John Hayes Q&A: ‘It was more a case of cold water poured over your head’

Ireland legend John Hayes on facing England, attitudes towards concussion, and life outside rugby.

John Hayes Q&A: ‘It was more a case of cold water poured over your head’

John Hayes enjoyed a lengthy career in the front row for Munster and Ireland. He won 105 caps for Ireland, toured with the British and Irish Lions, and represented Munster over 200 times, becoming the first player to line out in 100 Heineken Cup games.

Q: You’re not involved in sport now at all?


No, not at the moment anyway. I’d miss the banter, the bit of crack you have in the team environment with the lads, I enjoy meeting up with the likes of Quinny (Alan Quinlan) for that. I don’t miss the games that much, but around this time of the year you have the Six Nations going on and you’d think about it. I looked forward to the games. You’d miss it a little bit now alright.

Q: Did you taper down training or did you walk out the door?


I walked out the door. I kept going a little in terms of training but I didn’t take away a training programme or anything. I just kept an eye on things, basically, and wound it down.

Q: Did you lose weight on retirement?


Yeah, I lost a little bit. Not being in the gym a few days a week, you’ll lose some of the bulk that you had. But there’s a fear that you might put on the kind of weight that you don’t want, so I try to make sure I don’t do that.

Q: Eating properly for so long, you don’t suddenly start wolfing chocolate and pizza when you stop playing?


No, you get into good habits, and you’re so well educated as a professional that eating properly becomes a habit. I still enjoy a treat but it’s not a treat if you have it every day, is it?

Q: Spoken like a man used to talking to children about sweets. Ireland v England this weekend: what sticks out?


We had some very good days against England. One of the biggest results was beating them in Lansdowne Road in 2001, and then three years later we beat them in Twickenham. That was their first game back at home after winning the Rugby World Cup a few months beforehand. They had the Webb Ellis there, and there was a party atmosphere — which we spoiled by winning the game. And that game put us on the road for a first Triple Crown in years, so it was crucial in terms of that season as well.

Q: Anyone ever surprise you with their strength?


No. You get used to it over time in the front row. There were some huge men but they were only as strong as they were big, if you like. It wouldn’t frighten you.

Sometimes it was a smaller player who’d surprise you with their strength at the breakdown, for instance. Someone like Brian O’Driscoll — he’s not that big a man but was seriously powerful at the breakdown over the ball. He was as good as any forward because he had that massive physical strength.

Props were different. Someone like Os du Randt was just a massive man, but it wasn’t exactly a surprise when he

turned out to be hugely strong.

Drico would surprise you when he was stuck in over the ball.

Q: Was a growing awareness of concussion on the horizon as you wound down?


Concussion was always there, but the culture of ‘you’ll be okay’ was more the case years ago It was more a case of cold water poured over your head and a rub of the towel — now, away you go. And for some players there was almost a badge of honour in it, fellas who might say ‘we won and I can’t even remember playing on’. It was almost a case of how hard they were. When you see the results of all the research now, though, it’s a huge issue.

It’s an injury whether you like it or not and has to be treated as such.

If you’d asked me when I was playing — in the middle of the Six Nations, with a game coming up — how I was, and I had a concussion, I’d have said ‘I’m fine’. The player will want to play, and the decision has to be taken out of the player’s hands. No player is going to say he doesn’t want to play in a Six Nations game next week just because he got a knock last week and he feels fine when he’s asked. He might feel a lot different when he plays in the game the next week if he’s concussed, obviously. As a retired player looking back now you’d only realise that it’s a sporting career that’s over and gone, and you have so much more ahead of you. It’s a decision that has to be taken out of your hands and it’s right that it is.

Q: Are you healthy now?


No, no major injuries. The neck isn’t painful but it wouldn’t turn too much. And the wife is a physio, hopefully she’ll keep me going. Looking at some of the lads who had a lot of operations or who had to retire because of injury, I realise how lucky I was. I got right to the end and was never wearing any strapping, other than on my ear because it kept splitting open. Lucky enough.

Q: Have you been to many matches since retiring?


I’m retired four years and the first three years or so I didn’t go to many games, but in the last year or so I’ve gone to more. Talking to other lads, they seem to have done much the same — just gotten away from the game after retiring.

I went to the Wales game and that was a good buzz. There are a few lads still left that I played with — Rory Best, Jamie Heaslip — but they’re getting fewer and fewer. You’d have that connection obviously with the lads you played with, compared to the newcomers, but you’re a supporter, supporting them the same as anyone else.

Q: Are you going to any more matches this season?


I’ll have to see. It depends on whether I get the time off.

Q: I thought a farmer was his own boss?


Tell that to the cows inside in the shed.

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