Republic of Ireland midfielder Jeff Hendrick aiming for more goals to answer his critics
2020 European Qualifying Group D: Republic of Ireland v Georgia (Tonight, Lansdowne Road, 7.45pm)
WHATEVER happened to the Jeff Hendrick of Euro 2016? This has been the seemingly constant refrain from supporters and media alike since that balmy French summer – but the Dubliner is hoping that his goal-scoring performance against Gibraltar last weekend will put an end to the negativity that has often surrounded him over the last three years.
The 27-year-old midfielder was a shadow of the player after Euro 2016 and never really pushed on under former boss Martin O’Neill.
But, of course, the route one football O’Neill adopted was never going to get the best out of Hendrick, a recognised ball-playing midfielder.
In the latter stages of O’Neill’s five-year reign, Hendrick was used as a deep-lying midfielder with mixed results.
Last Saturday night, playing in a more attacking central midfield role, Hendrick’s 49th minute goal was enough to bank the points against gutsy Gibraltar and the Burnley man is hoping to keep answering his critics during Euro 2020 qualification.
“I think I have seen some good times already,” Hendrick said, answering yet another question about his fluctuating international form.
“But I have only just turned 27, so I still have plenty of years to go. I am still improving and hopefully I will play better for my country.
“I think by scoring goals, it will help me play better. Especially with people looking on, when they see my name on the score-sheet, it helps. So that’s what I am trying to do.”
Hendrick’s cool finish in the swirling winds of Gibraltar was his first strike since September 2016, but he plans to feature more in the goal-scoring charts in this campaign.
“I am aiming to get more goals. I’ll try to get into the box more often, get onto the end of balls in and around the box and shoot more.”
Manager Mick McCarthy is expected to stick with the central midfield axis of Hendrick and Conor Hourihane for tonight’s second Euro 2020 qualifier at home to Georgia.
“Both of us like to get forward and we both score goals at club level as well,” said Hendrick. “Between the two of us, if one gets forward the other is sitting back and mopping up.
“We are old enough now to know if one goes forward, the other stays. Maybe I was trying to break in a little more and get on end of things against Gibraltar.”
After a spell out of the Burnley starting XI, Hendrick appears to have found favour again under club boss Sean Dyche.
“I’d say I am in a better vein of form at Burnley. I am playing in a different position to six months ago, even 10 months ago, 12 months ago. Roles change and I’ve just been trying to do my best for the team. Club-wise, we still have points to put on the board and that’s our aim, but I’m not even thinking about that to be honest. The main thing is tomorrow.”
Hendrick was suspended the last time the Republic played Georgia – a 1-1 draw in Tbilisi in September 2017.
That night, the Georgians gave their visitors a football lesson and should really have banked a first competitive win over the Irish.
“We know it’s going to be tough, but for us our aim is to get three points. We are at home, we want to go out there and make it hard for them. Maybe the last time we played them it was a bit too easy for them.
“We need to make sure we change that and make it more difficult. We got the early goal [Shane Duffy] but we didn’t really step on from there.
“We just gave them time to get on the ball and play the way they can. It’s for us now to stop them doing that again.”