Football

Ireland Need To Solve The Jeff Hendrick Issue, And There's A Clear Solution

Ireland Need To Solve The Jeff Hendrick Issue, And There's A Clear Solution

One of Ireland's most gifted footballers on the ball, someone who is playing regularly in the Premier League and getting the likes of Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville admiring his technical ability, it's nothing short of strange how ineffectual Jeff Hendrick has been in some of his recent Ireland performances.

This is not an attack on Hendrick, nor is it a call for him to be dropped, but something has to change so that we get more out of one of the few players who has the quality to make a difference.

The Copenhagen performance was strikingly similar to the home game against Serbia, where after 40 minutes I realised that not once had I noticed any sort of contribution from Hendrick. An hour had been played, and still nothing, it wasn't until the 93rd minute that I noticed him again, and it was because he had been taken off for Conor Hourihane.

Flashback to the start of this World Cup qualifying campaign, and Hendrick was the player I thought would be the catalyst for a change in the way we played to one where we would look to put our foot on the ball instead of through it.

The reason I believed that was because of what I had seen from Hendrick in the year prior, and when he bagged an early goal away to Serbia I was sure he would kick on. He was arguably our best player at Euro 2016, and earned himself a Premier League move on the back of it, so what has changed?

His position in the team.

If I think back on what I believe are Jeff Hendrick's best moments in an Ireland shirt, there are two clear highlights and one performance I believe was his best.

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The performance was against Sweden at Euro 2016, where Hendrick was deployed on the right of midfield with Glenn Whelan and James McCarthy sitting, and he was excellent at taking the ball while we were under pressure and holding it to which allows us to move up the pitch. When he got a bit of space he was taking on defenders, cutting in and firing off shots, one of which very nearly found the top corner.

In terms of moments, easily his finest moment was a the Messi-esque run against Georgia on the left flank before providing the assist for Jon Walters, a moment that was a turning point in that campaign.

I won't forget what he said to the media after the game either:

I gave the ball away maybe three times before it, going sideways and backwards and not really being positive with the ball, so in my head, I was saying, 'Next time I get it, I'm just going to go at them and show a bit of positivity.'

Also, lest my short-term memory be damned, the goal that got us to where we are now, which came from some outstanding pressuring down the right wing.

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What is the common denominator there? They all involve Hendrick playing wide. When he first broke into the team, Hendrick was played as a winger, the main criticism of him being that it wasn't his natural position and he didn't look fully comfortable.

While he is not a winger in the traditional sense, he has been so much more effective as a wide midfielder than he has been in the middle. He is someone who offers great protection to the full-back, but crucially he can take a ball into feet and use it, which results in less hopeful balls into space and more passing into feet.

When he plays in the middle of this Irish team, all he can do is pass backwards and sideways, and he can't risk taking people on like he did against Georgia. Of course his confidence is going to take a knock when he's watching the ball fly 20 meters over his head.

Against Denmark the game totally passed him by, mainly because we had absolutely no intention of playing through midfield. When you make a decision to send every ball into the channels, the only thing your central midfielder can offer you is what Harry Arter did in an all-action defensive performance. Hendrick is not that player.

Callum O'Dowda was picked to play wide, and he did OK, but I would much rather have seen Hendrick playing wide and either Glenn Whelan or, dare I mention him, Wes Hoolahan in a central role.

Hendrick is a cracking player, one I never dislike seeing named in the Irish starting lineup, but too many times recently I've been left wondering how and why he has had little to no impact on games. We've seen him at his best while playing wide, and we've seen him at his least effective at the base of the midfield, so there's a fairly clear solution if we want to see him impacting games like we know he can.

SEE ALSO: Watch: Damien Duff Is Fed-Up With 'Awful' Aspect Of Ireland's Game

Mikey Traynor

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