Having already made a seamless transition from Ireland u19s to u21s, Derby County midfielder Jeff Hendrick is being touted as a future international by club manager Nigel CloughEvery week, we profile promising talents who could make the step up to the Ireland senior ranks in the coming months...
By Ronan Murphy
The period from 1997 to 1999 was a golden era for Irish international underage football. Under the tutelage of Brian Kerr, Ireland lifted the 1998 European under-16 and under-18 titles, came third at the 1997 World Youth Championships, third at the 1999 u18 Euros, and reached the quarter-final of the 1999 World Youth Championships.
From those squads, a large number of players have went on to become senior internationals, while Damien Duff and Robbie Keane have become superstars for Ireland. Under coaches Noel King, Paul Doolin, and John Morling, the current Irish underage setup has the potential to match Kerr's golden era. King's under-21s are on the verge of qualifying for the Euros, while Doolin's under-19s reached the semi-final of last year's u19 European Championships, losing to eventual winners Spain.
Derby County midfielder Jeff Hendrick was a key player in Ireland's success at u19 level, and since making the step up to u21 in August, he has looked just as impressive. The Rams centre midfielder made the breakthrough at Pride Park after coming up through Derby's academy, helping the reserves lift their league title in 2009-10. Included in the senior squad for the first time at the end of the 09-10 season, Hendrick had to wait til the following campaign for his senior debut.
|JEFF HENDRICK | Derby County, Midfielder, 20
A fantastic season with the reserves in 2010-11 saw him score 9 goals in 18 games from midfield, prompting manager Nigel Clough to promote him once again. He played four games at the end of the season, breaking into the first team and has yet to be displaced. Last season Hendrick played 42 of 46 Championship games for the Rams, and was awarded the Sammy Crooks Young Player of the Year as well as a new contract which will keep him at the club until 2015.
An all-round midfielder, Hendrick is a fine passer of the ball, with a great range of vision for picking out his teammates, and can also put in a well-timed tackle when needed.
Rams boss Clough believes that Hendrick has a huge future ahead of him, and told the Derby Telegraph that he expects the 20-year-old to get a senior call-up for Ireland in the near future. "We have always thought very highly of Jeff as a player, but he has probably surpassed all our expectations at how well he has done this season, it has been lovely to see his progress," Clough admitted.
"I think, looking ahead, he could be an international midfielder for some years to come. If he keeps playing like he has done and has a good start to the season, he might have a chance of being called up. I know they've got some good midfielders in there but if you're looking for the future, I think he could be as good as anybody."