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“I’ve Been Through It Myself, Suddenly You Just Stop Playing” – John Hayes

John Hayes

“You need to get rid of them quick,” is the almost instantaneous response from Ireland and Munster legend John Hayes when asked about how to deal with doubts as a player. 

‘The Bull’ knows more than most just how quickly confidence can drain from a squad ahead of a big tournament.

Back in 2007, Ireland failed to get out of their pool at the World Cup after scraping wins over Namibia and Georgia before being soundly beaten by France and Argentina.

Throughout the World Cup in Japan, the players and coaching staff were repeatedly denying any potential similarities with the 2007 World Cup but Hayes believes it’s an “absolutely” fair comparison.

“I’ve been through it myself in 2007, suddenly you just stop playing, like,” Hayes tells Pundit Arena.

John Hayes

“You’re kind of like ‘why have we stopped doing it?’ It frustrates, it confuses – you don’t know why.”

The Cappamore native believes, like many, that Ireland’s confidence was severely dented from that loss to England on the opening day of the 2019 Six Nations and that ultimately, they never recovered from it.

“At the game (England), I left there feeling, if they were still like when I was, when I was a player, I know it shook them. That they didn’t know what happened. Why everything we did, everything we prepared to do, again, they didn’t drop off in performance, they didn’t think suddenly because we beat New Zealand last year that suddenly you just have to turn up and we win these games. They got blown away. I think it rattled them.”

Hayes understands that the message coming out from Ireland camp throughout 2019 was that there was nothing to worry about – as a player, you’re unlikely to admit to yourself that there is something wrong.

“It (doubt) does creep in. As a player, you won’t admit that to yourself because as a player you can never admit that to yourself. Whether it’s injuries, form or tiredness or anything like that, you can never say to yourself, ‘I’m injured, I’m struggling, I’m tired’. They would have been there the whole time believing it’s (a performance) there, it’s going to come out but just when is the problem. The longer it goes on, the more pressure that builds and it does. You’re waiting for it.”

John Hayes

Going forward in the Andy Farrell era, many are of the opinion that Ireland cannot deal in traditional four-year cycles. Four years is too great a period to attempt to gradually peak.

South Africa were a team transformed in the middle of 2018, just over a year out from the World Cup while England had an extremely disappointing first half of that year where they lost three games in the Six Nations and then a summer series loss to the Springboks – they both reached the 2019 World Cup final.

“You can’t (peak over four years). It’s too far out to try to aim for because too many things can happen, a player’s form, injury.”

Hayes continued:

“There are four Six Nations between now and the next World Cup; 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023. There’s just too much rugby to be played for Ireland to be thinking about that. If you look at the Champions Cup last week, we’ve top quality players and they’re playing at a level that’s high enough. We don’t have to be thinking that they’re building a squad that far out. We only have four teams and they’re all here in Ireland anyway. All our players are here in Ireland pretty much. They are actually because if they go they can’t play. They are all here so you have control of them. We don’t need to overly focus on it from too far out.” 

Hayes says that the players will be happy to be back with their provinces as time in camp when things are not going well on the field can be difficult.

John Hayes

The Limerick man thinks one of the best things Ireland can do going forward is to begin to pick players on form – something which did not occur during the World Cup as Joe Schmidt opted to continue with players who had performed well for him in the past.

“Pick players on form. If you look at last weekend again, you had four teams that won. You have players that are playing well. You just need to pick those guys. It’s four years out, you don’t need to drop anyone.

“There needs to be no sensationalism. Someone who has been in the squad all along who isn’t in has a load of time to get back into it. Pick who is on form. Let your man go away, take a break or whatever like that and they’ll come back into again next year.

“But this thing about four years is probably too long. If we’re going into the Six Nations and we have players, whatever position from whatever province, who are playing really well, give them a go.”


IFA Telecom is pleased to announce Ireland and Munster rugby legend John Hayes as their brand ambassador who will be the face of IFA Telecom for the next year.

John is a full-time farmer, an IFA member and a IFA Telecom customer. Living in rural Ireland, John appreciates the importance of a great landline and high-speed broadband service.

IFA Telecom offers competitive landline and broadband packages to all IFA members and helps fund IFA’s lobbing efforts in Ireland and in Europe.

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Author: Sean McMahon

Sean is Deputy Editor and head rugby writer. You can contact him by email [email protected] or on Twitter