John Hayes All-Ireland Diary

‘Leaving Bere Island on the ferry I swore if we won Sam Maguire, I would return with only the clothes on my back and the porter money in my back pocket.’

IT may be the Monday morning of All-Ireland final week but Sunday’s main event could hardly be further from my mind. I start my new job today with Bord Gáis Energy on Lapps’ Quay in Cork, a move which has also necessitated my relocation to the city from my West Cork home. In a sense, it’s the best possible distraction from the hype that goes with the build-up to an All-Ireland. I’m too busy to start getting wound up.

Leaving Rosscarbery last night the ‘Causeway’ was bedecked in red and white with signs wishing good luck to me, Kevin MacMahon and John O’Rourke (our minor and the only Ross man guaranteed to see action in Croke Park Sunday). Nonetheless it’s quite a big deal for a relatively small club like Carbery Rangers to have three guys involved on the day and interest is huge, as is the demand for tickets. With 13 siblings in my fathers’ family and five on my mothers’ side it's hard enough to try and look after my own relations. Generally I leave it to Margaret Hayes to sort out. She can deal with the hassle. I sort out a couple of my buddies and the people who went to the games all along.

I am approaching this week in the position of an almost certain non-starter. Inter-county sub can be a tough gig. All the same training, all the same sacrifices, but without the simple joy of playing. Five brief, late minutes in Wexford Park in the Qualifiers was the last action I saw. There are guys who have also burst their balls since January and yet have seen zero game time. We all suffered the same way out on Bere Island in April (more of that anon!). It goes with the territory. Though it can be frustrating, we are fortunate to be involved. I’ve been involved with the senior panel since 2004 and have seen time run out on some of Cork’s finest servants who have retired without the coveted and elusive Celtic Cross. Guys who still have much to offer are no longer on the panel for a variety of reasons, guys I would have played and trained with every year since I became involved and who were as dedicated and hard-working as any you will come across. Injuries could yet prevent Graham Canty, Anthony Lynch and Fintan Goold from lining out on Sunday. Any time your ego tries to get the better of you, such thoughts tend to keep you in check.

Yet, you cannot allow anything to colour your focus. As a rule of thumb, the longer you are involved at inter-county level the more selfish you become. That statement may startle some people but it’s true. You have to be. The panel needs all 33 doing all they can to push everyone else. You can only control what you do yourself and in that sense things could have hardly have gone better for me in the run-up. Three short A v B games have yielded four goals. I’ve been doing ok all year and have been pushing close to the team without much reward by way of game time. It’s not easy when the team is settled and you also have the ridiculously talented Colm O’Neill barring your way. I needed to take it up a level to try and convince Conor Counihan that I’m worth a run and I’ve done what I can now.

I’ve sat on my ass for our two previous All-Irelands and I’m desperate to avoid that same fate again.

DAY two in the new offices and it’s been a relatively painless transition so far. We have our last real training session tonight. My new location means that I’ll be able to get down early and avail of the services of either of our masseurs, Frank Cogan and Mick O’Leary. Frank was man of the match in the 1973 All-Ireland final and is as strong now as he was then. A sadist, though. He likes nothing better than digging his elbows with all his considerable weight behind it into my ‘IT bands’ (the side of your thigh). Special treatment he says he reserves for ‘wimps’ like me. An old man before my time he reckons, I’m wound up so tight. Not that Mick won’t hurt you as well, but I don’t quite get the same sense of dread when I jump onto his table. Both are absolute gents, though, and along with the rest of the backroom staff, in particular the incomparable Mick Curtin, are integral components of the Cork senior football machine.

Getting down early also allows for some free-taking practice as well. Goulding, Colm and Donncha will all be out. Our free-takers have come in for much criticism and I was delighted for Donncha that he stood up so brilliantly in the semi-final when the pressure was greatest. Such nerve will be needed again Sunday. With the free-taking over with, it’s time for a few pot-shots at goal. Ken O’Halloran will be between the posts bragging that not a shot has passed him all year (Lies!), while his fellow goalkeeper and frustrated north-side striker Paddy O’Shea will join the line-up taking aim. Quirkey will be off somewhere stretching muscles the rest of us don’t even know we have. Fiachra Lynch will be perfecting his Ronaldo (both in terms of free-taking technique and hair!). Kerrigan and Brian O’Regan can hit them too and Ken will be left grasping for air more often than not before Peadar spoils our fun and calls us in to start.

