AS he enters his 19th club championship season, John Hayes shows no signs of slowing down.
Since he made his championship debut for Carbery Rangers in a 2002 Carbery JAFC first-round game against Gabriel Rangers, the Ross attacker has racked up a phenomenal 27-444 in 93 championship games – that’s an average of almost 0-6 per game over 18 seasons.
He kicked 0-2 against Gabriels that day and he hasn’t stopped scoring since. His remarkable consistency over the years is one of the reasons why he is ranked among the finest forwards that Carbery has produced.
Hayes (35) will be Carbery Rangers’ go-to man again in the upcoming Cork Premier Senior Football Championship as Ross contest the West Cork Group of Death with Castlehaven, Ilen Rovers and Newcestown.
‘John is a constant producer. Many teams have tried to man-mark him and double-mark him but he still racks up six, seven points a game. He is an extremely consistent producer and that consistency comes from the consistency of his preparation,’ explains Ross boss Micheál O’Sullivan, who is also a former club-team of Hayes.
Together, they helped Carbery Rangers rise from the junior ranks through intermediate and into senior in a magical spell in the mid-noughties. O’Sullivan is better placed than most to explain why 2010 All-Ireland winner Hayes is a cut above other forwards.
‘John has a fantastic temperament. Even if he isn’t fully fit he will produce on the day of championship because he is a very smart footballer, a very experienced footballer and is extremely skilful. As the years have gone on he might have lost a yard of pace, but he makes up for that with his football brain,’ O’Sullivan says.
Hayes’ scoring record is remarkable. Pouring over old match reports, from junior up to senior, we have found only two championship matches where he didn’t score – one was his second championship game ever (2002 Carbery JAFC quarter-final loss to Tadhg MacCarthaigh) and the other was a 2004 Munster IFC clash against Dingle when he was injured but came on as a sub.
His free-taking is one of the reasons why he’s scoring average is so high (some early match reports didn’t include frees scored so we haven’t an accurate tally of his total frees) but an impressive chunk of scores are also from play. Against Castlehaven in last season’s Cork SFC Round 2 game in Skibbereen, he led the way, again. He finished with 1-9, and of that 1-4 was from play.
He is a man for the big occasion. He’s never flustered. When Carbery Rangers won the 2016 Cork SFC title he scored 2-26 in five games, an average of over 0-6 per match. Rewind back to 2003 when he was a Cork minor, Hayes was man-of-the-match in the Carbery JAFC final against Barryroe and also in the Cork JAFC decider against Cill na Martra.
Season after season, he has consistently produced the goods for Carbery Rangers. Because of that, he can demand high standards off those around him. He backs up his talk on the pitch.
‘John is an extremely strong character, very demanding of standards that the team should be attaining and that rubs off on the players around him,’ Micheál O’Sullivan explains. ‘He turns up every day and his team-mates know that. Look at his consistency, look at his experience, look at all the backs that have tried to shut him down and haven’t been able to.’
It’s a credit to Hayes that he’s still leading the Ross attack in his mid-30s, but he keeps himself in great shape while he hasn’t suffered from any serious injuries either.
Of the 93 championship games (Carbery JAFC to Cork SFC) we looked at, he started 90 and was a used sub in three – the 2004 Munster IFC clash against Dingle, the 2006 Cork SFC win against Bantry Blues (had broken a bone in his hand) and the shock 2019 Cork SFC loss to Ilen Rovers. The only championship match he has missed in those 18 seasons was the ’06 Cork SFC loss to Clonakilty. That’s incredible consistency. He has also won Cork JAFC, IFC and SFC medals, as well as Munster and All-Ireland IFC medals during his club career.
When Tom Lyons selected his finest Carbery football team of the past 50 years, he included John Hayes. He described the Ross man as ‘a living legend,’ ‘a match-winner in almost every game he plays’ and as one of the greatest footballers Carbery Rangers has ever produced. When you see the stats, it’s easy to understand why Hayes is rated so highly and regarded as one of the best club forwards in the county for almost two decades.
There are very few senior clubs he hasn’t tormented, and against Castlehaven he has scored 3-35 in seven championship games between 2009 and last season – that’s an average of just over six points per game. He also likes the sight of the Clonakilty jersey as he’s scored 2-25 against his neighbours in five championship battles.
Considering he’s not turning 36 years old until January 2021, Hayes still has loads to offer, starting against Castlehaven in a few weeks’ time.
Since Carbery Rangers began life in the senior ranks in 2006, John Hayes has scored against the 20 clubs he has faced. St Finbarr’s is the club that the Ross sharp-shooter has racked up the most scores against (2-45, 27f, 0-1 pen) while he has also been a thorn in the Castlehaven side over the years, hitting 3-35 (2-0 pens, 22f) in seven championship games. Other teams Hayes has clocked up high totals against in the Cork SFC include Ballincollig (2-30), Clonakilty (2-25), Douglas (1-19) and Ilen Rovers (2-15).