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Thursday 29 June 2017

'It took me 30 seconds to make call on Celtic'

Hayes could face Linfield on competitive debut for Bhoys

Celtic’s treble-winning manager Brendan Rodgers might be returning home to Northern Ireland for a Champions League clash with Linfield next months - if the Belfast club can beat San Marinese champions La Florita first
Celtic’s treble-winning manager Brendan Rodgers might be returning home to Northern Ireland for a Champions League clash with Linfield next months - if the Belfast club can beat San Marinese champions La Florita first
Jonny Hayes

Jonny Hayes admits it took Brendan Rodgers just 30 seconds to sell him on the "complete package" on offer at Celtic.

The Dubliner sealed his £1.3million switch from Aberdeen over the weekend and is now eyeing up a first taste of Champions League action.

Irish international winger Hayes is facing the prospect of a volatile competitive debut with Celtic after the Scottish treble-winners were paired with Northern Irish champions Linfield in yesterday's Champions League qualifying draw.

The Belfast club first have to negotiate a two-legged round with the champions of San Marino, La Florita, first, but the likelihood is that Hayes will be facing Linfield next month.

The 29-year-old also had offers from south of the border from the likes of Cardiff on the table as he weighed up his Parkhead move.

But the winger revealed it took only a few words from Rodgers - who he previously worked with during his days as a teenage trainee at Reading - to convince him to stay in Scotland.

He said: "As soon as Aberdeen gave Celtic permission, I spoke to Brendan and within 30 seconds I knew I wanted to come.

"I knew there might be a chance I was going down to England. My agent Barry Hughes had set a few things up for me and I could have gone.

"But as soon as Celtic became involved it was the only place I wanted to come.

Fantastic

"My heart was set on Celtic from the minute I spoke to the manager. He's infectious. I'd been waiting all day for the phone call. It was about six or seven at night when he finally called, I don't think I'd spoken a word in that first 30 seconds other than 'hello' and I was sold.

"He's fantastic to work for. It's a long time since I worked with him at Reading but there are a lot of other major factors in me wanting to come here. There's the size of the club, the chance to play out there in front of 55,000 every week, the chance to play in the Champions League. So many things that when you put it together, you realise it's the complete package."

Hayes was part of a Dons line-up which finished a distant second to the Hoops last year, as well as losing to the Glasgow giants in both domestic cup finals.

And he admits he had to overcome his own doubts about whether he could make the grade at Celtic Park before agreeing to his three-year deal.

However, having been convinced by Rodgers he has what it takes, Hayes is now determined to break into a side that went the whole of last season without losing to Scottish opposition.

"The manager told me the squad has been quite flexible this year, being adaptable with formations and rotating players," he said. "He sees me as part of that. That was enough for me.

"I know I have played quite regularly up the road over the last few years but coming into a squad of this ability, it's going to be quite a challenge to get into the team, especially after the season they had last year.

"There's no doubt I'll have to raise my own game. Last season we finished a number of points behind Celtic at Aberdeen.

"I've come here knowing it's going to be hard getting into the team but I'm looking forward to the challenge and the prospect of getting to play with guys like Scott Sinclair, Leigh Griffiths and Scott Brown. I've got full confidence in the manager that he can improve me as a player. Since I moved to Scotland Celtic has always been the pinnacle of Scottish football and I'm delighted to finally be here.

"The way the manager talks about the club is so infectious. If he thinks I can do well for his team that gave me that little bit more confidence.

"There's no doubt about it, you do have self-doubts, how am I going to fit in there? But speaking to the manager, that phone call, was enough to give me the confidence that I can do it."

Hayes' former club Aberdeen also tweeted yesterday that the midfielder has promised to refund any Dons supporters who have bought the club's new jersey with his name on the back.

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