Training won’t be long tonight but it will be intense. We’ll go through Sunday’s exact warm-up, a few short sprints with Aidan O’Connell, our excellent physical coach, a few drills with Peadar and a 10 minutes a half game. Although the bulk of the training is done, a score or two in this short game can do no harm. The session takes about 45 minutes and during our cool-down, Aidan will remind us of the importance of eating well, water intake and rest. He stresses though not to worry too much if fellas are having trouble getting a good night's sleep. It is natural that the mind will be racing with thoughts of the final. Aidan assures us that this is just our bodies’ way of getting ready, and as one of the coaches for the Munster Rugby squad, Aidan knows a thing or two about preparing for the big occasion.

Some video analysis and a quick meeting follow. I’m hoping it won’t take too long tonight as I have important business to attend to... namely watching my beloved Spurs in their Champions League debut. It will be a race between Regan and me to get out the door first.

REST day. I might head to the sea for a dip later to help loosen out the muscles but if the weather is unappealing then it will be the couch for the evening. This downtime allows an opportunity to reflect on the year so far and the team’s journey in getting here. In that context, two words will resonate with this panel for some time to come, ‘Bere Island!’

‘Bere Island – Part 1’

Prior to the Easter weekend we were given notice that we would be away from Friday to Sunday and given a long list of items to bring with us. We were not told where we would be going. At 3 o’ clock on that Good Friday we found ourselves aboard the ferry from Castletownbere. Our destination: the Army Training Base on Bere Island. No sooner had we disembarked that we were running in file, fully-loaded bags on our backs, up the hill to our home for the next two nights in the barracks. Five minutes to change into our gear and reassemble in the courtyard. Everyone finally present and correct it’s time for bag inspection. First item: our club jersey. Everyone has that anyway. Wait a minute, what’s that you’re holding up Noelie, because it sure doesn’t look to be the blue and white of Kilnamartyra! Shuttle runs for Noelie and by a process of elimination he is soon joined by every member of the panel (I brought the wrong type of beans!). These army guys are straight out of ‘Full Metal Jacket’ and they mean business.

We are divided into four teams and these will be our groups for the whole weekend. First task is a stretcher run to the GAA pitch. One person from each group must be on the stretcher at all times and there are sandbags to be lugged down as well. Its tough going and Team Charlie are falling behind. At 12 and a half stone I’m the lightest in the group so the lads want me on the stretcher more often than the likes of Canty. I am happy to oblige.

The second ‘pitch’ on Bere Island is heavy and wet. An hour and a half of medicine balls, sand-bags and trawling under nets ensues. We are destroyed coming off that field. We run to a tiny cove on the western side of the island and are soon plunged fully-clothed into the icy Atlantic waters. This isn’t fun anymore. With no recorded drownings, our drill sergeant informs us of our next task. In our teams we are headed for the ‘tower’ atop a hill on the eastern side of the island. It is a good five or six mile run and, of course, there is more weights to be carried. These are offloaded at the pitch and it’s a race from here to the tower. The first group with all the members at the summit wins. Bere Island undulates more than the greens at Augusta and we are now very tired. At one stage, Graham and I are literally pushing Brian O’Regan up the hill even though I can barely drag myself up. However Paudie Kissane is already a mere speck on the horizon. When the last of us stumble to the tower we are reliably informed that we are standing on the second highest point of the island and there is only one place to go from here. Oh super. Conor and the rest of the management are waiting for us at the Cross on yonder hill and it’s every man for himself now. Energised, to a man we all make a burst up the hill. Ten yards later and my hands are on my knees and I’m fit to calve. I’m not the only one. Trudging onwards, I’m happy that I’m at least in the top half and there are more behind me than in front. When I reach the top and see Goulding smiling at me I’m gutted. I know he didn’t pass me. ‘Found a short-cut Hayser boy, what took ye so long?’ I could have decked him.

I’M starting to feel the week drag on at this stage. Some technical issues with the changeover at work slow down the pace, allowing a little too much time to think. Never a good thing. Over-analysis and over-thinking can cause you to tense up and waste valuable energy. I’m generally a pretty relaxed individual - and that’s the way I like to keep it...

My role as bench-warmer, which will be confirmed with team announcement tonight, helps take the edge off the nerves in this sense. Still and all 3.30pm on Sunday can’t come quick enough. I meet my brother for lunch and overhear the guy at the table next to us talking about taking his team to Bere Island doing some army training this weekend. I nearly lose the contents of my soup. I don’t know where he was from but I pity those dudes.

