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Sunday 22 October 2017

O'Neill's Ireland call is no wind-up for late bloomer Hayes

Jonathan Hayes thought his Ireland call-up was a wind-up. Photo: Sportsfile
Jonathan Hayes thought his Ireland call-up was a wind-up. Photo: Sportsfile
Jonathan Hayes

It's a risky move to snub the Ireland manager when he comes calling, but luckily for Jonathan Hayes, he has survived to tell the tale and could yet be in a position to answer Ireland's call when it comes to Euro 2016.

At the age of 28, Aberdeen attacker Hayes is one of the late developers in the squad which is in Dublin this week to prepare for those friendly games against Switzerland and Slovakia.

Uncapped at senior level, he points to the late bloomers like Jon Walters as an example of how a career can turn around late in the day for a player who wondered if a shot at the big-time was gone.

Yet Hayes almost missed out on a call-up, because he thought that a message from someone claiming to be Martin O'Neill was just another wind-up by one of his mates.

"I had a phone call from the (Aberdeen) gaffer, not Thursday gone but the one before, and I thought it was a wind-up," Hayes admitted after his first full training session yesterday with the senior squad.

"I had to ring the club and our gaffer, and text Shane Long (his former Reading team-mate) to see what the manager's number was, just to be sure.

"He told me I was in the provisional squad and had a good chance to be in the full squad. But yeah, I thought it was a wind-up at first. I was relieved when it was his number.

"I seen the number ringing and didn't know the number so I thought I'd leave it go to voice mail. I listened to it and thought 'It's only a wind-up, I've too many friends who would do that to me.'

"I rang Derek McInnes and he said Ireland had been in touch for my number and as soon as I found out, I rang back straight away."

Happy days for Hayes, after a long route to get to this stage. The Cherry Orchard product admits that he was treading water at times in his early career, as spells at Reading and Leicester City yielded only a handful of games, most of his experience coming while on loan to outfits like Northampton and Cheltenham.

A move to Scotland (Inverness) in 2009 began a revival and another move, to Aberdeen (2012) brought him to another level, Hayes in contention to win the SPL title this season and also force his way into the Irish squad.

"It's only in the last 18 months or two years that I can look back and think 'I am doing alright now', and wonder where did the years go? Back when I was at Reading and Leicester, I spent a few years floating around," Hayes admits.

"You look at someone like Jonathan Walters, coming in at a late age, a few players have done that. There's a small chance it could happen, if it's there you have to try and take it.

"There are 30-odd players here, only 11 can start, you can't bring on 15 players in a game.

"I know there are two games so you have to get your head down and impress in training, the manager has said himself that it's up to the players to impress in training," added Hayes.

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