Starstruck Hendrick 'living the dream'
Jeff Hendrick is still coming to terms with rubbing shoulders with the Republic of Ireland’s biggest stars.
The 21-year-old Derby midfielder has established himself firmly in Giovanni Trapattoni’s squad just a few months after his elevation from the Under-21s, and could be handed a World Cup qualifier debut against the Faroe Islands on Friday night.
However, he is yet to fully comprehend just how he has gone from watching skipper Robbie Keane and his team-mates on television to playing in the same team.
Hendrick said: “For the 2002 World Cup, I was only nine or 10 and I had my face painted watching him [Keane] scoring goals, and now to be involved in the squad with him is great.
“I was watching in the pub – I wasn’t drinking, though!
“Last October, I was with the Under-21s and I was watching them all playing games, and then when I was brought into the squad, it was unreal.
“It’s great. As a kid, it’s what you dream of, just being involved.”
Hendrick’s rise has been little short of meteoric with Trapattoni having spotted something in him as he trawled for a new generation of Ireland players.
He made his third appearance as a substitute in Sunday’s 4-0 friendly victory over Georgia, and having set up Wes Hoolahan for a goal on his debut against Poland in February, he did the same for Keane at the weekend.
He said: “I’m happy, really, if I just don’t mess up on the pitch. I’m glad to set the lads up for a goal. If I am not scoring, I like to set someone else up.”
Hendrick has stepped on to the international stage as if to the manner born, and has certainly not looked out of place in a green shirt.
However, he modestly plays down his contribution to date.
When it was suggested to him that he looked like he belonged on the pitch against the Georgians, he said: “I don’t know about that.
“I am just happy to get on the pitch, as I said, and try to get as many minutes as possible and learn as many things as I can to improve my own game.
“I know when I get on the pitch, I have got to keep the ball moving and not really lose it because in international football, if you lose the ball, they do punish you.”
Trapattoni has spoken repeatedly of easing his young players into the team, and is keen for the likes of Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy and now Hendrick to be confident enough to express themselves and not to be “shy”.
Hendrick said: “He hasn’t said anything yet, but yes, maybe I should, I haven’t really thought about it that way.
“At times, I am just giving the ball to people when I should do a bit more with it. I’m maybe a bit afraid of losing it.”