A groin injury means it is almost four months since the young Limerick hurler last saw game-time. The 19-year old, having been confined to the gym all winter, returned to light training this week. Competitive action however remains a few weeks in the distance yet.
Hayes made his first championship start for the Limerick seniors on June 4 last year. And it was a week after this Munster semi-final defeat to Clare that his groin began to trouble him. The UL student took a week off, then hurled away until the Munster U21 final win over Cork at the end of July.
Declaring himself unavailable at that point was a non-runner so he managed the groin as best he could, taking two weeks off training in between the county’s All-Ireland U21 semi-final and final victories, a campaign where he was so impressive at centre-back.
Club commitments, thereafter, saw his hurling year stretch until the end of October, with Kildimo-Pallaskenry winning the Limerick intermediate title.
“When I tried to go back in advance of the 2018 season, it was very sore. I knew there was something badly wrong and so I went for an MRI in early December,” Hayes explains.
“There was a tear at the top of the groin where it meets the pelvis. I thought I was only going to be out for three or four weeks. As I got into it, though, the rehab was very slow.”
In hindsight, Hayes knows the wise option would have been to step back last summer.
“We were going well with the U21s so I wanted to keep playing and get a bit of silverware. Given how last year finished with the U21s, you want to just continue on from that and keep pushing on. Whether it was with UL in the Fitzgibbon or Limerick in the league, I didn’t mind. It’s been frustrating missing the entire Fitzgibbon competition.”
Having lived in the shadow of neighbours, Mary Immaculate College, in recent years, Hayes, a second-year student at UL, says outright success was their target from the outset.
“The pedigree of player in the squad is first class and even if I was fit, I’m not sure I would get a place.”
Four of the UL team — Gearoid Hegarty, Sean Finn, Tom Morrissey, and Barry Murphy — have also contributed to Limerick’s fine start in the league. Hayes has been encouraged by the county’s early spring showings — John Kiely’s men are three wins from three.
“We have 10 Na Piarsaigh guys missing, Graeme Mulcahy is still injured, Declan Hannon was injured for a bit, while Darragh O’Donovan is now injured.
“They are all big players and yet, there has been someone to come in and take their place. It shows the depth we have.”