It’s the fashion nowadays to scour through footballers’ social media accounts to see if they posted anything damning in their youth. All you’ll find on Caitlin Hayes, though, is evidence of the nationality she was drawn to when she was still a teen. March 17th, 2015: “Kiss Me I’m Irish.”
She felt kissed by good fortune on Friday when Eileen Gleeson told her she would be making her Republic of Ireland debut at the Aviva Stadium the following day, a heck of a way to mark her 28th birthday.
She’s no Johnny-come-lately to the cause either – long before Ireland even dreamt of qualifying for the World Cup she was dreaming of pulling on a green shirt. “I’ve been trying for a while, but I’m a firm believer in what’s for you won’t pass you. I was patiently waiting for an opportunity and it came on Saturday. I’m just honoured and privileged to have been able to take it.
“The last 24 hours I’ve had, I’d never have dreamt of as a kid when I was going around in my Ireland top. For that to happen it’s a proud day for myself and my family. They were all here today; my Dad may have shed a tear for the first time in his life.”
The granddaughter of Offaly-born James Hayes, she grew up in Warrington where she was gifted in athletics, judo and hockey, although rugby league was – and remains – her first sporting love. She travelled around England with her father Duane to support Warrington Wolves, “although they’re not doing terribly well at the moment”.
Rugby union? “I do watch the odd game when my dad’s not looking,” she says, her only previous visits to the Aviva Stadium coming when she was younger for rugby internationals.
Football, though, is where she made her career, a well-travelled one it has been too. She had early spells with Manchester City, Manchester United and Everton, before she moved to the United States. There she gained a bachelor of science in kinesiology at Mississippi College.
She had a brief stint after with Cypriot club Barcelona FA, where she played Champions League football, before joining Lewes back in England and, three years ago, signing for Celtic, the club of her dreams.
“My love of Celtic is definitely something I inherited from my family. You had to support Celtic, you didn’t really get a choice, it’s something that I was given, it’s in my blood. My grandfather would give me a Celtic shirt at Christmas and on every birthday.”
Gleeson was familiar with Hayes’ abilities from her time managing Glasgow City, so didn’t hesitate in calling her up for her first squad after her passport had come through.
Scotland’s player of the year last season, the defender was already familiar with several members of the Irish squad having played with Claire O’Riordan, Izzy Atkinson and Tyler Toland at Celtic, and having come up against Glasgow’s Emily Whelan.
“And everyone knows Louise Quinn, Katie McCabe, Denise O’Sullivan and names like that. It’s been a week where you can be a sponge and learn off people like that.”
She was happy enough with her debut, but says there is more to come. “I did all right, there are plenty of areas I can improve on. There were times when I was probably a bit too nervous on the ball, that came with the occasion. I can give more, I want to work harder and be the best I can be for this team.”
She almost scored too, Shannon Turner making a point-blank save from her header. She’s hoping she can chip in with the odd goal for Ireland and relieve some of the pressure on Louise Quinn in that department. “Louise said during the week that I’d save her a few brain cells. We’ll see,” she laughs. “I know that I’ve admired Louise for a very long time, if she can teach me to head the ball like she does I’ll be very happy.
“But being given this opportunity is something I don’t take lightly. I may not have the accent but I know what it feels like to wear this badge and it’s something that I’ll fight for.”