John Hayes: Ireland can at least reach World Cup semis
The tracksuit is still gathering dust, and three years into retirement John Hayes is loving life away from the game.
Occasionally it does get to him and the 'Bull' does miss running out on to the field, but that tends to be only on the big days. He remains a spectator, having announced when he left the game that one of things he was looking forward to was not wearing a tracksuit again.
He has stuck to that promise, even though he does a small bit of coaching being at the club where it all began for him as a 19-year old.
Now 41, his life evolves around the family farm in Cappamore, but the former rock-solid tighthead also gives something back to Bruff RFC where he passes on some of his vast knowledge to the up-and-coming players.
"I am still working away without having to wear a tracksuit, still farming because that's what I enjoy. The changes and challenge of it is what I love so much," he says.
"I don't think I will ever become a coach, I help out every so often with Bruff where I do a small bit of front-row coaching but that's all and I would never see myself as a coach.
"I help all of the young fellas of any age but I don't take on the role with any of the seniors, seconds or U-20s.
"I just go up every so often and make an arrangement with the club. It could be the U-16s, U-17s or U-19s whatever age-group but I would just do a bit of scrummaging with them.
"I go to some of the Munster and Ireland games. It would usually be the home ones - I don't really travel to away games, I will just cruise to whichever games are nearest."
Hayes played 212 times for his beloved Munster, scoring four tries, before hanging up his boots after an emotional send-off on St Stephen's Day 2011 - a 24-9 win over Connacht at Thomond Park.
He won two Heineken Cups, one Celtic League and two Magners Leagues and also became the first player to reach 100 appearances in Europe.
Since he left there has been much change in the province, Kiwi Rob Penney has been and gone and now Hayes' former team-mate Anthony Foley is head coach.
"He is doing well, to come in as a coach and get a job like that. He had his systems and brought in a lot of the old lads with him," he says.
"With Munster you are always judged on Europe and that hasn't worked out for him, which hasn't been ideal.
"From now on it is just down to what you do for the rest of the season and hopefully they can finish well, get into the top four of the Pro12 and get into the final of that."
Munster finished third in Pool 1 after defeats at home and away to Clermont Auvergne and a 33-10 hammering at the hands of Saracens at Allianz Park.
But Hayes believes things need to be put into perspective, pointing to the strength of opposition and injuries in the camp as major contributory factors to their demise.
"It is a big deal, there is no question about that, but they had a few injuries, Donnacha Ryan is out, Keith Earls was out and only came back for the last few games," he says.
"It was the one stat that people might have forgotten, Munster were in a group with three of last year's semi-finalists, who were also in the semi-finals the previous year.
"There was Clermont, Saracens and Munster so it wasn't going to be easy. When you look at some of the other French teams that were also out there, if they were in Munster's group you would think that Munster would have beaten them at least in Thomond Park and then they could have qualified.
"Munster have a lot of good young fellas but it is like any other team, they are trying to develop them and bring them through when bigger teams likes Toulon and Clermont in France are just buying in players."
Hayes went on two Lions tours and amassed 105 appearances for Ireland, scoring two tries - he was part of the Grand Slam-winning team in 2009 and won four Triple Crowns.
Hayes also became the first Irish player to reach 100 caps in the 20-16 win over England at Twickenham in 2010.
He thinks England are the northern hemisphere team to beat, especially in a World Cup year with rugby's centrepiece being staged across the Irish Sea.
"It is a huge year, a World Cup year is always massive. We have seen over the last couple of months that injuries are going to be the big thing," he says.
"We have a relatively small group of players in the country so we need to keep them all fit. If that happens a semi-final is definitely possible.
"But even in the Six Nations England would be Ireland's biggest threat and obviously they have a home World Cup. That home nation side of things will carry them a long way in he World Cup.
"It will be a big test against them next week. England have all the nuts and bolts. They have a good scrum, a good lineout, good defence and good organisation and they can get a job done.
"They are going to come over here to get a result. In the World Cup they are going to have home advantage so if they get momentum going in the summer leading into it, it will difficult to beat them."