Saturday 18 January 2020

Bull eyes coaching role to 'give something back'

John Hayes accompanied by his five-year-old daughter Sally is applauded off the pitch by his team-mates after the game
against Connacht on St Stephen's Day. Photo: Sportsfile
John Hayes accompanied by his five-year-old daughter Sally is applauded off the pitch by his team-mates after the game against Connacht on St Stephen's Day. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

And so the long goodbye continued. As Jerry Flannery later joked: "It was kind of getting hard to watch him get all the attention, but sure he loves the limelight so it's hard to begrudge him his send-off!"

Nothing became Hayes' understated approach to his career more than his leaving of it. Prompted to take a lap of honour around Thomond Park on Monday night, accompanied by wife Fiona and girls Sally and Roisin, Hayes managed all of 20 yards or so before beating a hasty, embarrassed shuffle back into the dressing-room.

"I went towards the middle and said I wasn't going any further," he said, laughing broadly.

Once safely ensconced among the bosom of his team-mates, he immersed himself in the ceaseless, classless banter for one last time. And then, the boys sang a familiar tune.

"Thanks a lot! I'm sure glad to be. To be where I can see so many friends of mine," they chorused, belting out 'Stand Up And Fight' as Hayes disrobed for the 217th and final time in Munster red.

This week, there will be no team meetings to prepare for Ulster in Ravenhill on Friday. No pre-match meal. No dressing-room nerves. No more. For the last time, this was life as he knew it. Now that life is irrevocably changed.

"It is definitely going to be a bit strange," he said, still basking in the acclamation of over 15,000 Munster faithful. "That even happens after a period at a Six Nations or a World Cup or something like that.

"You can actually wake up in the morning and go 'where is the day sheet?' And you have to get used to going down to boil the kettle for yourself instead of going into the breakfast room and everything is laid out for you.

"From that point of view, I suppose it will be weird, after this Christmas period especially, when the Heineken Cup games come round again and you know that you are not a part of it anymore.

"You are not one of those fellahs 'not being considered because of injury' anymore. There would have been times when you were missing for games, but you won't be a part of it and that's it. You have to accept it.

"It could have been October but now it is now. It hasn't come quickly, I am ready for it."

And while there is little doubt that the sleeves of his emotions will be tugged tightly by a grateful family, there will be enough work on the farm to distract him from the absence of a familiar professional routine.


Nevertheless, despite his steadfast refusal to countenance even a token appearance for his native Bruff, club members should not be surprised if The Bull decides to bestow some of his knowledge towards his old stomping ground.

"Firstly, I'm definitely taking time away from the game for now," he admitted. "But yeah, I'd like to coach. You'd always like to give something back and help in whatever way you could.

"I don't know if it would be at whatever level, dealing with adults or young fellahs or whatever. But you would definitely like to help out in some way to give back for the help that you got over the years. Especially when you were starting off, you get a lot of coaching and you'd like to give some of that back if you could."

The Munster way informs his philosophy, how the jersey is passed on from one generation to the next; it is never owned. Just as he eventually wrestled the jersey from Peter Clohessy 14 years ago, so now Stephen Archer perhaps stands in line to borrow the No 3 jersey for a while.

"Myself and Claw played together for a couple of years before he retired, though he moved over to loosehead for a couple of years. But other players come through and even if you look at the team tonight, there was an awful lot of young fellahs on that team.

"All the backline, there are some of them only in their very early 20s, Luke O'Dea and Simon Zebo ... that is just the way it is around here, there are new fellahs coming through.

"You are here for a while and you can have it 200 times or you might get it 50 times, you just don't know. You just enjoy it while you have it and make the most if it. You'll see some one else wearing it and it just moves on.

"A couple of years ago, Roy Keane came in to us and he said that at Man United he saw some great players coming and going. And that was getting towards the end of his time, it might have been the year before he left.

"And he knew that he had given so much to them but that his time was coming and there were other players. No one is bigger than any place."

Hayes' legacy comes close. He'll be missed. But, characteristically, he'll cope.

"I have enough to do," he said with a smile. "I have plenty to do. That's the one thing about the winter farming. I have plenty of work to do in the stretch. I won't be mooching around the house anyway."

Irish Independent

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