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Jeff: I'm out to impress O'Neill

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Republic of Ireland's Jeff Hendrick. Picture: Michael Regan/GETTY IMAGES

Republic of Ireland's Jeff Hendrick. Picture: Michael Regan/GETTY IMAGES

Republic of Ireland's Jeff Hendrick. Picture: Michael Regan/GETTY IMAGES

A LOT HAPPENED in the time that Ireland international Jeff Hendrick was sidelined by a serious knee injury which knocked his career off course, as he watched his managers with club and with country lose their jobs in his absence.

But now the 21-year-old from Dublin's northside is back in action and is hoping that 2014 can see him go further under his new bosses, Martin O'Neill and Steve McClaren, with the twin aim of helping Derby County push for promotion to the Premier League as well as earning back his place in the Ireland squad.

At the start of this season, things looked very bright for Hendrick who was established in the Ireland squad – he was given the honour of starting against reigning European and world champions Spain at the end of last season – and was also a key figure for Derby.

But just four games into the new term disaster struck as Hendrick suffered a knee injury while on duty for the Rams against Yeovil, and he would spend the next three months on the absent list, though he has made a comeback by appearing as sub in the last three games – three wins – for a Derby side who are now heading for the automatic promotion places

"It's been a tough couple of months and a lot went on when I was out injured but I am back now, I am getting close to full fitness and hopefully the second half of the season can be really good for me," Hendrick told the Herald, fresh from playing a role in Derby's 5-1 demolition of Blackpool on Saturday.

 

Fitness

"I am getting there in terms of my fitness and I want to just get as many minutes on the field as I can. I played around half an hour in my first game back, I came on at half time in the midweek game last week and I got around 10 minutes on Saturday so it's all about me getting match fit and getting to the stage where I can start and play 90 minutes.

"When I got the injury, we had Giovanni Trapattoni in charge of Ireland and Nigel Clough was the manager at Derby, and of course they are both gone, so maybe I am starting from scratch in terms of impressing them.

"But I want to impress them both, I need to show both of them what I can do and what I can offer, so I have to try to get back to the level I was at before I got injured and hopefully they will like what they see.

"I have missed out on the chance to work with Roy Keane and Martin O'Neill as I was injured for the Latvia and Poland games, but the lads played really well in the two matches and the future looks good for us with Ireland," added Hendrick, one of three Derby players capped by Trapattoni in 2013 (Richard Keogh and Conor Sammon were the others) who have not been involved since Trap's exit, either under caretaker boss Noel King or new manager O'Neill.

But as a boyhood Manchester United fan, Hendrick is relishing the opportunity to work under Keane, and the willingness of the new management team to attend games at all levels is a boost for Championship players (O'Neill was at the Millwall-Wigan game on Saturday while the previous weekend Keane also appeared at a Championship game, landing up at Nottingham Forest).

"Roy was a player I always looked up to as I followed United when I was a kid," Hendrick admits.

"He was great for United and for Ireland as a midfielder. I could only learn from someone like Roy Keane, what I have heard back so far is that he has been brilliant with the lads in the Irish squad.

"But you will only get on with Ireland if you are doing well at your club so I have to put the work in with Derby and impress there if I am to get back into the Irish squad."

Having been out for so long, Hendrick still has some work to do in terms of his fitness and pain will be a part of that.

"I have had a few pains in my ankle and the specialist has told me that will be the case for the next few months so it's a case of managing that," he says.

 

Pain

"I don't feel it during training, I just feel a stiffness at the end of training so it's a case of getting ice onto it. Once the pain isn't too bad I can keep going, and once I get home it's important to rest and get the ice onto it.

"It was a bad injury, I snapped the ligament and there were two bones chipped in my ankle as well so they had to go in there, shave the bone and then stitch the ligament back together.

"It was bad timing as the season was only starting for me, and it was very frustrating to sit there for three months while the lads played away.

"I think it was even harder as we had a new manager come in, when Nigel Clough left and Steve McClaren came in, and I wasn't able to impress the new gaffer as I was on my way back from injury.

"It was boring to be out with the injury, all I wanted to do was get back playing, but the time flew by and I got back quicker than the medical staff had expected," he added.

Hendrick has come back at a good time for his club as Derby are on a superb run of form, coming from the bottom half of the table into the top four.

"I have missed a lot of games with the club but hopefully I can have a good spell in the second half of the season.

"We are an ambitious club and team and I think we can do well this season. Promotion has to be the aim."