*Lee Cregan, Grainne Hayes, Eoin Hayes, Dessie Hayes, Roisin Hayes, Evie Loughnane & Cathal Hayes. Photograph: Joe Buckley

OVER THE COURSE of its 55 year history, families have always been to the fore and central to the success of Newmarket Celtic.

You’ve the Sheedys, Ryans, O’Malleys, Collins’, Donlons, Cusacks, the list goes on. In the current day, there’s few families devoting as much hours to the Newmarket-on-Fergus as the Hayes family from Avondale nestled right in heart of the village.

Grainne Hayes has been club secretary for close to a decade and is highly regarded by everyone in the club. Eoin is the captain of the A team, he’s been capped by his country for the amateur over 25 times and is an ex FAI Junior International of the Year. Cathal has represented the club at all levels and has always been a standout player for any team he has taken to the pitch with.

Their father, Dessie lined out in the 1985 Munster Junior Cup final for the club and their mother Catherine is one of sixteen children from the famed Sheedy clan. Roisin, their sister continues to be one of their most loyal supporters.

Therefore it comes as no surprise that the discussion point in the family home in Avondale regularly circles back to Newmarket Celtic. “Every Sunday we all go down home for dinner, it’s like all we do be talking about, a synopsis of the match, how did things go,” Grainne admitted./ “Usually we’d have a game on a Sunday so the A team would play at 11am, the B team would be on at 2pm, Grainne’s husband Daniel is the manager of the B team so when we get home the B team usually are playing so we’d have dinner then Daniel would come in and that’s when the conversation starts,” Eoin explained.

At times, the topic has been kept off-limits. “Last year wasn’t too easy I won’t lie. It’s easier to talk about things when you win, in fairness to Mam it doesn’t change her one bit. She does care but at the same time family is more important to her, we might not talk much if we haven’t won but it’s a place where we kind of escape it,” Eoin said.

Before the conversation moves on the record, Grainne and Cathal claim to be the quiet ones of the family. Trying to ascertain the various roles and personality in the family isn’t too difficult. “We’re all the same, Mam would do anything for any of us, Dad has his favourite, I won’t say who but it’s not me or Eoin anyway,” Cathal outlined with Grainne laughing beside him. Eoin is quick to shed further light on this, “Grainne is very much the favourite of Dad”.

He continues, “She is the eldest and stuff like that, anything Grainne wants she gets. With my mother, we’re all equal. Roisin is fairly dominant isn’t she? She’d be the more dominant personality in the house, really the grand-kids dominate now, they decide whatever happens, it all centres around family at home, it’s incredible really our parents devotion to us, anything we’ve ever needed or wanted in life has never been questioned”.

Ever-present since the club was founded in 1968 has been a link with their family be it through their uncles on the Sheedy side or their father wearing the red and white. “Even at the semi-final in Jackman Park, anywhere you looked there was someone be it uncles, aunts, cousins, it’s a real family,” Grainne acknowledged.

Grainne and Eoin Hayes. Photograph: Natasha Barton

These family ties to the club run deep, Eoin explained. “After the last game, I met Noreen (Cusack, aunt) who didn’t go to the semi-final, neither did Mam, they were saying they were crying the whole time at home with nerves, it’s that deep. The fundraising draw that the club does every month, there’s a long-running joke that the Sheedys will be pulled out but that’s because they are all in the draw, there’s so many of them and there’s never a question of support, they are always there to put an arm around you. I think it goes back to years ago when the likes of Briany and David were still playing, Shag was heavily involved and managed the A team. Noreen’s husband PJ would have been Chairman, they’ve been heavily involved in fundraising and anything they can do for us”.

Before the start of the second half for their Munster semi-final win over Fairview, Eoin took a moment to scan the crowd, he didn’t happen to make eye contact with his uncle Briany, which is fortunate as the red beret sported by the Glencragga resident may have resulted in his nephew losing concentration. “Me and Briany would be very close, I don’t know if it’s because we golf together, every Sunday he’d ring me after a match if we were going out socialising, he’d ring and say come on, be home by 8, he wants me home early as if I’m his son or something, it’s funny. Briany after a match he’d be so emotional about the whole thing, it just means a lot to everyone, it’s not about kicking a ball around the pitch, it’s much more than that. A lot of people would associate the GAA with the community and tight-knit but the soccer club really is the same which isn’t what other soccer clubs have be it in other counties, it’s fairly good in Clare but in other counties that allegiance and loyalty isn’t there”.

