To think there was once a time when Conor Hayes was unable to make this Tralee CBS team.
Following his hat-trick heroics in Saturday’s “rollercoaster" Corn Uí Mhuirí decider, Tralee joint-manager Tim McMahon revealed that match-winner Hayes had occupied the bench during his early years at the school.
“He has never actually been on this team up until the last couple of years because he was very small,” explained McMahon.
“All of a sudden now, he is flourishing. Physically, he is becoming more developed. It is coming to the fore that his skillset is absolutely amazing. That was always going to come to fruition as long as he kept playing. He is a very, very confident young lad and he showed out there the talent he has.”
No question but Tralee CBS would not have ended a 13-year wait for Corn Uí Mhuirí glory on Saturday were it not for Hayes. The extent to which his fingerprints are smeared all over this win makes it difficult to know where exactly to begin in outlining his contribution.
As the clock spilled into first-half stoppages, towering full-forward Sean Quilter touched down to Hayes a long ball into the danger area from Joe Lenihan. The corner-forward, as he’d later admit, was aiming for a point, but his kick instead sailed in over the head of Brendan’s ‘keeper Eoin Moynihan who was positioned a couple of metres off his line.
Tralee had played with a gale at their backs in the opening half. Hayes’ goal , their second of the contest, helped them to a 2-10 to 1-4 interval advantage. It was, however, to prove their last score in 19 minutes as the Sem, buoyed by having the elements behind them upon the restart, kicked eight points without reply to cut the deficit to the minimum.
Ryan O’Grady and Emmet O’Shea — from play and the placed-ball — led a Brendan’s revival which seemed destined to end with their opponents suffering a third final defeat in four years. Crucially, though, the Killarney students never got back level. The closest they came was a Jason Kerins kick which dropped into the hands of assured Tralee ‘keeper Devon Burns.
It was Hayes who stemmed the Sem tide when delivering Tralee’s first score of the second period on 49 minutes. And although Quilter had a penalty kept out by Moynihan in the subsequent action, he immediately won and converted a free to push their lead back out to three, 2-12 to 1-12.
On 53 minutes, Tralee moved a step closer to ending their 13-year long wait. Darragh Reen fielded a Moynihan restart before rampaging through the the opposition and offloading to Hayes who finished to the corner.
Four minutes later and Hayes’ hat-trick and the victory were complete. Their opening goal scorer Jordan Kissane and sub Sean Kennedy, who has played underage soccer for Ireland, were central to a move which ended with Hayes goaling palming the ball home.
“It was worrying when the Sem brought it back to a point,” reflected joint-manager Mike Tim O’Sullivan.
“We knew we had great fitness in our camp. We knew the last 10 minutes was going to be a place where we were going to pounce. When the game opened up with 10 minutes to go, our skill kinda shone through. We made hay.”
Added Tim McMahon: “What a rollercoaster ride it was. Nine points up at half-time, they get it back to one, and then we miss a penalty before going on to win by nine. Every emotion you could possibly have was out there.
“To win means an awful lot to the school because the school is traditionally a football school.
This is what we have been striving for for so many years. To get the biggest accolade in Munster and now be going on to the Hogan Cup is a huge thing for our status as a football school.”
C Hayes (3-2); J Kissane (1-3); S Quilter (0-5, 0-2 frees); F O’Brien (0-3, 0-1 free); D Burns (0-1 ‘45), C Purcell (0-1 each).
E O’Shea (1-5, 0-4 frees, 1-0 pen); R O’Grady (0-6, 0-2 frees, 0-1 ‘45); W Shine (0-2, 0-1 mark); M Cooper, P Looney (0-1 each).
D Burns (Na Gaeil); L Chester (Austin Stacks), E Carroll (Austin Stacks), N Fitzmaurice (Austin Stacks); P White (John Mitchels), A Heinrich (Austin Stacks), R O’Sullivan (Na Gaeil); J Lenihan (Churchill), C Horan (Austin Stacks); J Kissane (Austin Stacks), D Reen (Na Gaeil), F O’Brien (St Pat’s Blennerville); C Hayes (Kerins O’Rahillys), S Quilter (Austin Stacks), C Purcell (Austin Stacks).
S Kennedy (Annascaul) for O’Sullivan (46 mins); D Moriarty (Ballymacelligott) for Heinrich (58); C Myers (Austin Stacks) for Purcell (61).
E Moynihan (Glenflesk); R Doyle (Fossa), M Cooper (Dr Crokes), N O’Shea (Dr Crokes); T Doyle (Dr Crokes), T Sparling (Dr Crokes), E Looney (Dr Crokes); E O’Sullivan (Legion), M Lenihan (Dr Crokes); J Kerins (Dr Crokes), R O’Grady (Legion), P Looney (Dr Crokes); W Shine (Legion), D Callaghan (Firies), E O’Shea (Fossa). Subs: H Buckley (Fossa) for O’Sullivan (56); C O’Leary (Legion) for T Doyle, F Holahan (Rathmore) for E Looney (both 58); P O’Leary (Kilcummin) for P Looney (61).
J Griffin (Kerry).