Wednesday 17 January 2018

Irish getaway helping repair play-off hurt for Hendrick

Republic of Ireland's Jeff Hendrick (right) and Alex Pearce during training ahead of their friendly against Italy on Saturday. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Republic of Ireland's Jeff Hendrick (right) and Alex Pearce during training ahead of their friendly against Italy on Saturday. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
David Kelly

David Kelly

Summer sent a welcome envoy to Malahide yesterday in the form of a brilliant orange disc to dapple swimmers across the road from Ireland's training ground.

As the sun sent its spears of heat on this wondrous setting, Jeff Hendrick was still grieving with the piercing pain of last weekend's dramatic Championship play-off final defeat, in the final minute, to QPR, at Wembley.

Aside from the fact that a limited international side of Ireland's status could do with an extra trio of Premiership players, the 22-year-old Hendrick would clearly have benefited from the exposure to the cutting edge of the top flight.

Alas, QPR's belated pretence to backbone and character provided them with a surprising late winner and Derby, late-comers to the Premiership push, were denied; so too Hendrick, Conor Sammon and the gutted centre-back Richard Keogh, whose error gifted Bobby Zamora the priceless winner.

Richard Dunne, no stranger to play-off agony in green, was the first to console Keogh; yesterday, all three returned to the bosom of their Irish family, hoping that the tonic of another game can lift their flaccid spirits.

"I was sad after the game," Hendrick concedes, still wallowing beneath a cloud of despair as everyone else basks in a cloudless afternoon.

"Even just standing there and watching them go up to lift the trophy, it's not something you want to see.


"Richard was gutted but he's been great for us all year, we just need him to be like that again next year so I think he'll forget about it quick enough and sort of get his mind on other things.

"After the game you just give him a big hug and tell him how great he's been for us all year; he's led by example in most games so we just tell him that these things happen, he's just got to forget about it.

"We need to take positives from it, take that feeling into next year and say we don't want to go through that again. Hopefully we can hit the ground running and have a good year.

"Fair play to Richard Dunne, he just said to keep his head up, that these things happen but that he'd been great all season; go and enjoy it away with the international squad now."

The temptation for all three to skip this gig and hide beneath a beach umbrella in a wi-fi free zone may have seemed more attractive to some self-absorbed members of his profession.

Hendrick, though, is itching for action to silence the well-meaning, but too plentiful, words of consolation.

"Nah, it's good really," he readily admits. "It gets your mind off it, being back playing football, training with the lads, you're thinking about something else, the games that are coming up, trying to put the other stuff behind you.

"At the end of the day it's football and there's going to be a winner and a loser; unfortunately, we lost. I just told myself that I had to forget about it. It's over now and I don't like to dwell on things, just want to put it behind me."

Ireland can offer him a soothing balm; a likely fifth cap against Italy on Saturday in Fulham's Craven Cottage, given the absence of four other central midfielders, will offer little time for introspection.

"We had a little bit of a chat with them," said Ireland boss Martin O'Neill, who wouldn't yet confirm a start for anyone. "They have to start afresh again. But it happens to people, and Richard himself is particularly disappointed.

"As far as we're concerned here, a day like today – beautiful weather, gorgeous day – I think that might help all three out of themselves a little bit."

Hendrick, a stellar performer on the Ireland U-19 side that reached the semi-finals of the European Championships in 2011, before bowing out to Spain, owes his initial senior progression to the much-maligned Giovanni Trapattoni.

It seems almost quaint to recall that he set up Wes Hoolahan for a friendly goal against Poland 15 months ago; injury curtailed his progress for club and country.

His last cap was a start against Spain in Yankee Stadium at the tail end of last season; clearly he is being handed the easy assignments.

"Yeah, well, I started but I was running after them most of the time," he smiles when reflecting on his experience against the wily Spaniards.

"But yeah, it was great to be out there with those players, to get the game time I did. As I said, there's a big squad here so I'll just look to train well and we'll take it from there.


"I was injured for half this year but I was happy that I got a few goals when I came back.

"We were playing in a different formation and I had to adjust to all of that, to the way the manager wanted me to play.

"But I was happy with the way I finished the season; I thought I finished it strongly. Hopefully I can bring that into next year now."

Contract talks – he has one year left – were stalled mid-season as the midlanders' unlikely promotion push gathered pace but he seems happy to stay and learn, admitting regular games are a priority.

Automatic promotion will occupy his thoughts next season. For now, his temporary promotion to the Irish team this weekend can help clear his mind.

Irish Independent

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