Ireland midfielder Jeff Hendrick says he feels that he’s growing in confidence since his move to Burnley last summer and that he’s relishing the prospect of playing against Wales at the Aviva Stadium on Friday night.
With Bournemouth midfielder Harry Arter out with a calf injury, and Norwich City maestro Wes Hoolahan sidelined with a quad problem, Hendrick will most likely be asked to shoulder a lot of the creative burden on Friday.
Hendrick has been impressive so far for Burnley this season, since moving from Derby County last summer, and the midfielder claims that he’s growing in confidence and no longer nervous heading into games like Friday’s pivotal World Cup qualifier with Chris Coleman’s Wales.
“I’m enjoying my time at club level, I’m playing a lot,” said Hendrick after Ireland training on Wednesday.
“I’m playing against big teams, big players. It’s a good challenge for me every week playing in those sort of games, and it’s like I’ve said with the last few years with Ireland, when I’ve been playing in these games, it’s great to test myself against players like these and I’m not the type of player who gets nervous going into these games. I look forward to it and I try to do my best.
“I really do feel like I’ve grown as the games have gone on and I feel like my confidence has gone up and I think I’m better each game.
“I feel like I’m stamping my own style on games at times so I just need to continue to do that.”
Hendrick will most likely come up against Arsenal and Stoke City midfielders Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen on Friday night, as well as Crystal Palace’s Joe Ledley.
Hendrick, like many of his Ireland teammates on Wednesday, said that he is fully aware of the threat that Real Madrid winger Gareth Bale brings to opposing defences, but he also said that against a strong Welsh midfield, he and Everton midfielder James McCarthy cannot not be solely relied on to create in the absence of Arter and Hoolahan.
“I wouldn't say it's just us two, I think it's everyone,” added Hendrick when asked if more pressure would be placed on him and James McCarthy in the absence of Arter and Hoolahan.
“Anyone who is selected has to make sure they are ready to put in a performance, to give it everything.
“Players who are in attacking positions, we do need them to create and hopefully score a few goals, but it's about the whole team working together, that's the main thing.
“They’re all top players [in reference to Wales]. It isn’t just Bale, they have a strong midfield, a strong attacking line and defence as well. We’ve just got to analyse them, watch videos on them and try exploit a few of their weaknesses.”
One of those weaknesses has been Wales’ inability to finish teams off after taking the lead. Wales has scored the opening goal in each of their last three games, but have gone on to draw each match, dropping a total of six points in the process.
Ireland meanwhile have won their last three games in a row since an opening round draw away to Serbia and have not lost a competitive game at home under O’Neill during his three-year tenure as manager, a positive omen heading into Friday’s clash at the Aviva.
Burnley left-back Stephen Ward says that Real Madrid winger Gareth Bale is a ‘step up from everything’ he’s experienced in the Premier League as Ireland prepare to take on Wales on Friday night at the Aviva Stadium.