Jeff Hendrick plans to proceed ‘rolling with it’ as he contemplates curious idea of confidence
Jeff Hendrick admits he just “joins in” as his career in Ireland is enjoying a renaissance that even he might have feared would never happen.
The Dubliner wins his 67th international match for the senior team in the Aviva Stadium World Cup qualifier against Portugal tonight and is now back in the role of the oldest statesman in midfield.
Back at Euro 2016, while his close friend Robbie Brady made headlines with his winner against Italy and Wes Hoolahan’s cunning and crafting earned him another legion of supporters, it was Hendrick who had the most consistent performance of the four games.
The years since then have brought major currency exchanges from Derby County to Burnley and then 18 months ago to Newcastle United, where he has been unable to bank for the past few weeks.
In contrast, the 29-year-old has found a rich vein of form in the green jersey, with his mid-park contribution being a key element in recent improved performances on Stephen Kenny’s side.
Away to Portugal and Azerbaijan and for Serbia’s visit to Dublin, it was Hendrick who provided the Irish with a presence alongside Josh Cullen that both protected defense and provided a platform for attack.
Crucially, he wasn’t there when the Azeris came to Dublin in September and scored almost all three points at the fall low point.
“Sometimes you can’t really tell exactly why you’ve gained or lost confidence,” explains Hendrick.
“For me, I always work hard and strive to get better. Sometimes you just have to click something.
“You don’t know exactly what it is, but you just roll with it. That seems to be the case.
“I’m working hard as always, I’m just glad my performance has improved and hopefully I will continue to do so.”
Kenny dropped Hendrick for the first World Cup qualifiers against the Serbs and Luxembourg last March, playing just 30 minutes from the bench in Belgrade in the two games.
“Was I concerned? No. There are very good players in the squad, everyone has a chance to play in certain games.”
“It wasn’t my moment to start a game, but I had time to think and look at my own game.
“I think it worked for me now. You saw that in the last couple of games, I think I played well. Maybe that was something I needed.”
“You never know at the moment, but I enjoy what I’m doing and have to build on it.”
Now that the tournament in Qatar is long over and the finals of Euro 2020 are in the past even without Irish participation, Hendrick is getting closer to his 30th date.
“Am I turning 40?” Hendrick joked with a smile when he was presented with this scenario.
Regarding the qualification, which ends on Sunday in Luxembourg with the Irish third or fourth in the group, he says: “When I saw the group, I knew it was going to be difficult. Portugal and Serbia are great teams.
“Only one qualifies by coming straight through so we always knew it was going to be tough.
“We got new leaders and coaches. They brought in the younger players – which really had to be done – to refresh the squad.”
“It was a real learning curve for the whole group to get to know each other, improve and change our style of play. Hopefully we can carry that over into the next season.”
With the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo’s late, late goals still looming large in Faro, Hendrick is dying to apply balm to the wounds that night two months ago.
“We were injured after the last game, the effort we made. When you play against a team like that, you know it will be difficult,” he said.
“We had a game plan and it worked really well up to the 88th minute. We kept Cristiano Ronaldo calm throughout the game.”
“That’s why he’s a great player, to have such a quiet game and to score two goals is brilliant for him, but that hurt us.
“We have to try to do the same level of dedication and hard work. We haven’t done too much wrong, we’re working hard to see what we can improve on that performance.”