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Friday 15 December 2017

Here's Jonny... as wait in long grass pays off for 'Don' Hayes

Jonny Hayes in action against Uruguay’s Jonathan Urretaviscaya in last Sunday’s friendly. Photo: Sportsfile
Jonny Hayes in action against Uruguay’s Jonathan Urretaviscaya in last Sunday’s friendly. Photo: Sportsfile

Dubliner Jonny Hayes is determined to make the most of his time with the Ireland squad, even though it will leave the hard-working winger with just a two-week summer break.

Aberdeen player Hayes got the nod from Martin O'Neill to start in Sunday's 3-1 win over Uruguay, a boost for his confidence to get that call, although the presence of more experienced wide players like James McClean and Aiden McGeady will almost certainly see Hayes demoted to the bench for Sunday's meeting with Austria.

It's been a long, long season for Hayes, who played his first competitive game of the 2016/17 campaign on July 7.

With the Dons involved in the qualifying rounds of the Europa League again next month, there's little time off.

"I was just counting up there and I think it's going to be a 362-day season, by the time we finish up on Monday, we started back June 15 last year," says Hayes. "I'd rather be here than anywhere else."

Jonny Hayes pictured in an aerial duel with Maxi Pereira. Pic: Sportsfile
Jonny Hayes pictured in an aerial duel with Maxi Pereira. Pic: Sportsfile

Sacrifices have to me made, so Hayes' young son will have to make do with a few days in Eurodisney next week ("I promised the little fella that I'd take him to see Mickey Mouse") instead of a long spell in one of the sunspots.

Distance

But given the distance that Hayes has travelled in the space of 12 months, he's content with his lot.

He's happy to be a squad member now instead of his role as a fan this time last year, as he was on pre-season with his club when Euro 2016 took place. "I was in St Andrews. I'll never forget," Hayes smiles.

"I just ordered a club sandwich and Diet Coke when Robbie (Brady) scored against Italy. I was jumping on the bed spilling Coke everywhere.

"I was just sitting in my room by myself. I didn't really get much support from the rest of the lads, considering we went there instead of Scotland. To go from being a supporter to a year later being involved is a terrific feeling."

Hayes, a former U21 cap, was 28 when he made his senior international debut last year, at home to Switzerland, and he feared that his chance with the national team would not come.

"I probably thought the chance had gone. Once you are not involved for so long you do think the chance has gone," says Hayes.

"But my manager at Aberdeen always believed in me and he said it to me every day, that I'd get a chance. I think he believed more than I did, so I was a little bit surprised when I first got called up. But I come in, train and try my best every day I'm in here and I do by best to stay in the squad.

"Right from the first time I was brought it, it's been enjoyable. The first one was unexpected. I've never taken it for granted. Every time I'm in the squad it's brilliant.

Standard

"I love being around everyone, it's a great bunch of lads. The standard of training and playing is obviously higher than what I play at domestically and I enjoy every minute of it." Hayes did struggle at times in that win over Uruguay but he feels it was important to get minutes on the pitch.

"It was a bit unexpected. Obviously we were playing against a tough team, so I was delighted to be thrown in. It was tough work but I thought we played well in patches and we fully deserved to win," he says.

"The more time you get on the pitch the happier you are going to be. There is a lot of competition, a lot of players ahead of me in the pecking order. I am realistic, I know that. It's going to be a tough job to displace them.

"But any time we come in and train and play, it's another opportunity to try and impress," he added, all eyes now on Austria.

"I think the management team have installed belief and confidence in the players right from two or three years ago. You can see that confidence and belief building up game by game. The lads go into any game without any fear now. We play the best teams in the world. So there is nothing to fear next week."

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