A hugely popular figure throughout hurling since he came into Babs Keating’s Tipp set-up in 1988, Hayes has been inundated with support from inside the game, including a surprise message from Kilkenny’s Jackie Tyrrell.
Heading into Semple Stadium to watch last week’s Tipperary SHC final, Hayes had no idea of the storm about to blow up.
“It was out of the blue. It’s the last thing I expected. I was going over to the county final and I got a text from the county chairman Michael Bourke: ‘Are you around Thurles today?’
“He said himself and John Devane, the vice-chairman, wanted to meet me.
“I met them after the match under the Old Stand in a referee’s dressing room. I’d say it lasted around two minutes. He told me, you’re 30 years with us and thanks for all the years. The management feel they want to change.
“That’s it. Good luck. All over and done with in less than two minutes.
“What really hurt me altogether was I never even got a phone call from Michael Ryan.
“I’m an Upperchurch man, like Michael, and so is Michael Bourke. I know Michael Ryan since he started school.”
Hayes stewed on the news for 24 hours before sending a brief message to the Tipperary players’ WhatsApp group.
“I put up a WhatsApp message to the lads on the Monday. And just said that I was informed my services were no longer required as a kit man. I said ‘not my choice’. And said thanks for everything and the best of luck to ye.
“Then I started getting phone calls and texts from the boys. Within two minutes of sending the WhatsApp, Darren Gleeson was the first to ring me.
“Noel McGrath rang me. Obviously, the Sarsfields lads were celebrating after the county final but I got text messages from them. Paudie (Maher) said he was still trying to digest it and he’ll talk to me in a few days.
“They were all thanking me for all the years and how I looked after them so well and treated them like nearly they were my brothers.
“Nicky English rang me. I’m not on Twitter but my sister told me Gordon D’Arcy was tweeting about it.
“Would you believe I got a text message from Jackie Tyrrell. I thought it was very nice of him. ‘Hotpoint, so sorry to hear you leaving the Tipperary set-up. We’d many great battles over the years. The best of luck to you in the future’.”
There was support too from the hurley-carrying fraternity, including long-serving Kilkenny kitman Denis ‘Rackard’ Cody.
“Rackard Cody rang me. He told me DJ Carey had contacted him to wish me the best of luck and say he was disappointed with how it had turned out.
“And Tex (Galway hurlers’ kitman James Callaghan) in Galway told me Joe Canning was talking to him and said it as well.”
A baffled Hayes then decided to contact Tipperary manager Michael Ryan.
“I rang Michael Ryan then on Tuesday morning. I said: ‘Michael, I’m very very hurt over what you’ve done. And not even the decency or courtesy of a phone call’.”
Ryan told him he believed the handling of roles within the set-up was better dealt with by the county board, but Hayes disagrees.
“I was never appointed by the county board. I was a volunteer. I said: ‘You’re the man carrying the torch, you’re the boss. If you wanted Jack the Ripper there, he’d be on the backroom team’.”
Hayes, nicknamed Hotpoint due to his many years working for the domestic appliance firm, is mystified as to the true reason for his departure.
“I don’t know what’s fully behind it. It’s very hurtful. I still feel I have a lot to offer. On matchdays and at training.
“If they wanted to get rid of me, fine. The could say: ‘Look John, you’re there long enough.’ Let me retire and blame health reasons or something, anything at all. But do it right.”
The kitman job is expected to go to Brian Stakelum, who Ryan brought in to help Hayes when he took over as Tipp manager.
“Mick said to me two years ago, when he became manager: ‘I see the amount of work you do’. There’s huge workload even in training.
“Players only bring their hurleys, boots and helmets to training. Everything is there hanging up for them when they come in.
“There’s a lot of stuff to be done. Sliotars, water, cones, bibs, all that kind of stuff. He got Brian to help me out.”
Renowned for his explosive dashes onto the field to replace broken hurleys, Hayes rejects any suggestion he has slowed down in that department.
“Twice this year I had to run across to a player looking for a hurley on the far side of the field.
“They all have two spares. So a lad on the far side of the field from them would have their number three.“
And a lad nearest them would have their number two. So if they broke the hurley, he’d be there first.
“Twice this year, I was across with their number three hurley before the lad nearer them. So that argument doesn’t hold water.”
The unexpected conclusion to his time with the county has left a sour taste. Hayes now feels his three decades in the set-up were unappreciated.
“You’d be in there talking about the unit, and how tight it is and the respect, but there was no respect shown. At this moment in time, I’d say I wouldn’t go to see them again. I’d find it very hard to sit in the stand now.
“Two of my brothers and sisters said they’d never go to a match again. Just disgusted.”
And Hayes insists there is definitely no way back for him into a Tipperary dressing room, even if there is a change of heart from management.
“I wouldn’t go back now. If they came on their bended knee, I wouldn’t go back in.
I wouldn’t have anything to do with it now.”