Hendrick ready for key role in Vienna clash
Injury problems demand big showing from Burnley man
Last month in Moldova, Jeff Hendrick was the spare wheel. In Vienna on Saturday, he will be a vital cog.
Hendrick was banned for the trip to Chisinau but opted to go along anyway when he was afforded the opportunity.
"The manager wanted me to come and I was happy to go," he explains. "To still be around the lads but was great.
"But it did feel like I'd won a competition. I got a bit of spa treatment, to see the stadium with the team, have dinner with the team."
He managed to enjoy it, but his game-face will be on this week. Martin O'Neill needs it to be with his options weakened by injury issues.
The news that Hendrick's Burnley colleague Stephen Ward is out of the match means that his good pal Robbie Brady may well be required back at left-full.
O'Neill is short of alternative options with international experience in that role and decided against calling the likes of Greg Cunningham or Matt Doherty into the revised panel that was announced last night. It leaves Brady in pole position, unless O'Neill wants to re-route Ciaran Clark.
Add James McCarthy's confirmed absence into the mix and Hendrick is the only man from the preferred central trio at the end of the Euros that is certain to kick off proceedings in that department in the final game of the year.
Glenn Whelan will figure and a competitive debut for Harry Arter is an option, with Stephen Quinn ruled out but, either way, Hendrick will start and his energy will be vital to the Irish mission.
He's got more of it since finally securing a Premier League opportunity with Burnley that he has seized. And the 24-year-old says the workload at Burnley has made him into a better athlete.
"I think I have become a little bit fitter," said Hendrick, speaking in Blanchardstown at the launch of the Citizen Eco-Drive GPS watch. "We do train hard there but it's enjoyable. I said to my dad a few days in 'Jesus, a few of these are tough days' and it's just getting used to it.
"It was a bit of shock," he continued, contrasting it with the pace of life at Derby County. "On the Monday and Tuesday, I wouldn't be expecting it to be that hard but I've got used to it now. I'm enjoying it.
"I'm not going to be on the ball as much as with Derby but I'm playing a level higher now."
Certainly. Burnley are a side that have squeezed the most from their parts. They sit ninth in the table following their dramatic weekend win over Crystal Palace, with home form their main strength.
If Ireland get through Vienna unscathed, then it's Dublin that will settle their World Cup fate and Hendrick is aware of that as he switches focus to international matters.
With seven points from three matches, Ireland are in good shape. Austria have a bit of work to do after their loss in Belgrade left them with just four. The pressure is on the hosts.
"I don't think Austria have lost at home for a long time," Hendrick says, "But everyone will take points off each other in the group."
Hendrick's old clubmate Cyrus Christie will be absent from this gathering and may not even be back for the March meeting with Wales after seriously damaging his ankle in Derby's weekend loss to Wolves.
Christie was a wildcard alternative to replace Ward, although it would have represented a risk. And it's unlikely that O'Neill will be taking any gambles in a game that will shape the mood across the winter months.
2017 is all about the Aviva. After Wales in March, Austria visit in June and then Serbia come to town in September just after a testing trip to Tbilisi.
In reality, a draw on Saturday would represent a perfectly acceptable return, but there is a danger in approaching the game in that way.
O'Neill is unlikely to ever admit that it's the plan, yet his actions will speak louder and the use of Wes Hoolahan will be interesting.
The problem is that the unavailability of Shane Long has reduced his striking options and Ireland need to find creativity from somewhere.
Jon Walters is likely to relocate to a central role, with James McClean sure to start in some capacity. Aiden McGeady is a contender after coming through 89 minutes for Preston over the weekend.
If it was a friendly match, then there would be pressure on O'Neill to involve in-form Dundalk winger Daryl Horgan in his calculations on account of his starring performances at Europa League level.
Defender Andy Boyle will also be present at the first training session today as the duo received the perfect pick-me-up from cup final disappointment by making the 28-man panel.
Everything we know about O'Neill would suggest it's extremely unlikely that Horgan will come into consideration for a sub cameo if Ireland found themselves in an emergency.
Granted, he pitched McClean into the Sunderland team when nobody was expecting it, but he admitted last week that it's difficult to know how players will cope with international football.
And this fixture doesn't exactly stand out as the type of occasion that the Derry man will gamble upon, much as he operates off his own instincts and keeps the cards close to his chest.
The alternatives to Walters are David McGoldrick, Adam Rooney and Kevin Doyle, with the Wexford man in good form after Colorado Rapids knocked out Robbie Keane's LA Galaxy on penalties to advance to the MLS Western Conference final - effectively the MLS Cup semi-finals.
Doyle scored from the spot and Rapids coach Pablo Mastroeni said he was happy to trust in his experience.
"Kevin has been in these situations time and time again," he said. " I felt confident in the experience we had taking the penalties."
The ex-Reading and Wolves striker has struggled to get a look-in under O'Neill but he's one injury away from becoming very important indeed.
Hendrick is already established as a go-to guy and, two years on from a ropey night in Glasgow, this is the week where he can demonstrate how much he has grown.
Goalkeepers: Darren Randolph (West Ham), Keiren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday), Colin Doyle (Bradford City).
Defenders: Seamus Coleman (Everton), Richard Keogh, Alex Pearce (Derby County), John O'Shea (Sunderland), Ciaran Clark (Newcastle United), Paul McShane (Reading), Shane Duffy (Brighton), Andy Boyle (Dundalk).
Midfielders: Aiden McGeady (Preston North End*), James McClean (West Brom), Jeff Hendrick (Burnley), Glenn Whelan (Stoke City), Harry Arter (Bournemouth), Eunan O'Kane (Leeds United), David Meyler (Hull City), Stephen Gleeson (Birmingham City), Robbie Brady, Wes Hoolahan (Norwich City), Callum O'Dowda (Bristol City), Jonathan Hayes (Aberdeen), Daryl Horgan (Dundalk).
Forwards: Jonathan Walters (Stoke City), Adam Rooney (Aberdeen), Kevin Doyle (Colorado Rapids), David McGoldrick (Ipswich Town). * On loan from Everton.