One of the most popular Irish internationals on the current scene, John Hayes beat off competition from Donncha O’Callaghan, Shaun Payne and David Wallace to be crowned Munster’s Senior Player of the Year at a ceremony at Cork’s Silver Springs Hotel on Saturday night.
Never one to seek recognition, the 33-year-old prop Hayes, who has become a cornerstone of both the Munster and Ireland packs, was cheered to the rafters by the 500 guests present when he picked up his award at the inaugural Munster Rugby awards, held in conjunction with the Irish Examiner.
The Cappamore man, who came fresh from Munster’s 15-7 Magners League win over the Dragons, admitted it was “a real honour” to be recognised by his team mates and the voting public as Munster’s Senior Player of the Year. Hayes was a resounding winner, receiving over 40% of the public vote.
Another big winner on the night was the legendary Tom Kiernan, who was inducted into the Munster Rugby Hall of Fame. The Corkman, a former Munster, Ireland and Lions captain, has had a long and distinguished career in rugby, particularly with Munster – he was a member of the Munster team that beat Australia at Musgrave Park in 1967, the first Irish provincial side to beat a major touring team. Having been President of the Munster Branch in 1977/78, he stepped up the next season to memorably coach Munster to victory over the All Blacks.
Garryowen, who will feature in next Saturday’s AIB League Division One final, were proclaimed as the Munster Senior Club of the Year, following their wins in this season’s Munster Senior and Junior Cups and the AIB Cup.
Munster Academy prop Darragh Hurley, who has made the senior step-up with the province this season by playing in the Heineken Cup and Magners League, claimed the Young Player of the Year award while the John McCarthy Academy Player of the Year gong went to Ireland Under-20 winger Keith Earls.
Other club awards went to Sunday’s Well, for Mini rugby, and Tralee RFC (Youth club), while Douglas RFC received the Junior Club of the Year honour.
The School of the Year award went to Presentation Brothers College, Cork, Shannon’s Paula O’Connor was named the Women’s Player of the Year, while George Clancy completed a hat-trick of such for the Bruff club, following Hayes’ success and the Limerick side’s victory in Saturday’s AIB League Division Three final, as he was honoured as the Referee of the Year.