JOHN HAYES popped up on the outside, five metres from the Leinster line and with the clock running deep into the second half as Munster went in search of a final try to land another piece of silverware for the province.
It could have been Twickenham, 11 years and a day ago, as Munster tried to win their arm-wrestle with Northampton in their first Heineken Cup final. But this was the 38-year-old Hayes at Thomond Park on Saturday, putting in yet another titanic shift to help his team win the 2010-11 Magners League title.
“Absolutely incredible isn’t it,” Munster head coach Tony McGahan said following the 19-9 win over Leinster. “For him to keep going the way he does and what he has done for Munster and Ireland for so long (is amazing). For him to finish off the game and get a pushover try against a quality scrum like Leinster’s was fantastic.”
It was only Hayes’ third full 80 minutes of the season and his first full run since October 29, as the veteran tight-head prop with more than 200 appearances for Munster and 100-plus for Ireland has been carefully managed through the latter seasons of his distinguished career. Yet McGahan had no thoughts of replacing him midway through an epic battle with Leinster.
The coach explained: “He was travelling pretty well, we keep a close eye on him and see how he is moving around but he was throwing himself around like a young man.”
Hayes’ work-rate and commitment to the cause continues to impress team-mates and with talk of the Bruff prop possibly stepping away from the game to return full-time to his farm, Paul O’Connell said: “He’s an incredible character. To be left out there for 80 minutes at the end of the season and to get the pushover in the end, it’s great for him. He’s been an incredible servant to Munster rugby, and he’s a model for every young Academy player, in terms of being a no-fuss player. He just does his job and does it very well.”
As for the Bull putting himself out to pasture, O’Connell said of his famously low-profile team-mate: “You’ll have to ask him that, if you can ever get an interview off him.”
Remarkably, Hayes was in the mood to talk, so, had he played his last game for Munster? “I don’t know, that’s the honest answer. I’ll just wait and see how it goes. I feel fine now, but it’s like anything, when you get a win, things don’t hurt. But it’s the end of the season and I’m looking forward to a break now.”
It would, he agreed, be a great way to bow out if it was to be he last game for Munster, adding: “It was a great match, a great way to finish the season, anyway.”
And there is still the chance he will wear green again, for Declan Kidney and Ireland at this autumn’s World Cup in New Zealand. “We’ll wait and see,” he said with a smile.
“I’ve played 80 minutes all my career so it’s nothing new to me. I’ve been doing it for years. I haven’t done it much this year, maybe, but I have done it every other year.”
For now, though, there are matters to attend to back on the farm: “I’ll go straight home because it’s a busy time of the year and I have to get jobs done.”
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