Ronan Hayes and Kilmacud Crokes relentless in pursuit of glory

Late comeback to beat Na Fianna in Dublin final can spur southside club on

Kilmacud Crokes’ Ronan Hayes celebrates scoring a goal at the end of the game to force extra time during the Dublin SHC final against Na Fianna. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Kilmacud Crokes’ Ronan Hayes celebrates scoring a goal at the end of the game to force extra time during the Dublin SHC final against Na Fianna. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

In the moment, there wasn’t time for anything other than what Ronan Hayes eventually did. There wasn’t time to worry about what could go wrong. There wasn’t time to look around and check if anyone else fancied being the one who had to save the game. There was, when all came to all, time for nothing except the last shot.

He had to catch the sliotar in traffic, he had to dance around and away from three Na Fianna defenders, he had to shoot across his body into the opposite corner of the net, falling away. He had to do each of these things inside three seconds and if any of them didn’t happen exactly so, Kilmacud Crokes would have lost another county final.

Not alone that, they would have lost a county final in which Hayes had missed a penalty just five minutes previously. It would have been their fourth county final defeat in five years and each of them would have been by the margin of a single goal. When people talked, they would talk of Crokes losing a final again by a puck of a ball. And when they did, it would have been his puck of the ball they were talking about.

“Relief is probably the word,” Hayes says now. “Relief and delight. The way the game went probably played into that. But the county finals we’d lost obviously played into it as well. You’re thinking of 2016, ‘17, ‘18 and how those games went and all of that played into the relief we felt at the end this time around.

“There was one year, I think it was against Cuala in 2016, where we just didn’t show up in the first half. We were down a good lot of points at half-time and we clawed it back but left ourselves too much to do. And we came away from that thinking we had left a good performance behind us.

“Then there was 2018 when we finally managed to get over Cuala who were back-to-back All-Ireland champions at the time. We thought we were probably set for it that year - it went to a replay and Boden pipped us in the final. There was a good bit of heartache there because of all those finals. For all of us, not just myself. There were lads who had been around for a good number of years and those defeats are tough to take. So that’s what meant it was a good sense of relief after getting it done this year.”

Hayes was on the panel but still a minor when Crokes lost that first final in 2016. He’s been more or less the focal point of the attack ever since. His goal a fortnight ago extended what had been a rip-roaring Dublin final into extra-time, whereupon Hayes proceeded to add a further six points to bury Na Fianna completely. In a flash, all those final defeats fell away.

Confidence

“Every player prepares differently,” he says. “You can react in two ways. You can let it affect you negatively or you can take confidence from it. That’s the way I’ve always looked at it. As in, yes - losing those finals were negative experiences but they were still experiences. And now I can use them going into this final - ‘I’ve been here before and I know what it was like to lose and I don’t want to feel that again.’

“You can use those defeats as a motivating factor. You can use them to give you confidence because you’re able to tell yourself that you have been here before and you deserve to be here again. And hopefully now, the result will be different.

“But it all depends on the player. Some people might look at it negatively and go in thinking, ‘Oh, are we ever going to win one? Are we ever going to get over the line?’ I preferred to focus on the positive aspect of it and take confidence from the fact that this is where we belong. Those finals that we lost are gone but we are still here. And this is the one that matters. Focus on the future rather than dwelling on the past. Thankfully, it was a different result this time around.”

In no small part due to Hayes’s intervention at the end, of course. In truth, the county final has been a bit of a wash-out for him up to then. Na Fianna had a nine-point lead in the 51st minute (of 60) and Hayes had been generally well held, potting a few frees here and there and sniping the odd point off scraps. His penalty miss on 55 minutes was down to over-ambition, if anything - it missed the top right-hand corner by a few inches and no more.

But it was a miss nonetheless. In that moment, Hayes looked like anything but a match-winner. Yet within a few minutes, he had saved the game. Within a few more in extra-time, he had won it. If nothing else, turning it all around was a monumental feat of amnesia.

“I tried to keep the phone in the pocket that night,” he says. “There was a lot of stuff flying around social media, with people sending the goal on to me. I’ve seen it plenty of times at this stage. I probably don’t need to watch it any more. It does get a bit repetitive, when you’re trying to move on and get ready for the next game.

“You go into games with your own triggers. Little thoughts you use for keeping yourself in the moment and moving on from mistakes. But sometimes that can be all good theory but despite all your efforts they just might not work. When it comes down to it and there’s that chaos in the game in the last five or 10 minutes and it’s all so close, the theory kind of goes out the window and it all boils down to next ball.

“Regardless of what triggers you have or what type of mindset you bring to mistakes, it usually just comes back to what you were taught when you were 10 years of age - put it aside, forget it, concentrate on the next ball. It’s a cliché but that’s basically all you have when push comes to shove.

Reset

“It’s a common thing in the game, even at club level now. Lads have reset triggers for themselves. They might slap themselves on the back of the hand with their hurl just to reset themselves into the present. They usually do it after a mistake, fair enough - you don’t see many lads do it after they score a goal. If that trigger works, great. If you end up getting the next score, fantastic. But if you don’t, you spend half the game slapping yourself on the back of the hand. Next ball is a bit less painful I suppose.”

And so they go on, the winter extending as far ahead of them as they are fit for. They’ve never made much of an impression on the Leinster club championship after any of their five previous Dublin titles. In fact, they’ve never won a match outside Dublin. They head to Cusack Park in Mullingar tomorrow to face Westmeath champions Raharney. Crokes are heavy betting favourites but until they go and do it, it’s all just chat.

“For a lot of us, this will be our first experience of provincial club hurling,” Hayes says “We don’t have much of a record outside Dublin so it’s a big step. The footballers as well are going well too - they’re out the following weekend in Leinster - so there’s excitement on all fronts. It’s a lot of the unknown - we’re playing teams we’ve never come across before and they’re playing their own brand of hurling.”

Crokes will play theirs too. And as we’ve seen, they won’t stop.

Won’t have time to.

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