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Damien Hayes: 'The one thing I’ll be telling the younger players is not to make the game any bigger than it is.'

The Galway player spoke to us earlier in the week.

Hayes has urged his teammates not to get carried away by the hype of Sunday's game.
Hayes has urged his teammates not to get carried away by the hype of Sunday's game.

HAVING ALREADY BEEN on panels that have lost two All-Ireland Finals in what has been a long and distinguished career, Galway’s Damien Hayes knows time is running out for him to claim the one honour in the game that has eluded him thus far.

However, while they obviously weren’t easy to take, these losses afforded Hayes some crucial experience, putting the player in the perfect position to guide some of the side’s younger contingent through the build-up to Sunday’s game.

“The one thing I’ll be telling the younger players is not to make it any bigger than it is,” he says. “It’s another game. It’s an All-Ireland final, but no bigger than a semi-final. It’s still 70 minutes, two halves, and 15 aside. It’s about keeping it as simple as that.”

And Hayes admits that, in the past, he may have been distracted by the magnitude of the occasion, recalling Galway’s last appearance appearance in the final (in 2005) with regret.

“You are able to deal with the hype an awful lot better now. But on the day of the match, we did miss opportunities that we should have scored. We did play well enough to win, but we didn’t convert, then conceded soft scores down the other end. Collectively that was it.”

He continues: “I was in the panel in 2001, as well, at only 19. You don’t forget what that dressing room is like after. There’s huge disappointment. There’s a whole year preparation, really, gone into it, and for some players even longer. For me it’s nearly 11 years of my life, preparing, so it’s not a nice place to be.”

There has been more disappointment too in recent years, which led a number of ex-players to (perhaps somewhat harshly) criticise Hayes and his colleagues. Yet the player insists he didn’t take issue with their comments.

“Sure they were perfectly entitled to [criticise the team]. Every man has his own opinion, and the right to say what he feels. We didn’t play well against Dublin last year, simple as that. Then we played Clare and Cork and put in top-eight performances, and then against Waterford, we were burnt. We’d trained so hard, and just didn’t play well. There was no in between with us last year. We just didn’t play well on those two particular days, and that was disappointing.”

At the age of 30, lesser players would have lost their hunger by now, particularly in light of some of the considerable disappointments and injuries Hayes has suffered, however the player indicates there was never any danger of him developing a lax attitude.

“Well true I’d had the knee injuries, and the operations worked well. In fairness I’d spoken to the management in November. They knew I’d a lot of commitments this year, getting married, business as well (Hayes works at Al Hayes Motors in Portumna). They spoke about the training, I told them I was on board, and the following Tuesday Mattie rang to say they were happy with my attitude, and enthusiasm, and was part of the plans.”

He adds: “And the commitment is getting more and more, every year. Huge, and getting married to Claire at the end of the year, and building a house. But you just have to organise your time, and when you get that bit older you do.

“But the trainer is getting harder. There is so much more required than 10 years ago. People don’t realise it. I’m sorry. People haven’t a clue. Training four nights a week, at 7pm, so I’m out of work at 5, trying to get something to eat, then onto the pitch before training for some physio, an hour and a half training, then an hour and a half home, from Athenry, so it’s 10.30, 11 when you’re home.”

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And the increased intensity of the training isn’t all that’s changed of late. Hayes has been handed a new role in midfield this year, and while he may contribute less points nowadays, the unseen work he performs has helped the side improve considerably over the last 12 months.

“Well there were lots of things tried this year. Four games in the Walsh Cup, two games in the Railway Cup, the league and two relegation matches.

“But against Dublin I switched out to midfield, and enjoyed it. Playing in the corner you’re waiting for the ball, concentrating, trying to make runs. You might make 20 runs in 20 minutes and you might touch the ball only twice.

“When you’re out the field you’re more involved, and our team is so young, Mattie said it first, that my role is now gone from expected to score 1-3 in every game, my new role is to create from five to 10 points per game, for other players. And Mattie said to me one day my role is to bring lads into the game, to make unselfish runs, and it was a new system. I only scored one point in the Leinster final, but I did a lot more than score one point.”

Moreover, given his age, there were naturally initial question marks over whether Hayes would have the engine required for such a role. He explains the secret to his subsequent success.

“I don’t drink, and mind myself. When you’re younger you’d be eating the Supermacs, but you wouldn’t now. You’d be minding the recovery, get into the sea, and take time outs. You can’t go to the hurling wall all the time.”

In addition to thriving in his new role, Hayes points to their loss to Kilkenny in the league as being somewhat of a blessing in disguise, as it ultimately aided their significant improvement thereafter.

“Sure that was the makings of us, to be honest. Everything changed, and the set-up actually got a lot more enjoyable. A lot more messing, and that’s being honest. It’s got serious when required, but we went 100 per cent on ball drills, our hurling got sharper, and we went with players in more familiar positions, and I came up with a more roaming role… There was no doubt our game with Dublin was the most intense. That stood to us, big time.”

And while another final loss would surely be heartbreaking for the player, Hayes insists he will retain a philosophical attitude regardless of the outcome on Sunday.

“[A win] would mean a lot. No more than it would mean to Tony Og, or whoever. That’s why you play at the highest level, to win the Celtic Cross, the All-Ireland medal. You have ups and downs along the way, but you stay positive. I’ve had ups and downs along the way, but thankfully I’ve won All-Irelands with Portumna, and I’m as enthusiastic about the game as I was 10 years ago.”

Read: Daithi Regan: “This game is not a question of Galway’s ability as hurlers, it is their ability to face up to a juggernaut.”>

Read: Don’t touch that dial… here’s the sport on TV this weekend>

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