THEY buried Tim F. Hayes in Clonakilty recently. It took four strong men to lower his coffin into the grave.
Tim F was a big man in every way, big in stature, big in reputation as a player and a Clonakilty person, and huge in heart and courage.
For a generation of GAA supporters in Cork in the 1960s and 1970s, Tim F was a living football legend, especially in his native Clonakilty where he was adored and lauded for his tremendous feats on the playing pitches.
Big Tim F will never be judged by the number of medals he won because in his time as a Clonakilty player, the club was going through a lean time on the playing, as it attempted to emerge from the big shadow of the great Clon teams of the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
But in many ways the lack of success was the making of Tim F’s legend because at a time when Clon needed leaders and heroes to inspire them again, he was the player who stood head and shoulders above all others.
The nearest Tim F came to the elusive county senior medal was in 1968 when he came within inches of winning the game from a 60-yard free in the dying minutes against a star-studded Carbery side. Many Clon supporters would claim forever that the ball was definitely heading over the crossbar but was diverted inches outside the post by the hand of fate. Clon lost the replay and Tim F never played in another final. But it only added to the legend.
Lining out in that final were two of his brothers, Flor and Pat, Finny being too young at the time. Flor is championed by many as the most talented footballer ever to play with Clon but he was a completely different player than Tim F. While Flor was class personified, Tim F was a moving mountain, all heart and spirit.
Having learned his football from Tadhg Ó Neill in the boys’ primary school, he graduated to St Mary’s secondary school and was marked for stardom from his underage days. His career in the red and green senior shirt of Clonakilty began as a big 16-year-old in 1962 and he played his last senior game in 1980. Tim F played three years on the Cork minor team, 1962 to 1964, just missing out on Cork’s first-ever minor football All-Ireland title in 1961.
Tim F also played for five years on the Cork U21 team, the crowning moment coming in 1963 as a 17-year-old when Cork beat Kerry in the Munster final in Clonakilty, Flor and Tim F doing most of the scoring for Cork. Unfortunately, there was no All-Ireland U21 championship in those years.
Tim F’s senior career with Cork began in 1966 but for various reasons, he never really settled in the red shirt as he did in the red and green. He was most unfortunate to lose out on an All-Ireland medal in 1973 because niggling injuries kept him off the panel.
All through his football career, Tim F alternated between midfield and the forwards and his scoring rate was phenomenal. While still a minor, he scored 3-5 against Macroom seniors even though he was being marked by Cork full back Timmy O’Callaghan. He was to maintain that scoring habit all through his career with Clon.
While some would describe Tim F as a gentle giant, there was nothing soft about his play on the field and there was always a glint in his eye and a touch of devilment in his play. Like the day Clon played Bandon in a hurling game and Bandon were awarded a 70. Don Desmond, one of Bandon’s best, stood over the sliotar, ready to take the free. The referee was running in towards the goal, back turned to Desmond as the Bandon man lifted the ball to strike. Enter Tim F, noticing the referee wasn’t watching and he ran in from behind and hooked Desmond, ball falling to the sod. The big fellow almost got away with it, too, but the linesman had seen it and Tim F was booked.
Gone but never forgotten, the legend of Tim F Hayes will grow with the telling.