A well-taken, if fortuitous goal, five minutes after the break gave his side the perfect tonic to mount a successful challenge to the three-point advantage enjoyed by arch rivals Valley Rovers; a second in the dying moments was the icing on the cake as Courcey moved confidently to a confrontation with Ballymartyle in the penultimate stage.
Hayes’s speculative goalbound shot from out wide fooled both substitute Cian Lordan and Valley Rovers goalkeeper Willie Burke to bounce high into the net and level matters after the winners had trailed by three points at the break.
It was more than coincidental that Lordan also had a part to play in the decisive goal. With his side holding on grimly to a two-point lead, the big forward fastened onto a long-range free from keeper Stephen Nyhan. Burke managed to bat the shot away but only to Hayes, who drove the rebound powerfully to the net. The joyful scenes at the end were proof positive that the five-point victory was hard earned against a team that looked well capable of winning with a positive first-half display that yielded them seven points against four.
Courcey Rovers did enjoy the better start, Dara Lordan pointing from a 65 and a magnificent 75-metre free to establish a two-point lead after Hayes had responded to an early Brian Lehane point.
But Valley cruised away with a succession of six unanswered points before Hayes pulled one back for the winners on the stroke of half-time.
If there was any panic in the Courcey Rovers dressing room it was minimal, with one change being made at the break, Cian Lordan for a Dara Lordan. The alteration was important given the role the substitute played in both goals, but far more meaningful was the way the winners stepped up to the challenge.
Following Hayes’s first goal the Courcey challenge heightened with everyone battling for possession no matter how hopeless the cause appeared; the Ballinspittle side won most of the crucial challenges and the scores followed.
Niall Murphy stepped up to the plate with three successful frees to help his side into a three-point lead by the midway point of the second half. Courcey never looked back and Vincent Hurley, Lordan and Murphy again, before Hayes’ second goal, kept them in the driving seat despite the best efforts of Ray O’Donovan and Jeremy Hurley who battled successfully to keep the game alive almost right to the finish.
Scorers for Courcey Rovers: S. Hayes 2-2, N. Murphy 0-5 (0-4 from frees), D Lordan 0-2, G. Moloney, V. Hurley, C Lordan 0-1 each.
Valley Rovers:. R. O’Donovan 0-5 (0-1 frees), J. Hurley 0-4 (0-1 frees), B. Lehane 0-2, K. Canty, R. Butler 0-1 each.
COURCEY ROVERS:. S. Nyhan; D. Duggan, D. Murphy, D. Lordan; J. Duggan, B. Hayes, T. Lordan; V. Hurley, D. Hayes; K. Moloney, J. Murphy, S. Hayes; N. Murphy, D. Lordan, G. Moloney.
Subs: C. Lordan for D. Lordan (half time)
VALLEY ROVERS:. W. Burke, F. Coughlan, N. O’Donovan, S. Manning, J. Walsh, J. Hurley, R. Lehane, R. O’Donovan, E. Manning, R. Butler, K. Canty (captain), S. O’Sullivan, B. Lehane, T. Burke, G. Rice.
Subs D. Coughlan for S. O’Sullivan (47), J. Crowley for G. Rice (55)
Referee: D. O’Leary (Watergrasshill).