Premier League ambitions another key factor in significant year for ambitious Hendrick
Ireland midfielder targets taste of top-table fare in play-off push with promotion hopefuls Derby
It has been a grim couple of weeks for Irish footballers with France on their minds.
Rob Elliot and Alan Judge both sustained injuries which have ruled them out of action for the foreseeable future. The latter left hospital yesterday to begin the process of recovering from a double leg break that ended his Euro 2016 dream.
Jeff Hendrick sent Judge a text to commiserate, with the Brentford player's misfortune reminding the Dubliner that his current problems could be a lot worse.
The 23-year-old did suffer a scare a fortnight ago when he attempted to sprint at the start of a routine training session and felt something go. "Two hours later I was sitting in a MRI machine getting scanned up," he says.
It revealed that he had pulled a muscle in his quad. Medics predicted a five-week spell on the sidelines and, while Hendrick (right) is working hard to recover ahead of schedule, he is conscious of the risks of overdoing it. He also missed Ireland's recent friendly double-header with a dislocated shoulder, with specialists providing the good news that no operation was necessary. Closer to France, those setbacks could have posed real difficulty.
Still, to focus entirely on the summer risks underestimating the importance of what comes before for a player who is conscious of the need to progress from Championship level.
Derby are on course to finish in the play-offs and, having watched his old St Kevin's Boys pal Robbie Brady progress to Premier League level, he concedes that it's about time he progressed in that direction too.
"That's where I want to go now," he asserts, "I would love to get there with Derby, obviously, this summer - it would be a great achievement.
"I have played a lot of games in the Championship and now I have played a good few games internationally, the next step is to try and see how I get on in the Premier League. It's somewhere I do really want to go."
Will he have a decision to make if Derby fail?
"Possibly," he replies, tentatively. "We're still in a good position at Derby, we're fifth in the league and have a run of games now to get some confidence going. We've had a disappointment in the play-offs before (losing the final in 2014) - hopefully we can put that right and go up that way."
At club level, it's been a mixed year for Hendrick with Paul Clement, the former Ireland U-21 assistant, leaning towards other midfielders before departing in February. His departure opened the door for a recall. Indeed, the Irishman's exclusion was one of the talking points prior to the change at the top which led to Darren Wassall assuming control.
"It was frustrating but, thankfully before the injuries I was playing regularly and getting better with each game," he stresses.
Martin O'Neill doesn't need convincing about Hendrick's ability and he should expect to be prominently involved when he boards the flight for Paris on June 8 with the rest of the group.
He should be a fixture in the Ireland set-up for the next decade and he would like O'Neill and assistant Roy Keane to stick around for the next campaign, with the managerial duo yet to reach agreement with the FAI.
"We've had a good bit of success working with them and we've enjoyed it definitely," said Hendrick, who was visiting the Deaf Village in Cabra to promote the new Deafhear hearing aid and to meet with Deaf Sports Ireland.
"But we don't really think about them not signing contracts," he continued. "Hopefully we have a good tournament and it all gets sorted with no fuss. We try not to think about any of that stuff."
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