KIERAN McCARTHY caught up with Cork substitute Áine Hayes, from Rosscarbery, ahead of Sunday’s All-Ireland final, and was left suitably impressed by her dedication and desire
ÁINE Hayes fully believes her time will come.
The 24-year-old Rosscarbery footballer is closing in on her fifth All-Ireland senior winner’s medal in her fifth season on the Cork panel, but she’s yet to feature in an All-Ireland final.
Áine has had to bide her time on the subs bench over the past five seasons, waiting patiently for her big chance, and she feels she’s getting closer.
‘Being a sub, some days are tougher than others, and it is hard,’ she admitted, ‘but this is the first year that I feel close to breaking onto the team. I came on in the Munster final against Kerry in Killarney; that was a great experience.’
Brought on in the last ten minutes of that 2-8 to 0-7 win against Kerry in their own backyard, Áine picked up her second Munster medal to go with her four All-Irelands and four national league Division 1 medals. It’s an impressive haul, and it makes it easier to understand why Hayes comes back year after year, even though she’s not a regular.
‘We are all so lucky to be involved in such a successful team,’ said Áine, who works as a marketing executive with Ronan Daly Jermyn in Cork city.
‘A lot of people have asked me if I would prefer to be a sub on the Cork team or a starting player on a lesser team, but even if you are a sub on this Cork team you become a better player by training with the best and learning from them. To be able to train and play with the likes of Briege (Corkery) and Bríd (Stack) is fantastic.’
The irony is that it’s the likes of Corkery and Stack that are keeping Hayes out of the Rebel defence, but she feels she’s inching closer to that starting line-up under new manager Ephie Fitzgerald.
You couldn’t question Eamonn Ryan’s decision to stick with his tried and trusted players during his 11 years in charge, or fault his logic either – they’re the best players available so they play.
When Fitzgerald took over this season, it was a fresh start for everyone, Áine included – jerseys were up for grabs.
‘I played a few league games this year, which was great to get. It was a level playing field, it was a clean slate because a new manager came in and he wanted to have a look at everyone,’ Áine explained.
‘With Eamonn he knew the older girls since the start and there was a loyalty there, and you can understand why – Cork were winning All-Irelands and they were performing year after year.
‘To be fair to Ephie, he has given everyone an opportunity and that’s seen everyone become even hungrier to win a place on the team.’
She added: ‘I have been edging closer and closer. And you know when you are given an opportunity you have to take it because the girl beside you will do the exact same. We all want to play. We know we have only a lend of the jersey for the minutes we are on the pitch, so you need to make the most of it.’
When current number one Martina O’Brien was called up to the Cork senior football panel in 2013, Áine Hayes was the first player she made contact with.
Martina knew Áine from the West Cork football scene, and it made sense to touch base with her, seeing as she had been involved in Eamonn Ryan’s panel since near the middle of the 2012 season.
Since then, the Bal woman and the Ross woman have formed a great friendship. They sit beside each other on the bus, they now room together on away trips, and they’re great sounding boards for one another if either needs advice.
Áine might not have the profile of other Cork ladies footballers but within the set-up she is one of the most popular figures – and that says a lot about her as a person as well as a footballer.
‘Being from West Cork, and me playing with Clon and Áine with Ross, we’d have known each other, and she was the first person I contacted before I went to my first senior training: she made it so much easier for me, made me feel part of it straightaway,’ Martina explained.
‘Áine is so easy going. She is one of the most dedicated and hard-working players on the panel, and she is one of the fittest as well.
‘She’s great with new players, she’s so welcoming and so easy to approach – exactly like she was with me.
‘She also makes the long bus journeys fly by,’ Martina laughed, before adding: ‘I remember ahead of my first All-Ireland, Áine helped me with the little things, telling me to bring this and bring that, and what to expect. If I feel I’m not playing as well as I can, she’s great to talk it out and help.’
Certain players have their partners. The O’Sullivans, being sisters, are grouped together. Then you have the senior players together, like Briege Corkery and Bríd Stack, and you also have Áine and Martina, with the latter urging the Ross woman to keep fighting for her big chance.
‘There are a few players there, Áine included, who have been biding their time over the last few years but it’s extremely hard to break into this team. You have to keep plugging away and putting in the effort because you never know when you’re time will come,’ Martina said.
After the West Cork ladies’ senior divisional team blitzed Beara, 4-14 to 1-7, in a recent county championship quarter-final in Dunmanmay, West Cork manager Brian McCarthy had no hesitation in picking Áine Hayes out as the best player on the pitch. And she was, by a distance.
‘She led by example, she was a real driving force and was a leader for us,’ McCarthy said of his centre back, who was a joy to watch that day, in defence and attack.
Her game is improving all the time, by being involved in the Cork set-up for five seasons and training with the best players in the country, and now by playing senior championship with this new divisional team.
And remember, she’s still only 24.
Already, Áine has achieved a lot on the GAA field, even though she doesn’t hail from what you would call a traditional football family.
From Castlefreke, she’s daughter to Ann and Tossie, and sister to six brothers, Brian, Eamon, Ciarán, Frank, David and Tomás, and one sister, Ailis.
Áine started played with Rosscarbery when she was seven and went on to win several underage medals. She was named Sports Person of the Year in Mount St Michael’s secondary school in 2009, she won a county intermediate and U21 club titles, captained UCC in college and also played underage with Cork. It’s an impressive football CV for Áine (who made her first appearance for Cork in the 2013 league against Tyrone), and one that could improve even more this Sunday when Cork take on Dublin in the TG4 All-Ireland ladies senior football final at GAA HQ.
Her answer: It’s an addiction.
The question: Why do you keep coming back year after year when you know how hard it is so break onto the team?
One of Áine’s highlights on All-Ireland final weekend arrives on Sunday afternoon – the Garda escort from the hotel through the capital to Croke Park.
‘It’s a great experience, you really feel you are part of something special,’ she says, but what keeps her coming back season after season bursts into life once the game is over and Cork, as has been the case in ten of the last 11 years, celebrate victory.
‘It’s the desire to win,’ Áine said.
‘Those few minutes in Croke Park, after you win an All-Ireland, it’s the most addictive thing you could ever experience. When you taste it once, you want it more and more.
‘We have done over 100 sessions since the start of the year and I know once the season is over that I’ll miss it. Playing on this Cork team is an addiction, it’s a part of your lifestyle that you can’t imagine not being there.’
Several years ago, when Áine was involved at underage level with Ross, the club organised a bus to travel to Croke Park to watch Laura McMahon play for Cork in an All-Ireland final; we’re talking possibly ten years ago.
Áine, eyes wide open, was impressed with what she saw.
Turning to her trainer, Pat Lane, she told him that she’d love the opportunity to play in Croke Park some day. Fingers crossed her wish comes true this Sunday; she’s earned it.
And even if it doesn’t come this weekend, she’ll keep working until she gets there.