DESPITE being retired John Hayes has joined a new elite club of players.
The Cappamore man was voted a British and Irish Lions legend at the UK Government’s All Party Parliamentary Rugby Awards.
Proving “The Bull” is popular on both sides of the Irish sea, he and Brian O’Driscoll were chosen for the exclusive ceremony in the Houses of Parliament in Westminister. The committee of the awards, to promote rugby union, is made up of MPs.
Every year they pick a different select group of players and as the Lions are touring Australia this summer they chose greats who have worn the famous red jersey.
John says he got an email telling him he had won and inviting him to the black-tie ceremony in London on January 25.
“Myself and Brian O’Driscoll were invited but Drico couldn’t go because he is obviously still involved. It was a lunch and a dinner and we got a full tour afterwards of Westminister so it was very impressive,” explains John, who was joined by his wife, Fiona.
The other players nominated were Rory Underwood and Peter Winterbottom , England; Stephen Jones and Martyn Williams, Wales, and Gavin Hastings, Scotland.
“I knew Stephen Jones and Martyn Williams from playing with them on the Lions. It was nice to catch up with Rory Underwood, Peter Winterbottom and Gavin Hastings and have a chat with them. They were telling me how different for them it was when they were on the Lions,” said John, who was picked on the Lions tours to New Zealand and South Africa in 2005 and 2009.
During the ceremony John was presented with a black blazer.
“They sent me over a form looking for my size and then presented me with the jacket on stage,” explained John. He is now one of the few players to have this distinctive black jacket hanging in their wardrobe.
Liz Benison, UK managing director of sponsors CSC, said: “These sportsmens’ exceptional calibre and dedication has been inspirational and entertained millions, epitomising the wealth of talent within the sport.”
Thoughts turn again to England for John and every Irish rugby fan this weekend. One of the abiding memories of John is of the emotion etched across his face when Ireland played England in Croke Park in 2007.
“Fancy lining out this Sunday John in the Aviva?” I ask.
“You’d love to play in games like that but you know your time has passed and that’s it,” said John, who is enjoying his retirement.
“Last season I played half the year so I was still half involved but this year I am fully out. I’ll be sitting back on the couch watching it like everyone else,” said John. The former Irish, Munster, Shannon and Bruff RFC prop was hugely encouraged by the performance against Wales on Saturday.
“Absolutely, it’s amazing what a big win can do - to go away on the first game of the Six Nations and get a result... Suddenly everyone is looking forward to England coming to town. Dublin comes to life, there’s a buzz around the place on the back of a big win,” said John.
While it is fitting The Bull is getting the recognition he deserves now he is retired, fans would still love to see him charging out on Sunday.