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Your view on Kyle Hayes shouldn’t be coloured by team allegiance - but sport is depressingly predictable

While the Limerick hurler got a suspended sentence after being found guilty of two acts of violent disorder, it’s impossible to divorce the case from his standing as a high-profile sportsperson

When it comes to discussing Kyle Hayes, it would be useful if everyone could channel their inner Mary J Blige and leave their situations at the door. The case has been deliberated upon and adjudicated, Hayes has been convicted of violent disorder and had a two-year prison sentence suspended. He was also ordered to pay his victim €10,000 in compensation. Everyone is entitled to their opinion on the rights and wrongs of the verdict and the punishment. But maybe take the jersey off first.

It is, to some extent, only natural for Limerick supporters to feel the urge to back their man. Especially in this year of all years, as they gather themselves for an attempt on what would be hurling’s first ever five-in-a-row. It wouldn’t be sport if they weren’t inclined to weaponise the whole thing, to give it the full us-against-the-world treatment. But there are endless reasons why they should resist that temptation.

For a start, this is a situation without many parallels in world sport, never mind the tiny, self-contained universe of the GAA. That one of the best players on the best team has come this close to going to prison on the eve of the biggest tournament of the year is not an insignificant thing. As soon as you start applying a sporting lens to your view on the case, you’re immediately trivialising the whole thing.

Any Limerick fans who dismiss, minimise or whatabouterise in an attempt to defend their county’s honour will only succeed in dirtying it up further. Nothing will cheapen this incredible team’s achievements quicker than a one-eyed crusade to defend Kyle Hayes or to put it all down to mere youthful folly.


More to the point, Cillian McCarthy is as much a Limerick man as anyone else. McCarthy used to play both hurling and five-a-side soccer but in his victim impact statement to the court in January, he said has not been able to go back to playing sport since the 2019 attack for which Hayes has been convicted. He has been abused online and says he feels that “everyone knows me as the guy who was attacked”.

If you are a Limerick hurling supporter, Cillian McCarthy should matter to you. You are perfectly entitled to cheer for Kyle Hayes if you wish but if you aren’t at least some way uneasy about it, then it is reasonable to ask why. The judge said Hayes used his leadership qualities on the night “for no other purpose” than to harass and attack Cillian McCarthy, whose only offence was not to be sufficiently submissive to him.

“Do you know who the f**k I am?” Hayes shouted at McCarthy. It’s fairly obvious what he meant by that in October 2019. He meant Kyle Hayes, the Limerick hurler. He meant Kyle Hayes, the All-Ireland winner. He meant Kyle Hayes, the reigning Young Hurler of the Year. He did not mean Kyle Hayes, the ordinary Joe Schmoe.

In that context, it is impossible to divorce Hayes’s standing as a high-profile sportsperson from the case. He was throwing his weight around that night as a celebrated Limerick titan, as the best young hurler in the country, using that status to intimidate a member of the public who had displeased him. And, ultimately, to violently attack him. Cheer for that, if you like.

That said, there is a flipside too. While it is clear that Hayes’s standing as a hurler was a factor in him avoiding a stint behind bars – the judge said as much when he included it in the mitigating factors during sentencing – the other reality is that the case drew such a sustained spotlight purely because of who was involved.

It was reported everywhere from the front pages of the newspapers to the Six One news to endless clips on social media. That happened for no other reason than because Hayes is a famous hurler. There are plenty of pockets of the country where the locals wouldn’t know Diarmaid Byrnes or Declan Hannon from the Archbishop of Uppsala. But everyone knows who the f**k Kyle Hayes is now.

You can have sympathy for the victim. You can think the sentence is lenient. But what you can’t do is argue that Hayes hasn’t paid a price here.

For almost anybody else in the country who gets convicted of a crime like this, the worst they generally have to deal with is a few paragraphs in the local paper. Kyle Hayes has been shamed on the national stage and this will follow him around long into the future. That’s not nothing.

On top of which, he will have to carry this on to the pitch with him for the rest of his hurling career. Injury permitting, he will certainly be in the Limerick team that starts against Clare in Cusack Park in four weeks. What happens when his name is read out over the PA system that Sunday afternoon in Ennis? Does he got booed? Barracked? Cheered? All of the above? When do we start to talk about him as a hurler again? Should we? Can we?

Clearly, Limerick would like to draw a line under the whole thing and move on. That might not prove straightforward, however. John Kiely was typically composed and upfront when talking briefly to the GAA print media about the case at the Munster championship launch in Cahir on Thursday. But he followed it up by getting into a heated discussion with Marty Morrissey about RTÉ’s handling of the case and ultimately refused to do an interview, despite repeated requests.

Kiely is, of course, well within his rights to speak to whatever media outlets he wishes. But getting in a snot with Marty Morrissey only gives the whole thing a bit more legs, surely.

Now the rest of the media gets to go in again and ask him what his issue is with RTÉ and whether this is a one-time thing or will it last through the summer and round and round we go again. All because Kyle Hayes committed two acts of violent disorder on a night out five years ago.

So yes, it would indeed be useful if everyone could leave their situations at the door and take the case and the verdict purely on its merits. It would be cleaner and less complicated. But we know that sport doesn’t work like that.

We know that your view of Hayes or Kiely or even poor Cillian McCarthy is liable to be coloured to some extent by whether or not you are invested in the success of the Limerick hurlers.

There’s something very depressing about that reality.