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Why Jeff Hendrick's got big aims for club and for country

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Jeff Hendrick, Republic of Ireland

Jeff Hendrick, Republic of Ireland

Jeff Hendrick, Republic of Ireland

A DATE with Chelsea, and the chance to win a place in the last four of the English League Cup, is on the menu for Jeff Hendrick and his Derby County team-mates this evening.

But for the 22-year-old Dubliner, there are bigger prizes at stake and bigger dreams to have as he keeps his focus on the twin aims of winning promotion with his club and getting Ireland a place at the Euro 2016 finals.

Of the Irish side which started in the last competitive international, away to Scotland, Hendrick was one of only three men who have yet to play in the English top flight (David Forde and Richard Keogh are the others) but Hendrick's club, who missed out on a place in the Premier League last season by losing to QPR in the playoff final, have been on top of the Championship table for much of this season and are currently just one point behind leaders Bournemouth.

PROMOTED

"I think we're in an ok position with the club and with Ireland and it's realistic for both teams to get what they want, promotion with Derby and a place at the Euros with Ireland," Hendrick told The Herald.

"The Premier League is where we want to be, that's a no-brainer. We know we have a great chance this year and we just have to make sure we do it as that's in our own hands. It's a big year for us and the main thing is getting promoted.

"It's the same with Ireland, the main goal is to get to the Euros and we're in a good position now. "

Hendrick stepped things up in terms of his international career in 2014, as he made his full competitive debut (against Gibraltar) and then played a key role off the bench in that 1-1 draw away to Germany. He admits that he's now more at home in the senior set-up, having made his debut under Giovanni Trapattoni last year, with that cameo role for the goal in Gelsenkirchen a highlight.

"Germany was a great night for us. You could see with the reaction from the team and from the bench what it meant to us, everyone worked so hard to get that result. It was a great occasion, getting a result away from home in front of a big Irish support in a great stadium," Hendrick reflects.

"!It was just a pity that Scotland was such a let-down for us. We never got going on the night and everyone was disappointed but we can make it up, we have a few home matches on the way and that's the focus now.

"I think we will learn from the Scotland game and make sure it doesn't happen again. Some of us are still learning at international level, the likes of myself and Robbie Brady are still young but we are enjoying it. I feel a lot more part of the group now than I did, say, a year ago. I am more involved now," added the Artane lad.

He was poised to start the Euro 2016 campaign as a real contender for a central midfield role but Hendrick suffered a shoulder injury while on club duty, against Ipswich, and was forced onto the sidelines, only to then get a vote of confidence from Martin O'Neill with a start against Gibraltar.

"The Gibraltar game was really good for me. That was just after my shoulder injury, I wasn't really training for that long at the time so to get the call, and then get a start, was great for me. That was the start of me getting my season really back on track," he reflects.

"It was a bad time for me, when I did the shoulder against Ipswich. I think it was only 20 minutes into the game when it happened, Martin O'Neill was at the game and it was a big match for us, but thankfully I got back fit and stayed fit."

The international year in 2014 was a good one for Hendrick - he played in seven of the last nine Ireland games of the calendar year - and it's also shaping up to be a good season for promoition-chasing Derby.

They take a break from the slog of getting out of the Championship tonight when they take on Chelsea at home in the Capital One Cup quarter-final. "There's no pressure on us so we can go and play our own game. Everyone is expecting Chelsea to win the cup so we can go, enjoy the game and the experience and see how we can do," says the Dubliner, Derby hoping to recover from their weekend loss to Middlesbrough.

"This is a big week for us, with Chelsea tonight and Norwich at the weekend, but every week is a big one in this league. We've been in and around the top for a while now and we just want to stay there.

"This is a tough league, you can drop down the table in the space of two weeks, especially with all the midweek matches. The games come around so quickly, the main thing is that when you get beaten you need to get an instant reaction and turn things around in the next game.It's about how you react when you have a defeat.

"People are putting us up there as the best team in the league but we have to go out and show that in every game."


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