St Kevin’s Boys graduate Jeff Hendrick said “when it comes to the big games, this group of lads always show up”. Picture: Martin Doherty

JEFF Hendrick praised the spirit of his teammates and support from the fans after he played a vital role in the Republic of Ireland’s incredible qualification bid for the World Cup Playoffs on Monday night.
Martin O’Neill’s team went to Cardiff knowing that only a win would be good enough to see his team reach the playoffs and they did just that after a James McClean strike in the 57th minute gave them a 1-0 victory.
Former St Kevin’s Boys schoolboy Hendrick played a key role in the goal by blocking Ashley Williams’ clearance before somehow squeezing his way down the line, cutting inside, and delivering an excellent cross into the box. Harry Arter confused the Welsh defence with a step-over and the ball landed at the feet of McClean who finished in ruthless fashion.
“It was hard work, we knew it would be, but we always said that once we had one game it’s a do or die, and when it comes to the big games this group of lads show up,” Hendrick said after the game.
“In the first half they had a lot of time on the ball. Whenever we pressed we thought they could give us something.
“We just gambled on it and James [McClean] put it in the back of the net. It was brilliant, on his bad foot and all. He doesn’t do that often.”
Ireland’s chances of qualifying were written off by many after a disappointing 2017 saw them pick up just three points in four games before last Friday’s victory over Moldova. However, time after time this team have pulled something out of the bag when the odds are stacked against them.
“We knew it would be hard but when it comes down to one game, the spirit in this group, we can do anything,” said Hendrick.
The 25-year-old midfielder also believes the team need to continue giving fans special nights like Monday’s when asked how the victory compared to the ones over Germany and Italy in recent times. “They were special [Germany and Italy victories] but they are just memories now. We have got to keep on making special nights like that.”
O’Neill is regularly accused of sacrificing performance in favour of points but Hendrick believes the spirit the team shows makes up for the style of football.
“We may not pass the ball as much as other countries but we have great spirit and tremendous fans.”
Despite another great night for the country, the job is only half done with the next week’s playoff draw containing the likes of Italy and Croatia.
“We have two big games to come and we have to show that spirit again. It’s a great night. A great night,” Hendrick concluded.

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