Cathal would have been managed by both Flan and Briany at underage level. There was definitely no special treatment, he argues, “Not off Flan anyway or Briany actually. We had Briany for two years, he loved all the Shannon lads more than us, he took the captaincy off me one year, I wasn’t happy”. He doesn’t receive the calls to encourage him to be home by 8pm, “He tells me that when I’m walking down the road. He collects Eoin, he’d do anything for him”.

During the conversation, Grainne also drops the bombshell that their mother Catherine will be attending the FAI Junior Cup final. “I came home the last day and I said ‘Mam come on you have to go, you may never see this again, you have to go’. The last big match she was at was against St Michael’s in Tipperary, it was the day we beat them on penalties. She was there but did she watch it, I don’t think so, she went for a walk and went into a church to say a prayer, she said she was praying to her father and everyone, she found out after it was a Protestant church, I think that was the last time she was at a big match, she stays at home and has the dinner ready when we get home, she’s not able and I see myself getting a little bit like her. She’ll be there, she has her name on the bus, she might go for a walk, find a church and say a few more prayers”. A dislike of watching matches as a spectator is shared by Eoin

Both Eoin and Cathal have been busy with training preparing for the finals but Grainne’s workload has been arguably greater with constant emails, phone calls and messages getting things organised. “The last three weeks I’ve spent every night in the pitch from Monday to Friday anyway. It’s constant and busy, in general I think I spend more time on the phone to Liam Murphy, Eoin O’Brien and Paddy Purcell than talking to my own husband and son at home. Leading up to this there’s been a lot of contact with the FAI and Munster, in the three weeks since the FAI semi-final it’s been quick and trying to organise gear, the lads are all kitted out with full tracksuits and gearbags, trying to get that in a short space and sorting sizes, giving out gears to the lads with lads stripping off, it’s been busy”.

She added, “Sometimes you’d be fed up of it and then the last couple of weeks I’m looking back and this is why I do it, it’s a good busy when you’re winning, there’s great support, we’ve a fantastic committee there, I delegated things over the last couple of weeks whereas before I’d be trying to do everything, lately I’ve been saying Siobhan will you do this, Ciara will you do this, there’s great help there with Jody Halpin as Chairman”.

Cathal Hayes with his niece Evie. Photograph: Joe Buckley

Throughout their careers, there’s been many sporting highlights for the Hayes’ whether it is soccer or hurling such as getting capped for Ireland, national accolades, All-Ireland and county titles. Cathal also has a unique sporting feat, lining out in goals for the Newmarket-on-Fergus minor hurlers with a packet of sweets hidden in his sock, he recalls that he offered jellies during a particular home game to local taxi man Pat Corry and his neighbour Colin Martin. “We’ve played sport since we could walk, we’ve won a lot with the soccer club and a good bit with the hurling club underage. The best moment is winning all the Cups with Eoin and all the lads, winning the Youths with my best friends,” he commented.

Eoin added, “I’ve had an unbelievable amount of success when I think about it. Not because of the achievement but one of the fondest sporting memories was after we won the senior hurling championship, my Mam and Dad came onto the pitch and they were bawling crying, because we were ahead by so much they stayed for the game, normally they can’t hack the last few minutes of games, for my parents it’s not because we won hurling or soccer, it’s because I won and they see what we put into everything. I’d be a firm believer in positive thoughts and feelings, in the lead up to this final I’ll be thinking what are the implications of winning this and what would happen after, that’s one of the moments that will stick with me before and my parents coming onto the pitch. Towards the end of the semi-final the last day, emotions got the better of me at the end, I don’t know why, normally I’d be very composed but the first person to meet me after was Cathal, it was an emotional moment and that’s what I will think about, not the games, the medals or the cups, it’s the moments you have with people is what does for me”.

