And while Hayes would love to see his native county finally ending a 28-year wait for the Liam MacCarthy Cup, the romantic in him suspects that Waterford could yet finish the season as champions.
While the majority of pundits are still plumping for a Kilkenny-Tipperary decider, it wouldn’t surprise Hayes to see Galway and Waterford contesting the September 4 showpiece.
And if that’s the case, Hayes could see Derek McGrath’s Waterford finishing the job.
He said: “I could see Waterford winning it. They’re a good side and have some super hurlers. The display young Austin Gleeson gave at Croke Park last Sunday was as good as I’ve ever seen.
“I know Pauric Mahony nailed every free and scored a few points from play but go back a long way and you don’t see as good an individual display as Gleeson’s.”.
“I have a funny feeling Galway will beat Tipp on Sunday and then it’s 50-50 for the final but Waterford would have huge momentum going into a final after beating Kilkenny.” Hayes is optimistic about Galway’s chances as he’s noticed a new consistency in their play this summer.
And even though the second half against the Cats in the Leinster decider was the kink in their campaign so far, Hayes insists that it wasn’t as bad as many pundits, Ger Loughnane very much to the forefront, made out.
He said: “Ridiculous to be honest with you. People said to me that Kilkenny weren’t trying in the first half – absolute rubbish.
“Galway, in fairness, contained them to a certain extent in the second half and if you exclude Richie Hogan, we would have been leading with 15 minutes to go.
“We saw what this guy can do and he kept Kilkenny in the game last Sunday.
“But the Leinster final wasn’t a (Galway) collapse – the goal that drew Kilkenny level came out of nothing and it’s a typical Kilkenny goal. Galway were a bit lax defensively and bang, a goal.”
Galway got back to winning ways with an All-Ireland quarter-final defeat of Clare but Hayes admits that if they can’t back it up with another big performance, they’re back to “square one.”
He said: “If they don’t turn up on Sunday, they’re back to square one.
“That’s the worry you’d have but I think they’re consistent, to be fair to them.
“But you’d say after last year that Tipp have improved, they’re playing a steadier, more balanced game.
Which teams are relegation candidates this season?