The once revered academy of Derby County Football Club has been going through some rough patches recently, with the last significant player from Moor Farm being Miles Addison, who broke into the first-team three years ago. Of course before then, the club had produced internationals such as Tom Huddlestone, Lee Camp and Lewin Nyatanga.
Since then, the club’s youth teams have hit a barren spell in terms of quality players coming through, that is until season 2011-12. The unlikely stars of Derby’s decent start to the campiagn have both come from the club’s academy, and are both Republic of Ireland Under-21 internationals. Said players are Jeff Hendrick and Mark O’Brien.
Both have invaded the established senior team in impressive fashion, and, most importantly, have stayed there. Sure it’s down to a number of factors, injuries to players like Paul Green and club captain Shaun Barker, but both Hendrick and O’Brien have more than proven their ability on the pitch, they are there for a reason.
O’Brien, in particular, has been effected by injuries/conditions in both positive and negative ways. The centre-back, 18, actually made his Derby debut back in the 2008-09 season, as a 16-year-old schoolboy. However, the following two seasons consisted of two massive spells out due to a heart condition, which required surgery in 2009, and a foot injury last season. Despite these setbacks, O’Brien has continued to make strides within the club, combining appearences with the under-18’s and the title-winning Reserve side during the first half of last season.
Only half an hour into the new season, defender Russell Anderson hobbled off with a groin injury, O’Brien replaced him, and the young Irishman since. He’s been an ever present, and contibuted to the Rams best winning start to the season for 63 years. Sure he’s had a bad game, the notable error in the 2-1 defeat to Burnley, but he’s only 18 years old. The experience of playing alongside the experienced Jason Shackell will only help mature his composed playing style more so.
Hendrick spent the majority of pre-season this year on international duty with the Republic of Ireland’s under 19’s, meaning it was a bit of a surprise to see him start the 1-0 win at Blackpool in early August. As O’Brien, Hendrick impressed and has kept his place, as Derby surged up the table. Even in the last couple of defeats, he has never looked out-of-depth, fitting perfectly into the midfield. His range of passing is pretty good too, he’s certainly more than capable of a few crossfield passes to mix the play up a bit.