Friday 9 December 2016

Wind-up merchant Jonny Hayes thought Ireland call-up was a prank

Published 22/03/2016 | 02:30

Jonny Hayes danced on the Euro 2016 dreams of his Aberdeen team-mates.

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And the good news is that he lived to tell the tale as emotions ran high the night the Republic of Ireland played Germany while Scotland faced Poland in crunch qualifying clashes last October.

The better news for Dublin-born Hayes is that he is home this week as a member of Martin O'Neill's 33-man strong squad for the friendlies against Switzerland and Slovakia.

Eight years after he last featured in an Irish squad at underage level, Hayes (28) trained at FAI headquarters in Abbotstown again, this time as a seasoned professional.

But first, a flashback to that evening when Hayes (below) unleashed his patriotic feelings at the expense of the Scots in the euphoria of Shane Long slamming home that wonder-goal against the Germans.

"Shane scored, and I jumped up on the table, and I was dancing. Me and Adam (Rooney) and Willo (Flood) were giving a fair bit of stick to the Scottish lads," says Hayes.

"I like to wind up as many of the Scots as possible, as often as possible, and remind them that they're not going.

Bragging

"I've got bragging rights over them, just as a fan basically, that Ireland got there ahead of them.

"It's been ongoing with the campaign in the last couple of years as it looked like they were going to qualify, but then we qualified."

The former Cherry Orchard schoolboy began his professional career in the Reading academy and after a couple of loan spells, joined MK Dons, and later Leicester City in 2007.

In October 2008, he joined Cheltenham Town after another loan period. Since 2009 he has plied his trade in Scotland, first with Inverness Caledonian Thistle, and now Aberdeen, who are battling to wrest the Scottish Premiership title from Celtic.

A 1-0 defeat to Motherwell last Saturday was a setback, but Hayes has to put club ambitions on the back burner for the next week.

He had made outline plans to go to France to support the Irish in the Euros next summer, and had even got 'planning permission' approved by his better half.

Then it was pointed out to him that Aberdeen are due back in pre-season training on June 14, the day after the opening Euro match against Sweden for O'Neill's men.

Hayes admits that when the Irish boss contacted him about a squad call-up last Thursday week, he thought it was a prank, and had to confirm with Dons manager Derek McInnes, that yes, the genuine Martin O'Neill had been in touch.

"I had to ring the club and our gaffer and text Shane Long to see what the manager's number was, just to be sure," he says.

"He told me I was in the provisional squad and had a good chance to be in the full squad.

"I sat down with my partner, and my family were over at the time, so it was good to share the news. But yeah, I thought it was a wind-up at first."

Last Saturday came confirmation that he had made the cut.

Now Hayes can only do his best in training and see how it goes from there.

No prizes for guessing which he would prefer on June 14 - being in France with Ireland, or slogging in pre-season with Aberdeen.

Realistic

"I know which one I'd prefer. But it's a long, long way away. I'm realistic enough about that, being in the squad is a step in the right direction," says Hayes.

Former Belvedere and Bohemians full-back Matt Doherty slots into the same uncapped category - at senior level - as Hayes, and the Wolves defender is equally eager to impress this week.

A natural right-footed player, Doherty prefers to play at right-back, but has worked at improving his left-foot prowess.

The Dubliner was given a chance by manager Kenny Jackett at left-back for his club, and now has an opportunity to show O'Neill what he can do.

Doherty has spent almost six years at Molineux since he was signed by former manager Mick McCarthy.

Since then, through various managerial changes and slumps in form, the club has endured turbulent times, with successive relegations and then promotion last year back to the Championship.

This season Doherty is enjoying a consistent run of form after what he described as "a few stop-start seasons."

"Even this season, I didn't play much at the start. I've had a few stop-start seasons," he says.

"This season I got my chance at left-back and I actually quite like it.

"It's not that uncomfortable for me now as it was for the first few games. I feel quite good there."

Irish Independent

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