BY KIERAN McCARTHY
JOHN Hayes is enjoying home comforts in the build-up to Sunday’s date with destiny.
Rewind two years ago before the 2014 Cork SFC final against Ballincollig and the Carbery Rangers’ marquee forward was living in a house on the Old Blackrock Road in Cork city, so he was removed from the excitement, buzz and colour that swept across Rosscarbery.
These days, however, Hayes (31) is back in his family home in Burgatia, and now makes the daily commute from Rosscarbery to work at Bord Gáis Energy on Lapps Quay.
With excitement levels rising this week ahead of Sunday’s final, the former All-Ireland winning Cork forward is keen to strike a balance between enjoying the build-up and not getting carried away.
‘I missed a lot of the build up at home the last time,’ Hayes said, ‘and this is an occasion that is there to be enjoyed and fellas should enjoy it.
‘I don’t believe in shutting yourself into a dark room for the week before a big game, you need to get out of the house and you’d get a kick out of seeing the signs around the place.
‘When you meet people you chat away but you don’t want to get caught in long-winded conversations.
‘You need to be in the right frame of mind. It is a final so there is extra background stuff going on, but you can’t lose sight of the fact that it’s still a game of football. Once the ball is thrown in on Sunday, it’s 15 against 15, two teams going out to win a game of football.’
The last time Carbery Rangers and Ballincollig met in the county championship, as we all know, was the 2014 county final that Ballincollig won, 1-13 to 1-10. A day that promised so much ended in heartbreak, but Hayes won’t dwell on that hurt and disappointment in the lead-in to this Sunday. You can’t change the past.
‘We will probably touch on it, but in the way that you would talk about a team that you previously played and the lessons that you learned from playing them,’ he said.
‘Ballincollig are an excellent team, we got a good start that day but they battled back and they never stopped going – that’s the kind of team that they are and you saw that again in the semi-final against Nemo this year.
‘2014 is gone, it’s two years ago, it’s a whole new ball game again on Sunday, a new game, a new day.
‘You hurt after every championship game you lose and that stores up and it can motivate you, but you can’t dwell on it either because it can be a negative. Sunday is an opportunity for us to win a game of football, it so happens to be a county final, but we will concentrate on our jobs and if we have the right work-rate and attitude, hopefully it will go our way.’
Racking up 2-21 en route to Sunday’s final, the Ross forward was in devastating form in the semi-final win against Avondhu, kicking 1-8 and six of those points from play. The return to form couldn’t have come at a better time because he wasn’t happy with his 0-3 tally (all from frees) in the quarter-final win against Valley Rovers; the Ross go-to forward expects more from himself.
The entire Ross team, he says, needs to move up through the gears this weekend.
‘We definitely need to be better,’ Hayes said.
‘We weren’t great against Clyda, we got the result but we weren’t too excited about the performance. Against Douglas we wanted to avoid the back-door because there was some good teams in there, and we played well for the most part against Douglas but let it slip a little. We had a good second half against Valleys and we had a better performance against Avondhu so hopefully we are building at the right time.’
Carbery Rangers must be better, he reiterates, pointing out that Ballincollig now are as good as they were two years ago, if not better.
The late David Bowie sang about Changes, and sometimes a change of direction and a change of voice is what’s needed to breathe new life into a team.
When Micheál O’Sullivan, manager from 2012-2015, stepped down late last year, it signalled a change for Carbery Rangers, who have been the most consistent team in Cork club football this decade – six semi-finals in seven years – but have yet to win a Cork SFC title.
John Hayes feels a big difference to Ross this season has been the new management team, with former Cork selector Ronan McCarthy taking over as manager. It was the right move at the right time.
‘They have brought a new freshness to the set-up that maybe we didn’t have in the last couple of years, that’s the biggest change,’ Hayes said.
‘Micheál O’Sullivan was a brilliant coach with us, we didn’t want to lose him because he really took Ross to another level when he took over, with Colin Murphy as the physical trainer, but Ronan McCarthy and Maurice Moore have joined this year and they brought a new approach. They have given an opportunity to guys who are on the fringes.
‘Getting a different perspective from someone who is objective about the team is a good thing.
‘Every coach has their own unique style. Ronan concentrates on different aspects in training than Haulie (Micheál O’Sullivan) would have. Ronan does a lot of technical coaching drills while Haulie would have played a lot of games. There is no right way or wrong way, I have enjoyed both approaches.
‘I think it was important that Ronan had no preconceptions about players or individuals when he came in, he was a complete neutral observer so he came in and opened up the team, so players who weren’t getting the breakthrough in previous years got the chance to show what they can do.’
If that change is enough to push Carbery Rangers over the line, we’ll discover on Sunday afternoon.
READY TO GO AGAIN
Sunday will be John Hayes’ third Cork SFC final, having won with the Carbery divisional team in 2004 before the defeat to Ballincollig two years ago. In ’04, Hayes, his older brother Seamus, Declan Hayes and Kevin MacMahon were on the Carbery divisional panel that defeated Bishopstown in that year’s final, winning 1-11 to 0-7. Former Ross manager Micheál O’Sullivan was captain of that victorious Carbery team.