We will head to Páirc Ui Chaoimh for the final session of the year this evening, barring a draw on Sunday. It will consist of little more than a warm-up and a few shots at goal. The hard work is done. Another meeting (Conor loves them!) and maybe some last-minute video analysis will conclude the night’s work. Eoin O’Neill and John Murphy from Aghada are our stats men and they also prepare the DVD’s on the strengths and weaknesses of both us and the opposition. They break it down into the different areas Conor wants to focus on and the sessions never take more than 20 minutes. It was not always thus.

Billy Morgan is Cork’s greatest ever football manager. He brought me onto the panel when I was 19 and gave me my debut. The esteem he is held in by those of us who played under him until 2007 could scarcely be higher. His fingerprints are still on this team. Billy’s second coming, though, coincided with the advent of in-depth video analysis in the GAA. Suffice to say Billy was maybe not as ‘au fait’ with video technology as the two lads. It was old-school VCR, pause-and-rewind when Billy wanted to highlight something we’d done wrong - which was often. A two-hour session was not unheard of and during one such marathon after a particularly hard training, Johnny Wycherley of Ilen Rovers drifted off to the land of nod. Billy copped this but let the video run through and made his point. He motioned to one of the lads to wake Johnny and then asked him what he thought of what was said! ‘Very good Bill, ya’ says Johnny. The room erupts. All I’ll say is that Johnny was lucky Billy was in one of his good moods.

We get our last dinner in the ‘Temple Inn’ and say thank you to Mae and all the girls for the great food all year. Brian O’Regan’s girlfriend Joanne is the chef and the salmon is unreal. A rare treat when we get it. Little things like that make a difference. Beats eating chicken and pasta after every session.

TGIF! The week is done and I will head home to Rosscarbery tonight to sort out the last of the tickets and gather a few pieces for tomorrow’s trip to Dublin. The club are training and I might go down for some final shooting practice. The club have been very good to Kev and I and Johno as they would not see us as often as they would like. With the demands of inter-county football we might only be with the lads maybe once a month and then the week coming up to championship, but no-one gives us any hassle. Home to the couch then and Tony and the rest of the Sopranos are my company for the evening. More time to think...

‘Bere Island – Part 2’

Four hours in and my legs are seized by cramp at the bottom of the hill to base camp. I crawl the rest of the way. Very cranky now. We are not done yet and are told to reassemble in the yard at 10.30pm. In our groups we head off to various locations on the island, under cover of darkness, to bring back whatever bounty awaits. We must do this without being caught by the army rangers who will patrol the roads. Team Charlie takes off and progress is slow. Every muscle and sinew in our bodies ache and motivation is low. We just want our beds. All, that is, except Cadogan. He is full of beans after adopting a watching brief for the days’ activities. Team Charlie successfully completes our mission and five minutes before the deadline of 1am, return to camp. Bed is merciful relief. We won’t be there for long.

At 5.30am we reconvene in the courtyard for a ‘light’ 3-mile jog. Breakfast is devoured and we are split into teams of three for Orienteering. I’m paired with Canty and Fintan. A good result I reckon. Three bright fellas we should be fine. We are given maps with more locations marked and told not to come back with less than 100 points, and in no more than 2½ hours. These are the only rules. The further the marker is from base, the more points it is worth. We set off and head for the village. We are in no condition to run or to go very far and are planning our strategy when Paddy O’Shea cycles past. Better is to come. We stand on the road bamboozled. ‘Chugga, chugga, chugga..what’s that coming?’ A scooter whizzes past and Regan turns round to give us a thumbs up. Eoin Cotter is on the back laughing. The city trio head off into the distance and the dopey country boys are left stranded. Langers! All bets are off now.

A car passes and all I can see is Shieldsy giving me the finger from the boot. The blood is boiling now. Another soon approaches and we are not letting this pass without us getting in. Luckily the local inhabitants are more than friendly and don’t hesitate to offer a lift. Just one problem. Space might be tight. Colm O’Neill, Noelie and Ger Spillane are crouched in the back hiding. We are getting in regardless and I take the boot. Our chauffeur takes us to the furthest off point of the island and we head up the hill to where we will find the 80 point marker. We go off-road with only the sheep for company and I’m getting worried as we get nearer and nearer the Atlantic and have found no marker. Show me that map. We are way off. We are lost and have only an hour to make it the seven miles back. We have collected 0 points. Tired, sore and very cranky we abandon task and head back to the road to flag down another car. A small two-seater van stops and six Cork footballers bundle into the back. My face is squashed against Fintan’s big ass and my ankle is contorted somewhere behind my ear. As the best actor, Colm is nominated to fake an injury and we carry our ‘fallen’ comrade up the hill to base. ‘Couldn’t do it lads, Colm turned his ankle’. They weren’t buying it.

