“You’re going back a fair few years there,” the Cork U21 manager quips when his own playing exploits at this level are thrown into the conversation.
Hayes was part of the Cork U21 panel from 1979-81, lining out at centre-forward on the team which overcame Dublin to win just the county’s third All-Ireland at this grade in 1980. He was captain a year later when Kerry were beaten by 0-11 to 0-5 in the Munster final at Austin Stack Park.
Notice a pattern emerging?
“We played Monaghan in the All-Ireland semi-final in Croke Park and we didn’t really know a whole pile about them. At that time, you wouldn’t really know what was going on in the other provinces. We got over them by 2-12 to 1-10, I think that was the scoreline, and we beat Galway after a replay in the final. We had a very good team at the time.”
Thirty-one years would pass before Hayes was again involved in an All-Ireland U21 semi-final. His memories of this one, though, are not so fond.
Having taken down Tipperary and Kerry to win the Munster championship during his maiden spring as U21 manager back in 2014, Cork, a team featuring present captain Stephen Cronin and Sean White, were expected to see off Roscommon in the All-Ireland semi-final at O’Moore Park. Instead, the Rebels spent the afternoon chasing the men from the west and when they eventually reeled in a six-point deficit at the death, they were rocked back on their heels by a superb Diarmuid Murtagh free which claimed victory for the Rossies with the last kick of the game (1-19 to 3-12).
Hayes recalled: “We let ourselves down two years ago against Roscommon by presuming that we were going to win that after beating Tipperary and Kerry in Munster. Roscommon got off to a great start and we were always on the back foot.”
Safe to assume, then, that Hayes’ latest batch won’t be taking Monaghan, who in winning Ulster bridged a 17-year gap to their last provincial title, for granted.
“They beat the All-Ireland champions. They haven’t conceded a goal. They defend in numbers and then are dangerous on the break. Conor McCarthy won a Sigerson with UCD. Ryan McAnespie does a lot of covering from wing-forward. Physically, they are very strong. We will need to be on our toes for each of the next 60 minutes to try and get out the gap.”
McCarthy, in particular, will require close attention, hardly surprising when you hear former Monaghan great Nudie Hughes liken the Scotstown forward to Colm Cooper.
“The thing is, Conor McCarthy has that vision like the Gooch. He is real canny. He will put the ball exactly where you should be, not where you are starting, and he has that finishing, he can score.”
Ronan O’Toole, who lined out at midfield in both Cork’s Munster quarter and semi-final victories, is expected to undergo a fitness test this morning to determine whether or not he will be a late addition to Cork’s match-day 24. Ballincollig’s Cian Dorgan received a late call up in Tralee and that didn’t work out too badly — the Cork sub providing the winner from an acute angle two minutes into stoppage time.
“That is what a panel is all about,” continued Hayes. “You try and bring it down to 24 for games. That is a challenge. You have to look for the best players for an overall panel because injuries do arise.”
On their Munster final win, the Cork manager expanded: “After watching it back, I mean our first-half performance against the wind was very good. We got goals at vital times. We just seemed to imagine that the wind was going to shove us on in the second-half. In fact, we stopped playing like we had been in the first-half and we really didn’t start playing again until the chips were down. It was good, though, to see how the lads responded when Kerry got back level.
“A couple were there from 2014, but a good few were picking up their first Munster medal. It does give you confidence, but you must now refocus on the next job. The dream from the start of the year was to win the All-Ireland. We have three steps gone. We have another step on Saturday and we have to approach that as we did the last three. It is going to be a tough challenge and we need to be ready for it.”
A Casey (Kiskeam); M McSweeney (Newcestown), J Mullins (Éire Óg), D Quinn (St Finbarr’s), K Flahive (Douglas), S Cronin (Nemo Rangers), K Histon (Cobh); S White (Clonakilty), S O’Leary (Bantry Blues); S O’Donoghue (Inniscarra), S Powter (Douglas), R Harkin (Mallow); B Coakley (Carrigaline), P Kelleher (Kilmichael), M Hurley (Castlehaven).
R Donovan (Nemo Rangers), S Daly (Dohenys), K Cremin (Boherbue), C Kiely (Ballincollig), E Lavers (Dohenys), S Sherlock (St Finbarr’s), D Ó Duinnín (Cill na Martra), S O’Donovan (Ilen Rovers), C Dorgan (Ballincollig).