It’s a big week in the club career of Jonny Hayes, as he ponders his options, but the sight of a potential competitive Ireland debut against Austria is also occupying his thoughts.
Like many of his colleagues in the squad, the Dubliner has taken a circuitous trek to this stage and a looming 30th birthday has all the more motivated him to capitalise on his popularity.
Aberdeen, for whom he scored in last month’s Scottish FA Cup final defeat to Celtic, are resigned to lose their mercurial winger, despite him agreeing a new contract earlier this season until 2019.
Brendan Rodgers, a familiar friend from their time together in the Reading youth ranks 14 years ago, is favourite to bring Hayes to Celtic, but both Cardiff City and Nottingham Forest are prepared to better the Bhoys’ €1.5m offer and €18,000-per-week salary. That dilemma could be resolved by the time Austria visit Dublin for a World Cup qualifier on Sunday and Hayes feels his performance for the 60 minutes he spent on the pitch against Uruguay at the weekend can only enhance his prospects of snaffling a starting slot.
“I hadn’t expected to be in the team against Uruguay, but was delighted to be thrown in,” admitted Hayes, who began on the left side before rotating with Robbie Brady on the opposite flank.
“We played well in patches and the win against a quality side was fully deserved, but at this stage it is all about trying to get into the team for Austria. I’m realistic, fully aware it is difficult to displace the lads ahead of me in the pecking order. For the last qualifier against Austria last November, I was sat up in the stand freezing cold, but sometimes you get a better view from up high.
“They are a good side with a lot of lads playing Champions League, and David Alaba playing for one of the best teams in the world, but I’d fancy playing against them.”
As a relatively late bloomer, Hayes only earned the first of his three caps 15 months ago as a late contender to break into the Euros squad. The pragmatist in him instead planned for pre-season training with Aberdeen that June, as the Dons returned from a break to prepare for the Europa League qualifying rounds. That didn’t stop him watching Ireland’s exertions in France, in particular Robbie Brady’s decisive goal against Italy in Lille.
“I’ll never forget that moment. We were in training at St Andrews’s and I had just got a club sandwich and Diet Coke delivered to the room when Robbie scored the winner. I was there by myself, but ended up jumping on the bed spilling Coke everywhere. I didn’t really get much support from the rest of the Aberdeen lads, considering we qualified for the Euros instead of Scotland.
“So, going from a supporter to being involved with the squad within 12 months is a terrific feeling.”
Securing his future at a club inhabiting a higher level will delight him.
“I just wanted to finish the season out with Aberdeen and there’s been a few things developing recently,” he admitted. “I have to take the interest as a compliment, because it means I’m doing something right. I can’t allow it distract me, though. This 362-day season for me finishes on Sunday with the Austria game. After that, I’ll be keeping my promise of bringing my son to Disneyland in Paris and then onto my next move.
“Whatever happens, the break will be short, just like last year. I really don’t mind, because there’s no place I’d rather be right now than with this squad in the run-up to Sunday. We’re in good shape heading into that.”
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