As it turned out only one group did the whole thing by foot. Stand up Anthony Lynch, Daniel Goulding and Paddy Kelly. Their faces when Regan flew past on his scooter were worth the trip alone. We left the following day. Bere Island is a beautiful place and leaving on the ferry I swore that if we won Sam Maguire I would return with only the clothes on my back and the porter money in my pocket. I hope to be able to follow through on that promise.

AFTER a sound night’s sleep in my own bed, I pack my gear for Dublin and hit the road. My only stop on the way to Cork is to visit my father’s grave at The Pike between Ross and Clonakilty. Dad passed away in February, 2008 after a long battle with cancer. He was an avid Carbery Rangers and Cork supporter and would have been anxiously looking forward to the weekend ahead. He is always in our thoughts, but these big match days bring memories flooding back. Hope we get the result this time, Dad.

I board the bus earlier than most to ensure I get one of the table seats. It’s nearly always the same guys in the same seats. Shieldsy, Colm O’Neill and Donncha messing down the back. Ger Spillane will be alongside them taking no notice. Kieran O’Connor and Goulding discuss the form. Noel falls asleep. Ciarán and Fiachra just sit there being good-looking and Walshie tries and fails to stay out of trouble. When Aidan came on the panel last year the management asked John Miskella to keep an eye on him and look out for him. Johnny has him ruined. The banter is good and helps pass the journey. Going by bus is a departure from protocol that we have embraced this year and has the added bonus of keeping us away from the crowds at the train station. The further you can detach yourself from all the hype the better. An All-Ireland is a huge occasion for everyone else but for the players it’s another game. That’s all we need to focus on. Our hotel base in Killiney is also a help in this sense as it’s a long way from the bluff and bluster of The Burlington. The food is superb and several turkeys and whole hams are required to feed the hungry troops. Pearse O’Neill accounts for one of each on his own! We puck around with hurleys on the grounds to pass away the time and Donncha O’Connor from Ballydesmond holds his own with Colm, Ciarán Sheehan and a few of the more skilled hurlers. Indoor pursuits when it rains include fiercely competitive games of table-tennis and Playstation. I’m rubbish at both so I tend to try and avoid embarrassing myself. Even old man Miskella beat me on the Playstation before the Dublin game. Nicholas, Colm and Paddy Kelly are the table-tennis kings.

I room with Conor O’Driscoll from Ilen Rovers. He is one of the quietest members of the panel which suits me as I like to do most of the talking. We get on well but he did let out a few snores before the semi-final so the I-pod had to go on. It’s only karma as before I got my adenoids removed a few years back I was pretty bad for snoring myself. One week at training camp in La Manga, poor Niall Geary gave the entire week on the sofa bed as he couldn’t sleep beside me. Nice guy that I am, though, I offered to take the sofa one night so Gears could get a decent kip. It was the most uncomfortable contraption I ever lay down on and I could not for the life of me get to sleep. At 3am I figured it was safe to go back into my bed, sure Gears was sound asleep now there’d be no bother. I woke in the morning and Niall was back on the sofa. Sorry, man! A cup of tea and some chocolate I smuggled from the Leisure Centre are enjoyed watching ‘Match of the Day’ and I settle down for the night. I usually sleep well and hopefully tonight will be no different.

Tomorrow, things get serious...

FINAL PREPARATIONS: The Cork panel training last week. Above, the Cronin’s coach which carried the team to Croke Park on Saturday. Pictures: Lorraine O’Sullivan, Cillian Kelly

We are in no condition to run or to go very far and are planning our strategy when Paddy O’Shea cycles past. Better is to come. We stand on the road bamboozled. ‘Chugga, chugga, chugga... what’s that coming?’ A scooter whizzes past and Regan turns round to give us a thumbs up. Eoin Cotter is on the back laughing. The city trio head off into the distance and the dopey country boys are left stranded. Langers! All bets are off now.

