O’Neill urges Hendrick to regain his old form for club and country
IRELAND manager Martin O’Neill has called on Jeff Hendrick to do more in games for his club and country as the midfielder endures the most difficult patch of his Premier League career. While his Burnley side are flying high this season, Sean Dyche’s team on course to achieve their highest finish in the Premier League era and qualify for Europe next season, their Irish playmaker has only had a peripheral role. The Coolock native, who arrived from Derby County at the start of last season for €12m, has been dropped by the Clarets since starting last on March 10.
The 26-year-old’s contribution to the World Cup qualifying campaign, by the standards he set in leading Ireland to the knockout stages of the Euros, was also a disappointment. His contribution to setting up James McClean’s winner in Wales will be remembered more fondly than his underwhelming displays in the two legs of the play-off against Denmark.
Hendrick had started the campaign on such a bright note, breaking his 27-game duck to fire in his first senior international goal away to Serbia in the opener. If that suggested the Dubliner was about to use the Euro finals in France a few months earlier as a springboard, then it didn’t work out that way. Adding goals to his game — he hasn’t scored since for Ireland and hit the net only twice in each of his seasons at Burnley — is essential if Hendrick is to thrive in the position he’s mostly deployed for club and country. O’Neill has demanded an improvement and believes the player himself is fully aware that there’s a lot more to give.
“Sometimes, from my own viewpoint, Jeff had the ability to do more in matches,” contended his Ireland manager. “I think Jeff has to now go and kick on. It’s been a great season for Burnley, and not too bad for Jeff, but sometimes I think Jeff feels he can do more. If you’re left as that player off the striker, as Jeff can be in that roving role, then you’ve got to be making goals and scoring a few as well. Jeff is a major player for us and we need those players doing more to turn the tide of matches.”
In mitigation, O’Neill was expecting a soft landing for Hendrick following the exhilarations of the Euros. Ditto Robbie Brady, his childhood pal who joined him at Burnley in the next transfer window on another multi-million-pound deal that smashed the club’s transfer record. Brady’s season was ended by a serious injury but the hangover from France can only partially be culpable for Hendrick’s struggles.
“Robbie and Jeff had wonderful tournaments at the Euros but as preseason comes immediately, you cannot be physically or mentally prepared for it,” O’Neill opined. Hendrick will be included in an enlarged on Thursday for the upcoming friendlies. An experimental panel will be chosen for the Scott Brown testimonial against Celtic on May 20 but there will be a familiar squad for the matches and France and the USA.