Emotional farewell for Bruff’s man for all seasons

JOHN HAYES spent much of his rugby career avoiding the limelight.

Yesterday the Munster legend was happy to make an exception on an emotional afternoon in Bruff’s Kilballyowen Park.

Hundreds came to watch Hayes partake in his final squad session as a professional player on the same pitch where he played his first game for the local club.

On St Stephen’s night Hayes will says his official farewell when Munster host Connacht in the Pro 12 league at Thomond Park. But yesterday he was amongst his own, and how they celebrated the occasion.

“There’s a certain amount of sadness that it’s coming to an end along with a realisation that it’s time,” he said.

“It all began here in Bruff back in 1992 and that’s a long time. A lot of things have changed, there wasn’t even a thought of the game going professional, and the way things have gone over the years has been brilliant.

“I played back-row and second-row with Bruff and Shannon and then went to Invercargill in New Zealand for a couple of seasons and moved up to the front-row. That was huge for me at the time.”

On his return to Ireland, Hayes was a member of highly successful Shannon AIL teams, played his first game for Munster against Petrarca Rugby in 1997 and made the first of his 105 appearances for Ireland against Scotland in 2000, Ireland won 44-22.

He agreed the Heineken Cup wins of 2006 and ‘08 along with Ireland’s Grand Slam triumph at the Millennium Stadium in 2009 were the stand-out moments in his career. Hayes recalled how Peter Clohessy was one of those central to the success of Munster when he arrived on the scene.

“Claw was some character to have around the place,” he smiled. “His attitude epitomised everything you wanted to be as a player and then there were the technical tips. I really got lucky having him around at that stage of my career. Then he moved to loose head which allowed us to play together and that helped as well.

“I’ve been hugely lucky with injuries over the years. I see some of the other lads who have missed out practically whole seasons. Thankfully, I didn’t have that and I think coming to the game late meant I had more natural strength.”

Farmer John accepted that he “will miss most of all the Heineken Cup games at Thomond Park” and rated South African Os du Randt as his toughest opponent.

“I admired him on and off the field and another in the same bracket was England’s Jason Leonard. I was blessed with some great team mates. Rog (Ronan O’Gara) was a special character.”

The chairman of Bruff Rugby Club, Dick Leonard said the player had put the rural club on the world rugby map. He said: “It’s fantastic to be able to go to anywhere in the world like New Zealand South Africa and see ‘John Hayes, Bruff, Ireland’ on the programme. We moved up six divisions in the same time that he’s had a fantastic career. Anytime we have asked him to do anything, John would just come over with a heart and a half. It is the one and only time Munster have trained here and it’s a sign of the respect Munster would have for John that they would bring this out to Bruff on his last training session.”

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