A car passes and all I can see is Shieldsy giving me the finger from the boot. The blood is boiling now. Another soon approaches and we are not letting this pass without us getting in. Luckily the local inhabitants are more than friendly and don’t hesitate to offer a lift. Just one problem. Space might be tight. Colm O’Neill, Noelie and Ger Spillane are crouched in the back hiding. We are getting in regardless and I take the boot. Our chauffeur takes us to the furthest off point of the island and we head up the hill to where we will find the 80 point marker. We go off-road with only the sheep for company and I’m getting worried as we get nearer and nearer the Atlantic and have found no marker. Show me that map. We are way off. We are lost and have only an hour to make it the seven miles back. We have collected 0 points. Tired, sore and very cranky we abandon task and head back to the road to flag down another car. A small two-seater van stops and six Cork footballers bundle into the back. My face is squashed against Fintan’s big ass and my ankle is contorted somewhere behind my ear. As the best actor, Colm is nominated to fake an injury and we carry our ‘fallen’ comrade up the hill to base. ‘Couldn’t do it lads, Colm turned his ankle’. They weren’t buying it.

As it turned out, only one group did the whole thing by foot. Stand up Anthony Lynch, Daniel Goulding and Paddy Kelly. Their faces when Regan flew past on his scooter were worth the trip alone. We left the following day. Bere Island is a beautiful place and leaving on the ferry I swore that if we won Sam Maguire I would return with only the clothes on my back and the porter money in my pocket. I hope to be able to follow through on that promise.

AFTER a sound night’s sleep in my own bed, I pack my gear for Dublin and hit the road. My only stop on the way to Cork is to visit my father’s grave at The Pike between Ross and Clonakilty. Dad passed away in February, 2008 after a long battle with cancer.

He was an avid Carbery Rangers and Cork supporter and would have been anxiously looking forward to the weekend ahead. He is always in our thoughts, but these big match days bring memories flooding back. Hope we get the result this time, Dad.

I board the bus earlier than most to ensure I get one of the table seats. It’s nearly always the same guys in the same seats. Shieldsy, Colm O’Neill and Donncha messing down the back. Ger Spillane will be alongside them taking no notice. Kieran O’Connor and Goulding discuss the form. Noel falls asleep. Ciarán and Fiachra just sit there being good-looking and Walshie tries and fails to stay out of trouble.

When Aidan came on the panel last year the management asked John Miskella to keep an eye on him and look out for him. Johnny has him ruined. The banter is good and helps pass the journey. Going by bus is a departure from protocol that we have embraced this year and has the added bonus of keeping us away from the crowds at the train station. The further you can detach yourself from all the hype the better. An All-Ireland is a huge occasion for everyone else but for the players it’s another game. That’s all we need to focus on.

Our hotel base in Killiney is also a help in this sense as it’s a long way from the bluff and bluster of The Burlington. The food is superb and several turkeys and whole hams are required to feed the hungry troops. Pearse O’Neill accounts for one of each on his own! We puck around with hurleys on the grounds to pass away the time and Donncha O’Connor from Ballydesmond holds his own with Colm, Ciarán Sheehan and a few of the more skilled hurlers. Indoor pursuits when it rains include fiercely competitive games of table-tennis and Playstation. I’m rubbish at both so I tend to try and avoid embarrassing myself. Even old man Miskella beat me on the Playstation before the Dublin game. Nicholas, Colm and Paddy Kelly are the table-tennis kings.

I room with Conor O’Driscoll from Ilen Rovers. He is one of the quietest members of the panel which suits me as I like to do most of the talking. We get on well but he did let out a few snores before the semi-final so the iPod had to go on. It’s only karma as before I got my adenoids removed a few years back I was pretty bad for snoring myself. One week at training camp in La Manga, poor Niall Geary gave the entire week on the sofa bed as he couldn’t sleep beside me. Nice guy that I am, though, I offered to take the sofa one night so Gears could get a decent kip. It was the most uncomfortable contraption I ever lay down on and I could not for the life of me get to sleep. At 3am I figured it was safe to go back into my bed, sure Gears was sound asleep now there’d be no bother. I woke in the morning and Niall was back on the sofa. Sorry, man! A cup of tea and some chocolate I smuggled from the Leisure Centre are enjoyed watching ‘Match of the Day’ and I settle down for the night. I usually sleep well and hopefully tonight will be no different.

Tomorrow, things get serious...


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