Ability in the duo has been evident from an early age, it’s why Cathal made his debut for the A team at the age of fifteen and Eoin at the age of sixteen. When it came to his debut, Cathal wasn’t afraid to quieten older peers, a trait he still has, “Eleven years ago, I was fifteen and I came on against Ennis Town, I actually scored. Neil Ryan was roaring at me to pass him the ball but I stuck it in the top corner, he turned around to me and said ‘you’re lucky you scored because I was in a better position’, I just said ‘go away Neil’”.

It reminds Eoin how manic things were from a fixtures perspective. “I was only thinking about it recently, I was sixteen when I made my debut for the A team, I don’t think I played for the B team maybe one or two games, I was sixteen when I first played with the A team, there’s a picture of me with Mike O’Malley and Kevin Feely, it must have been 2003 or 2004. A common weekend would have been minor or U16 hurling on Friday, Youths soccer on Saturday morning and then play for the A team or the intermediate hurlers on Sunday, that’s the way we used to do it, I saw Cathal Cullinan playing like four matches last weekend and I said I remember those days”.

A new aspect for Eoin has been having to sign autographs after Newmarket games. “I don’t know if this is a new phenomenon after games but the kids are gone stone mad, it’s cool don’t get me wrong. We had an open training session the other day where the young lads were training with us, afterwards they all wanted us to sign their jersey, some of them were asking for my boots and jersey, I paid €250 for them boots they must have been joking thinking they would get them. There’s some buzz among the young people, winning is incredible in what it does, people go on about participation in sport but when they see you winning they want to be a part of it, it’s cool”.

This season has seen Eoin take on the captaincy but Cathal has had to contend with less minutes on the field, “It’s obviously not easy when you’re not playing but when you’re winning you can’t complain. We have a massive squad, we have thirty players who can start on any team in Clare, it’s good to have the competition and all I can do is keep working,” the Ei Electronics employee said.

Application of players in training who are not getting as much game time as they’d like has been key to their run, Eoin believed. “We do have an incredible squad. When you’re winning people want to be around, no different to any other amateur sport when you’re not winning you will see who is not committed and the numbers will start to dwindle, we see it at training we’ve unbelievable competition for places, while the lads are very fair and play based on what they see, they do reward hard work, we saw in training there was an incredible bite to it which you do see when things are up for grabs at this time of year”.

Josh McCarthy under pressure from Darragh Leahy. Photograph: Joe Buckley

Among the new signings this year is Darragh Leahy, a nephew of Grainne’s husband Daniel. “We’ve known Darragh since Grainne and Dan got together, he’s been brilliant for us,” Cathal remarked. “I can remember Cathal and Darragh running around the place,” Grainne reflected.

It prompted Cathal to remind them that Darragh split him open when they were hurling aged five and six in the back garden, an event Eoin had completely forgotten. “I’d to get five stitches, he hit me with a hurley,” Cathal said pointing to the lip. Leahy has taken many scalps since while it is likely Cathal was his the first victim, “I started him off”.

On Leahy’s addition, Eoin surmised, “He is an enigmatic character, it’s hard to make sense of him, you’d be looking at him and he’d be walking up to training and he looks like he’s not in it and then the next thing the whistle blows and he turns into a different animal, he’s been incredible, he plays on the edge, you wouldn’t like to play against him but you absolutely love having him on your team. He’s been incredible for us, there would have been doubts, he came from Shannon Hibs and no offence to them but they wouldn’t be aspiring to win FAI Junior Cups, it just tells you how good he is that he is able to go from playing with them to playing with us and dominating the best defenders in Junior football which is what Fairview and Ballynanty were, he is seamlessly able to fit into our team which says a lot about him”.

Donegal native Eunan Doherty who has shown his ability in gaelic football is another addition linked to the family, he is the partner of their first cousin, Laura Commane. “I remember my cousin Seamie (Lawlor) saying to me, we’d be very close, ‘come here will you get onto Paddy I sent him on Eunan’s number but he hasn’t got onto him’, Paddy is a very busy man and him not getting onto somebody isn’t because he doesn’t want them, he might have 500 million things to be doing, I remember speaking to Paddy and asking what the story was with Eunan Doherty, I said I didn’t know his background but we were thinking like Kevin Harnett playing at a top level of gaelic football and would he able to seamlessly come into us and play. There’s no doubt that football aside, he has an incredible attitude, his application is outstanding, he is a real competitor, it’s another one of the family involved”.

