Jeff Hendrick claims Serbia draw was a turning point for Stephen Kenny's Ireland

By Paul O'Hehir

Jeff Hendrick insists the future is bright for Ireland under Stephen Kenny - and he wants to stick around to be part of it.

Sections of the Irish support remain unconvinced of course after an arduous run of just one win in 16 games and no competitive victories in that time.

With two points from a possible 15, the World Cup campaign is already over with three games remaining.

But sifting through the debris of the campaign to date, Hendrick has called on the doubters to be more open-minded to change.

The Newcastle United midfielder pinpointed teenagers Gavin Bazunu and Andrew Omobamidele as just two of the reasons why better days are ahead.

The 19-year-olds were the stars of the show against Serbia and will be regulars under Kenny who makes no apologies for bedding in newcomers ahead of Euro 2024.

Kenny doesn’t yet have a contract for that campaign and Hendrick quickly washed his hands of that divisive issue by claiming he and his team-mates are in the dark.

FAI chief executive Johnathan Hill could break his silence on the manager's future at a sponsorship event in Dublin later today.

But Hendrick has launched a passionate defence of the manager and the direction his Ireland team is going.

Ireland's Jeff Hendrick with Marek Hamšík and Martin Valjent of Slovakia (©INPHO/Tommy Dickson)

Hendrick is one of those players who has to work overtime to earn credit as his international performances dipped after lighting up Euro 2016.

He has shipped fan and media criticism in the meantime, but played one of his best games in years against Serbia.

Hendrick made his Ireland bow under Giovanni Trapattoni and the Italian was a manager who regularly highlighted how Ireland ‘don’t have the players’.

It was a theory that Martin O’Neill would occasionally subscribe to as well particularly - and correctly in this regard - up front after Robbie Keane’s retirement.

But since succeeding Mick McCarthy, Kenny has never used that mantra as a stick to beat his players with.

His approach has been the complete opposite as he finds it “offensive” to say that long-ball football is the Irish DNA.

Hendrick said: “We're not gifted with hundreds of players who are playing in all of the top leagues. We are what we are. We know the squad we have.

“Players come in and out of it but everyone comes in with a positive attitude and buys into the group and we all fight for each other.

“There’s a lot of youth in the squad now and I remember being one of those young lads and it's exciting. The more games they get, it will only benefit us.

“It’s tough as I'm not getting any younger but I still feel I’ve some good years left in me. I’m only 29.

“We’ve seen people play into their mid 30s in the past and I don't see why I can't do that. Hopefully I can be in and around that for a good few years to come.”

Wales' Daniel James makes a break away from Jeff Hendrick of Ireland (©INPHO/Tommy Dickson)

Just to have a sniff of the playoffs, Ireland need to win all three of their remaining games and pray that Serbia somehow don’t pick up another point.

It won’t happen

But Hendrick insists the remaining games away to Azerbaijan, home to Portugal and a campaign-ending trip to Luxembourg in November are not dead-rubbers.

He wants to treat those games as building blocks for the Nations League next year and onto the Euro 2024 qualifying campaign that Kenny is already targeting.

Whether the manager gets that contract remains to be seen but Hendrick said: “We’ll approach it positively.

“If you look at Portugal we had a game plan and I think it worked very well. We were minutes away from a very good result.

“It's hard now to get something out of this group but like any Irish team we’ll keep going and give it our all.

“If you were being realistic some of the games were going to be very, very hard to win.

“But we nearly did it against Portugal and, against Serbia, we put in a good performance and that’s something to build on.

“It was good to get the draw late on and over the last couple of years I think we've been scoring a lot of late goals.

“That’s the character of the Irish squad but we definitely needed to make a statement in that game.”

Hendrick added: “It was unfortunate that I wasn't on the pitch for the last 10 minutes but to be sat there as the lads gave it their all - hearing the crowd roar - was special.

“But we need to bring that on next month. We should be looking to go to Azerbaijan and play like that to get a win. It's doable and something we should be achieving.”

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