Hayes has no regrets after walking away from pro game
The position that Brian Hayes found himself in would have been the envy of plenty of young players hoping to make it in the professional game, but the reality of the former Munster's lock's situation made him walk away from the dream that he had pursued for so long.
When the Cork native's stint in the Munster Academy came to an end four years ago, he knew the writing had long been on the wall.
Paul O'Connell and Donncha O'Callaghan dominated the engine room, while the likes of Donnacha Ryan, Billy Holland, Dave Foley and Ian Nagle were next in line.
Hayes decided to move to France, where he linked up with former Ireland and Lions second-row Jeremy Davidson at Aurillac.
The way of life in the small town hidden away in central France was a major culture shock but it was nevertheless a challenge that Hayes relished from the off.
"Growing up here, we were so lucky in that Munster were such a force," says the 26-year old, who will line out for Cork Con in the AIL final tomorrow.
"You go through that phase of wanting to play for Munster and then once you go abroad and play in the Pro D2 in France, you realise it's not the same thing. I might come across badly when I'm as blunt as that, but it was just the context of my overall life.
"I was locked away in the middle of nowhere in France, which would have been the one downside. It's not like you were going to Paris or Toulouse. You're coming into real France.
"From a rugby point of view, it was just a world away from Munster. You would be doing the exact same training every day of the week for the whole two years. It was a completely different kind of atmosphere.
"The motivation to get up for away games wasn't there. It took a bit of getting used to."
Hayes impressed throughout his first season with Aurillac but it wasn't as straightforward in his second as the club struggled in France's second tier.
Top 14 sides had been monitoring him closely but after his second campaign, they began to lose interest.
"I had offers. When I initially went over to the Pro D2, my idea was to hopefully move on up to the Top 14," he explains.
"The good offers dried up so I was left with other Pro D2 clubs which would have been good money and lifestyle, but I really didn't want to be a Pro D2 player for eight years and then turn 32 and have to decide what I was going to do for the rest of my life.
"I just made the decision that it was best that I came home and do something different.
"Look, obviously it would have been great to stay on for a few years. I would have made a nice bit of money but I was lucky enough to have completed college and I knew I'd have other opportunities so I felt it was best in the long run.
"I had to decide whether I wanted to play second division rugby in France for my career or do something different."
Hayes returned home in 2015 and despite the offers to remain in the professional game, he started a Masters in e-business before securing a job with Accenture in Dublin last year.
The mundane nine to five grind may not be what he had imagined for himself this early in his life but it is made easier by the fact that it was on his own terms.
"I can put it as bluntly as this: there were just way better players than me at that stage," admits Hayes, who made two senior appearances for Munster.
"When you think of O'Connell, O'Callaghan, Donnacha Ryan - you see the player he is now, he wasn't even starting when I was involved… I can say straight out that I wasn't good enough to be kept on.
"The one frustration you'd have is that you go through four years of a system and you'd barely get a game or two in the PRO12 to show if you have it or not.
"Even today with the Academy, I think it's still a major flaw.
"People that are going through the system aren't getting at least one or two games to see what it's like at that level so they can make a proper decision for their future.
"But there is no point fooling anybody either.
"At this stage it's very hard to get back in but if I was going to be sad because I wasn't playing professional rugby any more, I'd have a few serious issues."
Still only 26, Hayes has plenty left to offer but for now at least, he has no regrets about turning his back on his boyhood dream.