Hurt from last season has helped to drive everyone in the club, Grainne believed. “That last game up in Roslevan looking at all the disappointed faces, hearing comments that the team was getting old, a lot of negativity against the team after losing, there was an extra bite this year to prove something”.

Eoin interjected, “Things like that will drive you on, there’s no doubt about it. Sport is fickle and has a short-term memory, despite the fact we won nine cups in a row, eight leagues in a row but when we lost last year people don’t say they are still a great team because of that, you are only as great as you are in that moment. That is not the reason for our success this year, what it did was drive people on to work harder over the break, it also and this is the reality of sport, it forces decisions, players might move on and new players will come in, new management will come in, that is just the harsh reality of sport. Mark O’Malley and Donal Magee had done unbelievably well in recent years, they won two leagues and two cups, it’s a feat that not too many managers have done, I’d say maybe one other manager has done a two in a row of Cups and League titles, I think Davy and Crusher did it and Mike O’Malley but nobody else.

Eoin Hayes signs autographs after the game. Photograph: Joe Buckley

“There’s cycles of teams, I would say at the start of the year there was no doubt we weren’t planning on getting to the final of the big competitions, as the year grew and I think the Munster Junior game against Avenue, that day something sparked for me that something special was happening, particularly when you see Harvey, Darragh and Jack, I would class them as game-changers, real big-time players who have definitely drove us on. There’s no doubt that the players that were always there are good enough but you always need something fresh to come in, there’s bit of luck along the way and all of those things, there’s been a suggestion that better teams have been around before, maybe that is true but who knows, there’s more togetherness on this team but if you get knocked out in one of the earlier rounds then the togetherness doesn’t exist, that’s what I mean about the fickle nature and short-term memory of sport”.

Squad depth is stronger, Cathal felt. “I think the squad is much better. Last year we were going up to training with the same nine or ten lads. I remember the last game against Avenue, we only had two subs for a league play off, someone got injured and we only had a Youths player to bring on, this year we’ve a massive squad to pick from”.

Grabbing the opportunity of a potential historic double is crucial. “I remember having a conversation with James ‘Chalky’ Walsh, he is one of the most decorated Junior footballers in Ireland, I think he lost four FAI Junior Cup finals before he won one, he said to me, ‘Hayzo you have to keep coming back, you just have to keep coming back, there’s no recipe or science, keep coming back, keep knocking on the door and eventually you will break it down’, it always stuck with me, despite the fact we never thought it would come again it just shows the fact that you have to persevere,” Eoin stressed. Cathal added, “It was 2016 when we last got to a Munster Junior Cup final, it’s seven years ago, it just shows it mightn’t happen again so we’ll enjoy it while we’re here”.

Put simply the club means everything to the Hayes but they all have attempts at putting it into words. “I love being part of it, it’s family. My whole life at the moment revolves around Newmarket Celtic, it is the topic of conversation in my house seven days a week with Lee or Daniel, he has managed Lee over the years, sometimes you’d come home and the house is in great form, then other times when there’s been a loss or an argument there’s nobody talking in the house. It’s all about family and friends. Someone made a comment after the Ballynanty game, they weren’t from Newmarket, they said look around and look at this, ‘this is the difference’ is what they said, it will always stick with me, we’re a very close connected club,” Grainne stated.

For Eoin it’s about the people, “If I was to put it into words, I’d put it into people, my Mam and Dad, when I think of growing up, Paudie Cullinan, Martin Ryan, Johnny Sheedy God rest him a massive influence on me growing up playing soccer, Davy Lenane, Davy Donnellan and all of my managers with the A team, without those lads underage I wouldn’t be here today and I don’t know if Newmarket Celtic would be here in an FAI Junior Cup final, they very much laid the foundation, it’s for them. People don’t join our club and leave”.

In the list of priorities for Cathal, it’s almost at the top, “Family would be number one for me in life but then Newmarket Celtic is number two, it’s like a family, everyone is so close, all of our family is involved, everyone on the teams are friends, I don’t think there’s a club like it in any sport”.

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Subscribe for just €3 per month

If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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