Wednesday 23 October 2019

Centurion Hendrick the toast of the Clarets

Irish international determined to make his way into Dyche's plans, writes David Sneyd

Jeff Hendrick celebrates with team-mates after scoring Burnley's equaliser. Photo: Dan Istitene/Getty Images
Jeff Hendrick celebrates with team-mates after scoring Burnley's equaliser. Photo: Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Jeff Hendrick proved he is just as capable of delivering a killer line with deadpan accuracy as he is pinging a ball with precision into the bottom corner from 20 yards.

It was put to the Burnley midfielder that he couldn't do much more to force his way back into Sean Dyche's starting XI than by coming off the bench and affecting the game with a last-minute goal to give his manager something to think about.

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Hendrick paused for just a split second and replied: "Yeah, you said it."

His superb 90th minute equaliser against Brighton was the perfect way to cap the milestone of his 100th Premier League appearance.

It came from the bench, where he has spent the majority of this campaign, when he was introduced with 30 minutes remaining for Aaron Lennon on the right wing. But the Dubliner created the goal from the heart of midfield, receiving a pass just inside his own half from Ashley Westwood, playing a neat through ball under pressure for left winger Dwight McNeil and then cutting across the ball with his right foot after following up the move to get on the end of Matej Vydra's deft lay off on the edge of the box.

Hendrick was the instigator, confirming afterwards that he ushered both McNeill and Vydra further up the pitch to allow space prior to the move. He didn't celebrate by trying to make a point to his manager about his lack of games this season.

Name

The 27-year-old is yet to start, something which should change at home to Norwich City on Saturday, but rather than turn and fire his two thumbs in the direction of the name on the back of his jersey, Hendrick was instead mobbed by his teammates.

The reason? "You can't say anything bad about him," midfielder Jack Cork said. "He works so hard all the time."

This season alone Hendrick had no qualms at all about dropping down to the club's Under-23s in order to maintain some sort of match sharpness. As a seasoned pro and established Premier League performer, he could have easily found a reason to wallow instead of striving to prove a point.

"For me it's self-pride," Hendrick explained. "If you're not in the team you just keep working hard and keep yourself going because when you're ready you've got to prove it because if you get the chance and you're not ready then you've not been looking after yourself and it's going to be justified why you were left out.

"I'm not one to bang on managers' doors. I do my talking in training, that's the way it is."

On Saturday he delivered on the pitch and Dyche made sure to have a quiet word with one of his regulars over the last few seasons to make sure he knew these efforts had been appreciated.

"He (Dyche) said that it's not gone unnoticed the way I've trained and all that so that's good to hear, that they have noticed I've been doing things right, so I just need to carry on.

"I was still working hard and still training the same way because you have to help the lads to prepare right as well, because at the end of the day we all want to do well in the league and stay in the league.

"That's our bread and butter and then I had in the back of my mind the Ireland games and they're massive because we all want to make a major tournament again, so I was just trying to stay ready for that too."

The international break with Ireland came at an important time for Hendrick, and he revealed how manager Mick McCarthy's assistant, Terry Connor, has been an influential figure in terms of ensuring his confidence didn't dip.

"Since I've got back in with the new staff with the Ireland team TC (Connor) has been telling me all the time to just make the box every time, he's told me to get into the box and score goals and he said if I got in around the box more it would make my club manager happy too.

"It's something I've been working on a lot and doing in training, so thankfully I got the chance to go out and do it out there on the pitch," Hendrick added.

"I was watching the game on the bench and knew I had to try and get on the ball and play in the pockets because if you look at them, they have a big back four, five even, and they're not going to like balls in around their feet. I pushed up around the middle and it paid off."

It didn't look as if it would from high up in the towering west stand of Brighton's Amex Stadium. With Brighton 1-0 up and cruising, this felt like a place of serenity. Any parent will tell you that Sophie The Giraffe is a teething chew toy created from the heavens. Here, on a beautiful sunny day in the middle of the September, when you might usually expect the cold to be closing in, a baby girl of around three or four months sat calmly on her mother's lap gnawing on Sophie's leg.

There were plenty of older children with their parents as well as one loved up couple in his and hers jerseys. These Brighton fans clapped politely and sang peacefully in unison as if it were Saturday evening Mass.

This is English football's top tier in 2019: Nice, friendly and non-threatening. A place suitable to bring an infant still teething on a giraffe chew toy. Down below, Brighton's own long-necked warrior was back in the starting XI for a tussle with Burnley's two dogs of war up front, Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes.

Shane Duffy was dropped from new manager Graham Potter's team for the 4-0 drubbing away to champions Manchester City, something he described as a "kick up the ass", although Hendrick laughed at suggestions his close friend was under pressure.

"Ah, it's probably the only game from the last three years," he said, before the pair spent time chatting in the tunnel while a member of the travelling Burnley party waited to usher Hendrick away to the waiting team bus where all of his teammates had boarded.

The home crowd lost their patience within the first quarter of an hour as three attempts to play from the back resulted in losing possession with stray long balls to get out of danger.

Accepts

For Duffy, he accepts the need to adapt and believes it's unfair that he is pegged as a one-dimensional centre back. "Ah, it's one of them, I just take it with a pinch of salt. I know that I'm good enough to get on the ball, play out and drive into midfield. It's just what people think of me.

"Because I probably do the other side so good people think I can't do the other side (with the ball) but I'm very comfortable with it," Duffy began.

"I can do both. I'm still adapting. It is completely different now than it was under Chris and with Ireland under Mick [McCarthy]. The more games I play the more I'll get better.

"The competition for places is so strong so it's one of those where I'm going to have to keep my levels high and hope that it's good enough to stay in the team."

The same goes for Hendrick, who is now just three Premier League appearances shy of recently-retired David Meyler's haul of 103 while Ray Houghton (105), Wes Hoolahan (112) and Andy Reid (115) are firmly in his sights this season.

A little further ahead is Robbie Brady (124), and it will be of some promise to Ireland manager Mick McCarthy ahead of next month's Euro 2020 qualifying double header away to Georgia and Switzerland that he was fit enough after a fractured rib to return to Burnley's bench.

Allied with the knee injury that ruled him out for the guts of a year, as well as further complications with his recovery and comeback, Brady has endured a torrid time.

"He's got me to look after him so he's alright," Hendrick, who lives just around the corner from his childhood friend, insists.

"I try to get an arm around him, especially with the year or two he's had. It can be tough, you can lose your head at times but that's why I try and pick him up. We see each other every day, we have coffee, I drop around to his, he comes to mine, we see each other's families. It's brilliant and a good thing to have.

"Robbie's a hard worker no matter what. He loves football, just being out on the pitch playing football. Put a football in front of him, even when he was injured, and he would try to kick it so at times you have to settle him down."

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