Jack Hendry fulfils driven ambition by returning to Celtic

New signing Jack Hendry believes he has come back stronger after six years away from Celtic. Picture: SNS.
New signing Jack Hendry believes he has come back stronger after six years away from Celtic. Picture: SNS.
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Celtic have a well-earned reputation for rearing their own talent, with Kieran Tierney, James Forrest and Callum McGregor coming through the ranks to claim their place in Brendan Rodgers’ first-team squad.

They do not, of course, always get it right. Full-back Andrew Robertson, currently excelling for Liverpool and Scotland, was released for being too small.

Closer to home, they needn’t have gone through the strain of almost missing Wednesday’s midnight transfer deadline as they negotiated central defender Jack Hendry’s transfer from Dundee – and could have saved around £1.2m – if only someone within their youth development programme had come to a different verdict on the 22-year-old back in 2012.

However, although his Celtic hopes appeared to be dashed before he had finished his schooling, Hendry claims he was convinced he could work his way back to the club.

“I was here at Celtic for around seven years when I was younger before going to Partick Thistle,” he explained.

“I started in their first age group, under-9s, until under-16s. It was a mutual decision leaving, to be fair. Moving on was the best thing for me. I learned a lot because I feel moments like that have stood me in good stead and made me a stronger character; I’m definitely better for it.

“Since leaving, I’ve been striving to get to this level. When I was here I was the ball-boy for games at Celtic Park for some big Champions League nights. When you’re a youth player you get that opportunity and I enjoyed watching some big games.

“I remember being there for games against the likes of Barcelona. It’s a distant memory now, though. It was great and you take all those moments in and try to relive them when you’re playing on the pitch yourself.

“But I was always striving to be a Celtic player. Now I have the opportunity and I’m thankful for that. When I walked out these doors at 16 I thought to myself: ‘I’m going to come back here’.”

Perhaps tellingly, no-one else from Hendry’s final year at Lennoxtown made the jump into the senior squads.

“Callum and Kieran were here but in the lower age groups,” he said. “We trained at Barrowfield initially before a couple of years here at Lennoxtown. So I know the environment having been here in amongst it before. I know the expectations.”

The public pitches of Scotland are littered with players who abandoned their ambitions after being let go by their boyhood heroes but Hendry insists that giving up was 
never an option.

“You need to be mentally strong and I feel I have got that in abundance; that’s why I’m sitting here today,” he said.

“There are some lads who don’t go on to make it but you need to be mentally strong and I feel I am. My family are over the moon and really proud of me, but they never doubted me either, knowing the type of person I am.

“They’re quite overwhelmed that I’ve managed to do it, but the sky is the limit and you need to keep pushing and pushing and pushing while believing in your ability.”

Hendry’s path led him to Partick Thistle and Wigan, including loan spells with Shrewsbury Town and MK Dons before he returned to Scotland with Dundee last summer.

“You need to always believe in your ability,” he said. “I’ve always done so. Sometimes going to those kind of places makes you better as a player and as a person. I’ve learned from that and, hopefully, that will stand me in good stead for the future.”

Even Hendry’s steely self-belief was tested on Wednesday as the clock ticked down while disputes over the size of the fee and the possibility that he might be loaned back to Neil McCann’s side for the remainder of the campaign delayed the conclusion of the deal.

“It was a bit stressful at times,” he admits. “It was a long, drawn-out process and I’m just thankful that it got done. Yes, it went on but the main thing is that I’m here now.”

“I was a wee bit anxious when Dundee said that they wanted to keep hold of me and I’m just grateful to Dundee for letting me go.”