A tribute to Michael Hayes
A gentleman, people have said. A man who loved a chat and lived for a debate. The rooms that he entered will never again be the same without his looming shadow appearing in the doorway before his quizzical nature was imposed on its occupants. Michael always had a question to ask…and he always knew the answer too.
Michael was a long-serving administrator in the Competitions Department in the Football Association of Ireland. Yet his email signature should also have included: archivist, copy editor, fact checker, rulebook stickler, and football supporter.
In the 1970s, he became programme editor for his beloved Waterford FC and filled many roles at the club before moving on to helping the late Dr. Tony O’Neill with compiling fixtures on the League of Ireland. Forget about a computer spitting out random match-ups, Michael approached this task each season as if it were a game of chess where every little decision would have great consequences.
A role with the FAI came about in 2002 and whether he was roaming the corridors of 80 Merrion Square or the headquarters in Abbotstown, he was always armed with more knowledge than Jeremy Paxman could ever fit onto a thousand trivia cards for a round of University Challenge.
Whatever you think you knew about Irish football, Michael knew more. He was the most reliable source on statistical information on the game because he loved it. He loved how the numbers told a story. He loved how the players produced by our small island could equal the biggest nations on the field of play. And he loved being at the heart of it all.
If you pricked his skin, he would have bled blue. That was due to his loyalty to his hometown, Waterford, but also to his childhood heroes of Chelsea. And he never lost that wide-eyed enthusiasm for the beautiful game, no matter how many times he was exposed to its ugly side.
There were many battles, too many, with players, managers, chairmen, administrators, and, even, supporters on the medicine that League of Ireland clubs were required to swallow. Yet he never let up because he cared for the domestic game and its future. Whether someone disagreed with him or not, they could never question his motive of constantly striving to achieve a higher standard.
Michael would often joke that you would need to get up early in the morning to catch him off-guard. Many tried, and failed, to take him on in a friendly football quiz. If only they knew that their opponent was a man who was known for correcting UEFA and FIFA on inaccuracies with their data.
It is rare in life that you come across an individual like Michael and he should have been told that more often. The reaction to his passing on Sunday, September 27th provided a snapshot of just how many people he left a positive impression on. Ordinary people don’t do that, extraordinary people do.
The funny thing about so many people interacting over social media about Michael is that he would have craved having such a large audience at his disposal to regale tales of Alfie Hale or Johnny Giles. It didn’t matter what your background was, Michael knew exactly which of his endless amount of stories on Irish football would best entertain you.
There is no doubt that Irish football is a poorer place without Michael in it. But we should be grateful for knowing him and never forget the impact that he had on the game. May he rest in Peace!
By Gareth Maher