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Jeff Hendrick – one of Burnley’s Boys in Green

Photo by George Kelly

Published in Hoops Scene No.13 2017 season (July 2017)

Today won’t be the first time that some of the Irish internationals at Burnley have played here at Tallaght Stadium. Back in May 2012, Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady lined out for the Republic of Ireland under 21 team against Denmark, with Kevin Long on the bench, as Brady scored Ireland’s only goal that day with a superb left foot free kick.

 

There were a few other familiar faces in the Ireland squad that day – including senior internationals Shane Duffy, Eunan O’Kane, John Egan, Conor Hourihane and Greg Cunningham, along with former Dundalk player Richie Towell.

 

With some time off ahead of June’s Ireland v Austria match, Jeff Hendrick dropped by Tallaght Stadium to have a chat with Hoops Scene. “Yeah, I remember playing at Under 21 level here a good few years ago,” said Hendrick. “Noel King called up and asked me to play. For me it is about pulling on that green jersey and representing the country.”

 

Hendrick would go on to represent Ireland at senior level for the first time less than a year later under then Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni. “It was brilliant to be called up to the first team squad, really unbelievable. I started that season with an ankle injury but when I came back I had a good January and I was scoring goals. I got the call up just after my 21st birthday so it was a great thing to celebrate.”

 

His debut was a friendly against Poland at a packed Aviva Stadium with Hendrick coming off the bench to provide an assist for Wes Hoolahan in the 2-0 win. “I wasn’t taking it as a friendly, it was a game for Ireland. The atmosphere was brilliant and it was great for me to get that chance. I have my jersey framed in my Mam and Dad’s house now and they have all the newspaper clippings! I set up a goal, which was good. You need to impress on your first game wherever you are.”

 

Photo by George Kelly

Hendrick was one of Ireland’s stand out performers in the European Championship in France last year when Ireland qualified for the knock out stages of the tournament. The recent results in Ireland’s Russia 2018 campaign mean qualification for the World Cup is still very much in the hands of Hendrick and his Irish teammates.

 

“It would be unbelievable to qualify for Russia. After playing in the Euros, you saw the atmosphere at the games, it is something we’d love to do again, play in a big tournament. It is a hard old group. We are doing well but we aren’t getting carried away.”

 

Today we should get to see a number of Burnley’s Boys in Green in action – with four of the starters in Ireland’s 1-1 draw against Austria coming from the club – Hendrick, Brady, Stephen Ward and Kevin Long (who was handed his first competitive start by Martin O’Neill in that match). It is a pretty influential Irish contingent in the Clarets’ squad [with Jon Walters also signed ahead of the new season].

 

Hendrick joined the club in August last year and admitted that having so many Irish players at the club helps. “You feel at home a little bit.” In the winter transfer window Robbie Brady joined, meaning Hendrick got the chance to play club football again with Brady. The pair played as kids in the same St. Kevin’s Boys team.

 

“It was great when Robbie came in during January. We keep in touch anyway as we are friends since we were young so it is great to be back playing with him. The likes of Wardy has been brilliant as well.”

 

Although when Hoops Scene reminds Hendrick, that Stephen Ward is a former Bohs player, he says “We won’t big him up too much here (in Tallaght)!”

 

When Brady joined Burnley for £13m, he broke the club’s transfer record which had been previously been set when Hendrick joined for £10.5m from Derby County. Being a £10m plus player can add some pressure to perform but Hendrick didn’t see it that way. “I didn’t really look at it as pressure. If someone is willing to pay that, I just have to use that to give me confidence and try to show that I’m worth that.

 

“From day one they made me welcome. I enjoyed the atmosphere around the place. We worked hard but it was enjoyable. That made it easy for me to settle in. The main thing for me was to play games. I’m always happy when I’m playing.”

 

The 25-year-old midfielder made 32 league appearances for the Clarets last season, scoring two goals, including the club’s goal of the year for a long range effort in the 3-2 home win over Bournemouth. The priority for the player for the season though, was to contribute to the club staying in the Premier League.

 

“It was a nice goal to get but the main thing for us was staying in the league. Everyone wrote us off before the season started and we proved a lot of people wrong. They kept us going all year. The results we were getting with our home form was something that everybody was talking about and I really enjoyed the season.”

Burnley racked up ten home wins in the league – the seventh highest in last season’s Premier League (two more than Manchester United). However they only managed one away win all campaign and that was in late April. So it took some time for them to reach the magical 40 point mark which most seasons, like last year, confirms safety. They got to that stage with a 2-2 draw against West Brom two games from the end of the season.

 

“It was relief (to avoid relegation). We thought we were in a good position, a good bit out from the end of the season but you still have to keep putting points on the board and win games.”

 

Unsurprisingly Hendrick is very happy working under Burnley boss Sean Dyche. “From the minute I went in there, he told me what he wanted from me. I got to know the way his team plays. He tells it as it is and that is all you can ask as a player. You know where you stand and what you need to do to stay in the team.”

 

The player was 16 when he first moved over to England to Derby County where, like at Burnley, there was a sizeable Irish contingent, with five players on the youth team books including current Rovers player Ryan Connolly.

 

“From a very young age, any chance I got I was going over to different clubs. You hear stories of kids getting homesick and so but for me I was moving over to do something that I love – to play football every day. Any kid would love to do that.

 

“Ryan (Connolly) texted me when the fixture came out. We still keep in touch as we were good mates when we were over there together. It will be good to play against him.

 

“We are here for a week, with a few days training, then the game and then back to England. It is always good when I’m home with Ireland that the parents can drop out for a cup of tea and have a chat. It will be good for my friends and family to see me play a game here (in Tallaght). Hopefully we win. It is going to be tough as yous will be half way through your season.”

 

This article was published in Hoops Scene for Shamrock Rovers v FK Mlada Boleslav / Burnley in July 2017.

 

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