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'I told him, 'I'm writing about you on Sunday, and I think you should read it'

Liam Hayes is this week’s guest on Behind the Lines, and spoke of writing about himself, Sean Boylan, and his Meath team-mates in his playing days.

Liam Hayes with Dublin's Paul Bealin in the third Meath/Dublin clash of 1991.
Liam Hayes with Dublin's Paul Bealin in the third Meath/Dublin clash of 1991.
Image: ©INPHO

LIAM HAYES IS this week’s guest on our sportswriting podcast, Behind the Lines.

If you’re unaware, the podcast features an interview with a sportswriter about their career and their favourite pieces of writing. 

It’s available exclusively to members of The42, so to sign up and gain access to a 26-episode back catalogue, head on over to members.the42.ie. 

Hayes’ sportswriting career is remarkable, partly because he spent some of it writing about himself: he combined a senior inter-county career with Meath – usually spent at the sharp end of the Championship – with a job as Chief sportswriter with the Sunday Press. 

“It worked out well, by and large, although there were times when it became confusing and difficult”, said Hayes. 

“Through that era from ’86 to ’91 we were lucky enough, we turned a corner. For the first five years of my Meath career we won nothing. The second six years, we were in Leinster finals and All-Ireland finals nearly every year. 

“So obviously I was writing about all those games. That was awkward but it was my job and I had to do it. Sean Boylan and my team-mates accepted it so they never pressured me. It was not something you’d favour, but it was my job and it had to be done. 

“It was awkward. Then, as now, most people at a high level of sport want to go into their bubble and keep their counsel, and anything you say about yourself or your opponents, you want it to be fairly neutered.

“But I had an audience and an editor to deliver for, therefore I had to break out of that bubble and I had to write an awful lot about myself. I tended to write about myself and my own role as much as possible, rather than my team-mates in the dressing room. 

“Very often I’d have to write about my own team-mates as well, and the opposition. I interviewed Jack Sheedy, who I was playing against, before one Dublin game, and I interviewed  Dermot McNicholl, a star on the Derry team, a week before we played them int he All-Ireland semi-final in 1987. 

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“In those days you could phone anybody, and the person on the phone would say yes or no and then you’d go to meet them. Neither party would ask for permission. 

“It’s a bit mad when you look back at it now, but that was my existence then.”

Hayes said he rarely had an issue with what, by today’s standards, is a bewildering double-life. (He was at risk of missing the 1988 All-Ireland final replay as he was supposed to cover the Olympics in Seoul, until his editor came to a compromise and sent someone else to Korea.) 

During his career, two of his team-mates briefly fell out with him over something he had written, he said, while manager Sean Boylan never had an issue. 

I was always my own harshest critic. I decided early on that was the way I should do it, and keep the bar very high for myself. By doing that, I think it allows you to comment on your team-mates and the opposition with the same degree of honesty. That’s what I tried to do. Some opponents took umbrage, but it seems crazy looking back now, I didn’t get very many verbals or much reaction on the field. 

“I wrote about Sean Boylan quite a lot. Before an All-Ireland final I wrote a 3,000-word piece about Sean, and funnily enough, that was the only time I showed Sean Boylan (a piece.)

“It shows the remarkable level of trust he had in me: that was the only time in 12 years I ever showed him an article. He didn’t ask to see it. I told him before training on Tuesday night, ‘Listen, I’m writing about you on Sunday, it’s going across two pages and I think you should read it’, because there were some criticisms in the article, like the fact he was always last to arrive at training sessions: I made the point he drives very fast but is always last to arrive at places. 

“I showed him the article and he said fine, and didn’t change a word of it. That show’s the trust he had in me, he is a remarkable man.”

To listen to the full interview with Liam, subscribe at members.the42.ie. 

To listen to highlights from the last dozen episodes in the series for free, head on over to our Soundcloud. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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