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Old pals' act in Ireland's interest

Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick have been in the same side since Under-8 level; now the old friends are focused on helping the Republic of Ireland repel the threat posed by Belgium.

Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick have been friends since childhood
Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick have been friends since childhood ©Sportsfile

Sitting at the top table looking out over the assembled media, the Republic of Ireland's Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick exchanged a grin before recounting the story of their journey to UEFA EURO 2016.  

Following Monday's 1-1 draw against Sweden, both players received praise for their efforts in a highly entertaining Group E game. Furthermore, starting together at the magnificent Stade de France represented the realisation of a dream for two players who once played for the same Under-8 team at Dublin club St Kevin's Boys.

"It's been an incredibly long road and we've been lucky to have taken it together," versatile Norwich City player Brady explained. "We were about six or seven when we played at St Kevin's and we've played all the way up [through the international ranks] to senior level today. During the qualifying campaign I said to Jeff it would be unbelievable to play together on the big stage. It's not every day something like that happens."

"We grew up very close to each other and we know the same people," Derby County midfielder Hendrick, 24, added. "We've roomed together on every trip [and although] we're not doing so on this one, Robbie still comes into my room to nick my toothpaste."

"We've lots of the same interests, so it's normal that we'd have chats," Brady – the elder by 17 days – continued. "Jeff was probably better when we were young, but then, as we progressed, we were neck and neck [in terms of ability]." 

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Despite hearing their manager Martin O'Neill describe them both as "a revelation" against Sweden, the words haven't fully relieved the frustration of letting slip a 1-0 lead in Saint-Denis. "We were all working hard for each other and were unlucky not to get three points," Hendrick explained. "Jeff had a great effort [that hit the crossbar] which, had it been a foot lower, was in," Brady added. 

Ireland next face Belgium on Sunday, opponents O'Neill believes have "possibly the most talented set of individual players at the tournament". Once a promising midfielder for another side dubbed 'The Red Devils', Manchester United academy graduate Brady is ready to be deployed in defence again at the Stade de Bordeaux on Saturday. 

"I've played left-back for the last couple of years [and] I'm more comfortable with that now," he said. "I know what type of players the Belgians have; we know they are top class and they will be coming to win, just as we are."

Hendrick echoed those sentiments, saying: "Even though Belgium lost [to Italy], they will still be a dangerous side." For Ireland to come through this weekend's challenge, these lifelong friends must be on song once again.