Rested for the tour to Canada and the USA, John Hayes will enjoy what has become an increasingly uncommon occurrence for an international rugby player – a Test-free summer. In a rare interview, ‘the Bull’ talked to IrishRugby.ie about the highs and lows of the current season and his own playing future.
With another season done and dusted John Hayes can afford to sit back and reflect on some outstanding individual and team achievements in recent months.
He was an integral part of Grand Slam and Magners League-winning campaigns for Ireland and Munster.
A series of appearance landmarks were skittled over as Hayes became Ireland’s most-capped player, eclipsing Malcolm O’Kelly’s previous record, and he is also now the record caps holder in both the Heineken Cup and RBS 6 Nations.
And the best thing is – the 35-year-old has the appetite for more blood, sweat and tears as Munster and Ireland’s powerhouse tighthead.
No doubt he will spend the guts of the summer at home on the family farm in Cappamore in Limerick, with thoughts of rugby pushed to one side.
But having extended his contract with Munster until the end of next season, it is clear that Hayes will not rest on his laurels.
“I’ll go for another year anyway. If I stay injury free, stay enjoying it and as long as the managements for Munster and Ireland keep picking me,” he told IrishRugby.ie.
“It’s a great opportunity. I love doing it and I’ll try and stay doing it for as long as I can.”
September 1992. Hayes played his first game of rugby back then as a teenager in Bruff’s back row. They drew 0-0 with Newcastle West but the scoreline was irrelevant. He was hooked on the game.
It seems a world away from Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, the site of Hayes’ two Heineken Cup wins with Munster and Ireland’s historic 2009 Grand Slam.
Great highs no doubt, but getting over the disappointment of losing the Heineken Cup semi-final to Leinster earlier this month is still something Hayes is coming to terms with.
“From an Irish point of view, for those of us who have played for Ireland for a number of years, to win the Grand Slam was huge. We had been trying for years.
“But from the Munster point of view, to be caught at the semi-final stage in the Heineken Cup was disappointing.
“If you look back over the whole year, the Grand Slam was brilliant…I’m still hugely disappointed over the semi-final, but that’s the way it goes.”
The gentle giant could be forgiven for wanting to settle for the winners’ medals he currently has locked away.
Yet it is clear that the determination and drive is there to get Munster back where so many feel they belong, as champions of Europe.
“It would be good to get another crack at the Heineken Cup again next year,” he admitted.
“We’ve played so much in it over the years and put so much into it to try and be successful.
“We’ve had some great years, two great wins in finals, but we’ve had some other disappointments. That’s all part of it.
“It would be great personally for myself and for the whole Munster squad to get back and have a go at it again next year.
“It’s a great competition, it generates huge interest in Ireland and Europe.
“Croke Park packed to the rafters just shows the esteem it’s held in in Ireland. It’s up there with every sporting occasion.”