Martin O'Neill believes court case may have affected Jeff Hendrick's form

Ireland star Jeff Hendrick. Photo: Collins Courts

Daniel McDonnell

Martin O'Neill has admitted that the form of midfielder Jeff Hendrick might well have been affected by the court case that was hanging over him until earlier this month.

Hendrick was found not guilty of violent disorder over a nightclub incident that dated back to October 2013 with an unanimous verdict provided by the jury after thirty minutes of deliberation.

The trial date was set last June, just before Hendrick starred at Euro 2016, but O'Neill feels that the impending proceedings might have been a weight on the shoulders of the 25-year-old who has struggled to recapture his French form.

"Now that it's over and you can maybe mention it, it may well have done," said O'Neill today.

"I don't think you want things hanging around you like that. They can be disconcerted. It's good it's cleared now and he can get his mind totally fixed and ready.

"His form in the Euros was fantastic and sometimes it takes a bit of time to recapture that. Robbie Brady as well possibly hasn't made the impact he wanted to. He got that move from Norwich to Burnley and is still finding his feet. I'm expecting better things from them as they get older."

The Ireland manager wants Hendrick to improve his goalscoring return, believing that he has the ability to operate in an advanced role - although he did struggle there in last month's draw with Austria.

"I think he can play behind strikers, and I think he should score more goals," he continued, "I think he's got the ability to do that. At club level, if you've midfielder who can score 10-12 goals from normal play, you've got yourself a proper player and that's something he can aim for. Can he sit in and do a holding job? That's not outside his capability.

"He played in the game in Austria (Vienna last November) and was excellent in a defensive role and taking the ball forward for us but in terms of kicking on from the Euros, I think it's been a stop-start season for him. I think he should throw the shackles off and go and play again."

O'Neill welcomed the spate of Irish transfers in recent weeks, applauding Aiden McGeady's decision to follow Simon Grayson to Sunderland and the new lease of life Jon Walters will get from joining Burnley. Darren Randolph's position is a concern with the Derryman conscious that Joe Hart will be arriving at West Ham as the first choice.

The 65-year-old was speaking in Kilkenny after conducting the first round FAI Cup draw as part of the association's Festival Of Football and he also hopes that local lad Sean Maguire - who scored the winner for Cork City in last year's final - can push forward after his move to Preston.

"I don't know the lad but from what I'm hearing he's a much more mature player now, the second time around (going to England)," he continued. "Maybe not getting a game at Dundalk forced him to rethink his whole outlook on the game.

"He made a really impact last season and he's carried it on. I was at the cup final and I didn't think it was one of his best games but in the game against Dundalk in June (where Maguire scored a hat-trick in front of O'Neill) not only did he take the goals well but there was a marked improvement in his game, and that's probably to do with confidence. He's got everything to play for now, to go and make an impact at club level."

The highlights of the cup draw are a pair of meetings that bring together four of the top five in the Premier Division. Troubled Bray Wanderers play host to holders Cork City, while Dundalk will welcome Derry City to Oriel Park. There will be no replays in the first two rounds of the competition so the ties will be settled on the night via extra time and penalties if necessary.