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The Rams midfielder has dropped into the youth team for a crucial qualifying game but manager Noel King says he can make a return to the senior team in the near future

Republic of Ireland Under-21 manager Noel King has suggested that Jeff Hendrick can follow in the footsteps of James McCarthy and make a return to the senior team.

The Derby County midfielder missed out on a place in Martin O'Neill's senior squad for the friendly game against Serbia, which takes place on March 5, with O'Neill preferring the 22-year-old to play a full competitive game for the U-21s against Montenegro rather than occupy a place on the bench for the senior team.

And King believes that playing with the U-21s will aid the player's development in the same manner it did for Everton midfielder McCarthy.

"It worked in James' favour, that's for sure," he told reporters. "He came back into international football with the U-21s against Hungary and has been flying with the seniors since.

"Jeff is a great lad, wants to play for the U-21s, and he'll benefit from the game. Martin knows how important this qualifier is, so he was more than happy for Jeff to be with us for this one.

"His words were 'it's better Jeff playing a full U-21 game, rather than having 15 minutes with the senior or sitting on the bench'."

As well as Hendrick, who has been capped four times, Everton's Shane Duffy and Wolves goalkeeper Aaron McCarey are other players included in King's squad who have experience of being in and around the senior Ireland squad.

The former Derry City boss admitted that it was hard to tell which players would eventually go on to make the breakthrough, but said that "an awful lot of players" have graduated from the youth teams into the senior squad over the past three years.

"You don't know with young players, it's very early to be saying that they are going to be good or bad. It takes time," said King.

"We've sent through an awful lot of players to the first team in the last three years, something like seven or eight who have played for the senior team, which is a huge amount."