The former Munster lock turned in a man-of-the-match performance as Cork Con collected a record fifth successive Bateman Cup title, overcoming a relegated Old Belvedere 18-13 in Saturday’s decider at Anglesea Road. First half tries from Liam O’Connell and Hayes and eight points from out-half Tomas Quinlan proved just enough.
“I suppose in the second half we had a few (scoring) opportunities and didn’t close them out at all. If we play like that next week against Clontarf, it’ll be a completely different result,” admitted Hayes, who is determined to avenge last May’s 28-25 defeat to ‘Tarf.
“We like to win matches, it doesn’t matter what competition it’s in. Five-in-a-row in the Munster Senior Cup was a big thing for the club and this (Bateman Cup) was as well, and we’ve one more to do next week.
“Definitely that last (defensive) stand will stand to us, Belvedere were coming in wave after wave. Clontarf have had a week off, that will benefit them in a way. But this will tighten us up (in defence), especially with the way Clontarf attack. It was the perfect game in terms of preparing for the league final.”
Hayes’ second row partner Conor Kindregan is an injury concern for Con’s 30th match of the season after going over on his ankle, while head coach Brian Hickey conceded it will be ‘a bit of a battle’ to get experienced flanker Graeme Lawler, who missed the Belvedere game with a hamstring injury, fit for the rematch with Clontarf.
“Our experience from last year is that the most important job ahead of us now is to try and get a full squad to select from for next weekend.
“I suppose the pleasing thing from our point of view is that two of our younger players, Sean O’Leary and Ross O’Neill, have very much stepped up in the last few games. Obviously the more senior players bring experience, but I’m delighted we’re now getting the opportunity to bring the younger players through.
“The players will celebrate tonight but we know that we’re just going to have a huge game with Clontarf - the form side in the past two or three seasons - so we just need to get ourselves right for that. We’re very much underdogs and hopefully, we’ve learned the lessons from last year.”
The All-Ireland double hunters cruised into an early 10-0 lead against Belvedere. The in-form Quinlan fired over a 5th minute penalty and it was his skip pass that played in winger O’Connell for the opening try three minutes later.
It looked ominous for Belvedere but their 20-year-old out-half Paul O’Keefe got them off the mark with a 22nd-minute penalty - cancelled out by Quinlan - before hooker Ed Rossiter, an impressive carrier throughout, barged over for a converted try on the half hour mark.
However, Con captain Niall Kenneally claimed the restart and O’Connell’s quick feet and excellent offload sent Hayes over past Danny Riordan in the right corner, the big forward showing great athleticism to reach out and dot down while avoiding touch.
Quinlan missed two second-half penalty attempts in the swirling wind, the latter after the visitors’ dominant scrum should have set up a try, and Willie Staunton’s successful 66th-minute kick had the gap down to five points. Nonetheless, Con stood up Belvedere’s late siege with Hayes and replacements Liam O’Connor and O’Neill all making crucial interventions.
A relieved Hickey added: “We’ve had some great battles with Belvedere in the last couple of seasons and today was no different. (The defence) had been the hallmark of our games, it has improved dramatically as the season has gone on. But I think the best thing today was the spirit we showed to defend.”
D Riordan; S McDonald, J Kennedy (capt), S Coughlan, D Brandon; P O’Keefe, B Butler; A Howard, E Rossiter, D Lavery, J Kelly, K Miller, T de Jongh, P Pritchard, J Slattery.
C O’Flynn, J McWilliams-Gray, C Owende, M Oyuga, M Ritani, K McCarthy, W Staunton.
S Daly; L O’Connell, N Hodson, N Kenneally (capt), JJ O’Neill; T Quinlan, J Poland; G Duffy, V O’Brien, G Sweeney, B Hayes, C Kindregan, S O’Leary, J Murphy, L Cahill.
L O’Connor, G Roche, C Barry, R O’Neill, J Higgins, R Jermyn, M Clune.
David Wilkinson (IRFU)