Sweden in Paris yesterday.

Ireland's Jeff Hendrick, centre, and Sweden's Victor Lindelof, right, go for the ball during the Euro 2016 Group E soccer match.
Ireland's Jeff Hendrick, centre, and Sweden's Victor Lindelof, right, go for the ball during the Euro 2016 Group E soccer match.

IRELAND MAY HAVE the oldest squad at Euro 2016, but in Jeff Hendrick, they possess at least one player good enough and young enough to wear the green jersey for many years to come.

Whereas the likes of Jon Walters, Shane Long and Wes Hoolahan have grabbed the majority of the headlines for the Boys in Green’s success in recent months, Hendrick has quietly gone about establishing himself as a first-team regular for the side.

Along with former St Kevin’s Boys teammate Robbie Brady, Hendrick was the youngest member of Ireland’s team yesterday, but it didn’t show, as the Dubliner was arguably the standout Irish player on the field.

Up until this point, the midfielder has been decent but hardly spectacular in a green jersey — he showed evidence of his potential in the home Euro 2016 qualifier with Georgia, setting up Jon Walters’ winner with a brilliant solo run.

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But if there’s a complaint about Hendrick, it’s that he tends to fade in and out of games all too often, producing one or two eye-catching moments coupled with periods of anonymity.

Yesterday, however, he arguably gave his most consistent display yet out of the 22 times he has appeared for his country.

Hendrick invariably was sensible in possession and played with a level of authority, physicality and endeavour that suggests he is growing more comfortable with international football.

He also nearly gave Ireland the lead, as his beautifully struck shot from distance came off the crossbar, much to the Swedes’ relief. If there was one other criticism of Hendrick, it’s that he doesn’t score enough — in 44 appearances in all competitions this season, he has managed just two goals, however if the player continues to demonstrate such impressive technique as that which was evident on Monday, expect him to open his international account sooner rather than later.

And all this happened despite worries over Hendrick’s fitness, with rumours circulating before kick-off that he was set to be dropped from Ireland’s starting XI.

He had played just once for Derby since March — the second leg of the Championship play-off semi-final against Hull — and his performance over 90 minutes in the dismal loss to Belarus at Turner’s Cross last month did little to alleviate concerns that he was short of the necessary match fitness required to compete at the highest level.

And while he admittedly tired towards the end of yesterday’s tense draw, the Derby star did more than enough over 90 minutes to show that such worries about his viability as a starter were misguided.

The encouraging display will be a big morale boost for the 24-year-old, who was again left disappointed at club level last month, as Derby failed to gain promotion to the Premier League, losing out via the play-offs for the second time in the last three seasons.

Partially due to injuries, Hendrick appeared in just 33 of the Rams’ 48 Championship matches (including the playoffs). Moreover, of those 33 appearances, more than a couple were from the bench — indeed, he completed 90 minutes on just 14 occasions in total in the league this season.

So it’s fair to say Hendrick has had an indifferent, stop-start campaign for his club, making yesterday’s accomplished performance all the more remarkable.

The Dubliner has always been a player of huge promise — after breaking into the Derby first team as a teenager, he was attracting Premier League interest as far back as 2011. He has also been linked with a move to Aston Villa and Newcastle more recently, and at 24, the midfielder is at a crucial phase of his development.

Hendrick will know he needs to be playing Premier League football sooner rather than later. Ex-Ireland international Kevin Kilbane and others have repeatedly stated that he has the ability to play in the top flight.

And Hendrick is undoubtedly brimming with potential, but even highly talented players don’t necessarily enjoy a sustained career in the Premier League – just ask Wes Hoolahan.

Hendrick needs to make sure he maximises his potential in the coming years, for Ireland’s sake and his own, rather than getting lost in lower-league obscurity like so many promising young Irish midfielders before him.

Yesterday’s performance, during which he looked at home in major tournament football, can be something to build on — a catalyst for greater times to come.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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