Resilience was The Bull’s hallmark

WHEN Shane Williams breached the Australian defence for one last international try deep into added time in his international swansong at the Millennium Stadium recently, you felt that justice had been served. Wingers crave attention.

On the other hand, prop forwards tend to be a different breed altogether.

When John Hayes became the first Irish player to accumulate 100 caps against England in Twickenham in February 2010, the attention in the build-up nearly killed him. In many ways he was quite happy the game was away from home, as the media spotlight would have been unbearable for the reserved Cappamore legend had it been in Dublin.

News that The Bull is to sign off on a remarkable career, probably in front of his own in Thomond Park against Connacht on St Stephen’s Day, will be greeted warmly and is fitting as that is where he began to make a name for himself, in the colours of Shannon after a brief apprenticeship in the second row with Bruff.

Hayes knuckled down, learned his trade and endured much unwarranted criticism without complaint. He worked hard, learned some harsh lessons along the way and progressed to the stage where he became Ireland’s most indispensable player of the noughties. Nobody contributed more sustained consistency; a hero appreciated more by those he played with than those who observed.

His first ever appearance in the green shirt was against provincial side Boland on a South African tour in 1998, coming on for the injured Reggie Corrigan at half-time. Despite suggestions prior to the tour that he could play on both sides of the scrum, he was quick to point out that he was only a tight head which necessitated a switch to the loose head that day for his Munster colleague Peter Clohessy. That signalled Claw’s first ever appearance on that side of the scrum for Ireland and started a move that would prolong his career for another few seasons.

Hayes was also responsible for extending the career of another Munster stalwart when his prowess as a lifter added about six inches to Mick Galway’s reach in the lineout. It was the equivalent of carrying a personalised hydraulics machine onto the field with you.

On lining out against Scotland over 11 years ago, nobody could have predicted the impact and contribution that the giant farmer would make to Irish rugby. Since the turn of the millennium no player put in more 80 minute shifts for Ireland than the Munster tight head who also had to deal with the opposition introducing the fresh legs of an opposing loose head to test him in the final quarter of almost every contest.

That workload finally began to take its toll and last season Hayes began to appreciate just how easy some of his team-mates have had it for years when he was regularly called ashore after 60 minutes. Had he been afforded that luxury in the middle of his career there would probably be another few years left in the tank. Having reached his 38th birthday recently, he was ready to call a halt to proceedings but the need to cover injuries has necessitated another four-month stint with Munster; he is fully aware that now is the right time to step aside. How fitting that the Red Army get the opportunity to say farewell at his beloved Thomond Park in what is sure to be an emotional evening.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

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