Cork rugby veteran Brian Hayes has gone Dutch for the sporting lockdown
AT a time when so many Irish people have returned home to sit out the coronavirus outbreak, Cork Constitution lock, Brian Hayes has gone abroad.
A technology consultant with Accenture, in Dublin, the former Munster prodigy was asked by his employers to work remotely, to abide by social-distancing guidelines to combat the global pandemic.
Whereas Hayes’s Con team-mates are in lockdown in Ireland, Hayes decided to travel to the Netherlands, to Utrecht, the city that his girlfriend currently calls home.
“I’m working from over here now,” Hayes says. “I’m over here with her, working away and doing the usual. It’s not as strict over here,” Hayes says.
“Pubs and restaurants are closed, but there’s no real limitations. Just trying to keep somewhat fit; keep sane.
“Because, you can’t go from 100 to nothing,” Hayes says. “I think the same as everyone else: I’m just trying to make the most of it.
“In the strange circumstances, I don’t think anyone really has their head around the whole thing yet.
“Just keep as busy as possible and do as much to not lose the mind completely.
“It’s probably busier with the nature of the work I’m in. We’re fortunate. We see how many people have been impacted by this and are struggling.
“I can’t complain about having hard work at this time of year. I’m lucky if nothing else,” Hayes says.
In addition to Cork Con’s domestic campaigns being postponed — they remain in the hunt for All-Ireland League and Bateman Cup honours — Covid-19 also impacted on another important event in the club’s calendar.
On the day that they were due to face Clontarf at Temple Hill (Saturday, March 28), Con had arranged a reunion for their 2009/10 league-winning squad.
Unfortunately, this has also been postponed indefinitely, although there are still plans to hold it towards the end of the year.
Hayes was a fresh-faced 19-year-old when he appeared off the bench to help Con beat St Mary’s College in that season’s grand showpiece at Dubarry Park.
Since featuring in the starting line-up that day, Simon Zebo and Peter O’Mahony have gone on to stellar careers in the professional game.
However, Duncan Williams, Stephen Archer, Ian Nagle, and Hayes himself also progressed into the provincial ranks, having helped Con to their second league crown in just three seasons.
“Ian Nagle and Merle O’Connell were the two second-rows, so I was only a sub,” Hayes says.
“I was just out of school. It’s mad to think that was 10 years ago. That was a good team.
“The following year, on paper you would have said it was probably a little better, and we lost the final to Belvedere,” Hayes says.
“The lads kicked on, fair play to them, after that. I’d say, maybe 10 of the lads have played professionally for Munster at some stage, in that team.
“There was definitely a big turnout from that team,” Hayes says.
Shortly after his maiden league success, Hayes was handed a full Academy contract by Munster, an upgrade from his previous, Sub-Academy deal.
He made his first-team debut in a November 2010 triumph over a touring Australia XV, before making his PRO12 bow against the Dragons 10 days later.
However, this represented the sum total of his senior caps for the southern province and, in the summer of 2013, he signed terms with French D2 side, Aurillac, in a bid to secure more game time.
Hayes clocked up 39 appearances during his two-year stint overseas and while it proved to be an invaluable experience, he realised a different path awaited him upon his return to Ireland.
“Really enjoyed it. Living in the Roscommon of France, I used to call it. Because you only go there if you had a match!
“It was a really good culture and made really good friends, but the two years of playing second division rugby was enough,” Hayes says.
“I made the decision, when I wasn’t getting onto a higher level, that the best approach was to come home, do a masters, and get working.
“Still have my enjoyment playing with Con. I have a good balance now, where you get your competitive enjoyment playing with Con. It means more being at a club that you played with for so long.
“I’m happy I did it [going to France], but I’m happy I made the decision, when I did, to take the turn and go the other way,” Hayes says.
While the lack of organised, group training has been a difficult adjustment for so many sportspeople, it hasn’t been too much of a transition for Hayes.
Because work has so often taken him to Dublin in recent years, making it back down to Cork for midweek sessions isn’t always feasible.
Yet this hasn’t unduly affected his performances s and, as a sport, rugby is the one best-equipped for this shutdown scenario, Hayes says.
“When I can attend training, I would, but being in Dublin, it’s hard. Once you keep yourself in the required condition to perform, I don’t think you’re too out of the loop,” Hayes says.
“With all the training I’ve built up over the year and the relationship with Bickey [Con’s director of rugby, Brian Hickey] and so on, it hasn’t been too bad.
“They’ll probably say different, but sure, look,” Hayes says.