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Jeff Hendrick is thrilled to be playing a side of Italy's quality this Saturday at Craven Cottage

Updated: Wednesday, 28 May 2014 14:26 | Comments

Jeff Hendrick speaking to the media at Malahide
Jeff Hendrick speaking to the media at Malahide

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Jeff Hendrick admits he struggles to imagine himself lining up against Italy's World Cup-bound superstars as he makes his way on the international stage.

The 22-year-old Republic of Ireland midfielder could do just that on Saturday when Martin O'Neill's men meet the Italians at Craven Cottage in their second end-of-season friendly.

Hendrick had a taste of the big time last summer when he was used as a substitute in the 1-1 draw with England at Wembley and then played the first half of a 2-0 defeat by the reigning World and European champions Spain at Yankee Stadium in New York.

But he still finds it hard to take in that he could be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Daniele De Rossi, Andrea Pirlo, Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano this weekend.

He said: "We played some great teams [last year] and it's the same opportunity again this year, so I have got to train well and if I get a chance against them, I have got to try my best.

"Obviously they are big players and it would be exciting to play against them.

"I am just happy to back in. Even in training with the lads, you learn things from them in training.

"It's a bonus getting into these squads. Hopefully I can train well and if I get game-time, I am happy with that. But if not, it's still a great privilege to be in the squad with all the lads."

"I am just happy to back in. Even in training with the lads, you learn things from them in training"

Hendrick met up with his colleagues in Portmarnock on Monday evening with he and Derby team-mates Richard Keogh and Conor Sammon still coming to terms with the Sky Bet Championship play-off final defeat by QPR which robbed them of their chance to play Barclays Premier League football next season.

But he for one is determined to channel the pain he is currently experiencing into the quest to go one better next season under manager Steve McClaren.

He said: "We didn't think we would do as well at the beginning of last season, and it's been great. The new manager came in and he worked really well with us, obviously, where we ended up.

"Hopefully next year we can go and be stronger now, take positives from the year we have had, even getting to the final, and take the emotions of losing and seeing them lift the trophy - it's something we want to do next year, so we will look forward to getting started.

"We have got a good group of lads, we all get on and we work hard together.

"Next year it's our aim to go straight up if we can, but obviously there are a few loan players going back and we either have to look at getting them back in or maybe get one or two players in, so it will be interesting to see how it goes."

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