Jeff Hendrick reckons that winning is believing and believing is winning for an Irish side who will go into 2017 sitting pretty atop their World Cup qualifying group after that historic 1-0 victory in Vienna on Saturday.
“I think the main thing with how good we’ve done over the last two years or so is that we’ve got a bit more belief in the group,” says the midfielder.
“We always had a good togetherness but I think the belief is the main thing. We don’t really fear anyone. We’ve talked about that a few times now.
“Because of the teams we’ve beaten and picked up points against, I think we’ve grown in confidence. It showed on Saturday in the second half. I think we’re learning from previous games, and we need to keep doing that if we want to carry on and lead the group.
“It’s a brilliant achievement but we’re not even halfway there. You look at the last group stages: people wrote us off and then, two games later, there is some turnaround and the group looked completely different. We know we have to keep fighting and picking up the points wherever we can.”
As well as growing self-belief, Hendrick reckons a rare spirit of togetherness has developed within the current squad.
“Someone said it to me yesterday, that there is a special feeling around the group,” he says. “And when you think about it, there is. We had a lot of injuries (going to Vienna) and some people would have written us off before the game, but you’ve players stepping in and doing jobs. Sometimes in football, it’s the little things, like when you’ve got to dig deep and work hard. It’s not the pretty side of football but every player in that team is willing to do that for our country. When you look at it that way it is a special group.”
Between now and next March, Hendrick will have plenty of time to indulge in a little pre-match analysis with his Welsh Burnley teammate Sam Vokes.
“He’s a good lad,” he says. “I’ve touched on it about the players at Burnley, that they helped me settle in quickly, Vokesy is another one of them that I’ve got to know and he’s done great for us at club level. He’s playing a lot for Wales as well. Hopefully he doesn’t do well against us in a few months’ time but up until then he can keep playing brilliantly for us at Burnley.
“Now it’s time to focus with Burnley and have a good few months and pick up points to try and stay in the league. Not a lot of people would have thought we would stay in the Premier League this year so it’s our chance to prove them wrong. “
Hendrick will, however, keep in touch with his Irish teammates over the winter, not least his former schoolboy colleague and good pal, Robbie Brady, who, unfortunately, will be suspended for the game against Wales in Dublin.
“It’s good to keep in touch with them, they’re my friends and I get on with all of them,” says Hendrick. “There is a few that I talk to a bit more but I get on with them all and we do have a WhatsApp group. You might not hear anything for a few weeks and then a bit of banter pops into it and it’s good fun again. I room with Robbie every time. It’s grand, we have a chat. We live close to each other, we know a lot of the same people and we grew up together. We meet up in England every now and again or back in Dublin.” Yesterday, Hendrick returned to his hometown in his ambassadorial role with DeafHear to lend support to the Irish Deaf football team.
“I gave them one of my jerseys from the Euros and a pair of boots as well,” he says. “For me, it is about raising awareness, and getting as many players for them as possible because they’ve qualified for the Olympics and it would be good for them to get a few results.”
That jersey number, by the way, is 13. “I got it leading up to the Euros and I felt like I had a good European Championships,” he explains. “Then when I got back, Burnley said, ‘What number do you want?’ And they called out maybe three or four numbers and 13 was one of them. People were saying they don’t like having No. 13 — normally it’s the sub goalie or something like that.
“I just took it and it was a big shout me taking it because Joey Barton had it last year and it was a surprise.
“But I didn’t even know he had it!
“So I said I might as well stick with it. I told Dicko (Dick Redmond), the (Irish) kit man, ‘if I’m selected, I’ll have No. 13’.
“Hopefully I’ll try and keep that number now.”
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