The conviction of Limerick hurler Kyle Hayes on two counts of violent disorder brings closure to a matter that has been running for more than four years since the incidents took place in October 2019 at a nightclub in the city. He was however found not guilty of assault causing harm and now awaits sentencing by Judge Dermot Sheehan on January 19th.
An elemental presence in a Limerick team looking to make history and become the first county to win five-in-a-row All-Ireland hurling titles, Hayes’s versatility can be gauged by the fact that his four All Stars have been won both as a defender and as an attacker.
Limerick manager John Kiely has had to cope with a number of high-profile absences in the years since the county rose to the top of the game.
Hurler of the Year Cian Lynch only fully returned from injury this year after being affected by hamstring and ankle problems over the past two championships.
Earlier this year, Seán Finn, a four-time All Star corner back missed most of the championship with a cruciate ligament injury. Captain Declan Hannon picked up an injury in the Munster final and was unavailable for the All-Ireland series.
Kiely has acquired mastery of reshuffling resources. Ironically the versatility of Hayes has been a factor in coping with such adversity.
A gifted sportsman from a young age, Hayes also played soccer but once called up by the Limerick minors, made the choice to concentrate on hurling. His father Liam was chair of the local Kildimo-Pallaskenry club. In 2016, Kyle Hayes was on the team that lost the All-Ireland minor final to Tipperary.
A member of the extraordinarily talented cohort that rose from the Limerick Academy through minor, he played centre back on the team that defeated Kilkenny by six points in the under-21 All-Ireland final in 2017.
His family have a farm and Hayes has spoken about the enjoyment of helping out there. He graduated in Business Studies from UL, with whom he won a Fitzgibbon Cup medal, in 2020 and works in HR.
He arrived quickly on the senior hurling scene. John Kiely took over the management of the Limerick in 2017. He had overseen an under-21 All-Ireland win in 2015 and served as a selector with John Allen when in 2013 the county won a first Munster title in 17 years.
Kiely called up Hayes in his first season and on his championship debut at full forward, he scored 1-1 in the Munster defeat by Clare.
The following year, which culminated in the county’s first All-Ireland success in 45 years, he played at centre forward. Tall, strong and very fast, he had his best performance in the All-Ireland final when scoring 0-4 from play. He also played every minute of Limerick’s All-Ireland quarter-final, semi-final, including extra time and the final.
His abilities had marked him out from an early age but primarily it is the combination of skill, speed and physique that makes him so difficult to contain. In 2021′s Munster final against Tipperary, Limerick trailed by 10 at half-time and turned it around to win.
The centrepiece of the win and for many the turning point in what had been an underwhelming season for Limerick came when Hayes playing at wing back, galloped all the way up the field to drive in a goal which put the champions clearly in control.
Since Kilkenny surprised them in the 2019 semi-final, Limerick have won every All-Ireland since and Hayes was an All Star in each of the four years as well as twice a nominee for Hurler of the Year, in 2021 and the season just passed.
In 2020, as part of the reconfiguration that regained the All-Ireland, Hayes moved to wing back, generally considered his best position, with Cian Lynch taking the centre forward position and the now familiar Will O’Donoghue-Darragh O’Donovan combination making up the centrefield.
His best performances have often coincided with Limerick’s biggest days and achievements. In 2018, he was Man of the Match in the county’s first All-Ireland final win in 45 years and was later that year named Young Hurler of the Year.
In the 2022 All-Ireland when Limerick were run closer than expected by Kilkenny, Irish Times hurling analyst Nicky English observed: “Kyle Hayes was again fantastic on the big day. His size and engine are phenomenal but he’s also such a skilful player and made that count with four points.”