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My Down exit isn't something that burns me up: Hayes

In Part Two of our exclusive interview with Dr Maurice Hayes, he talks about departing the Mournemen and changes in modern game

By Declan Bogue

When he looks back on it, Dr Maurice Hayes is reluctant to say much about how he and Down GAA eventually parted company after the Mourne County had captured two All-Ireland titles.

Asked if he stepped away from it all, he replied: "They stepped away from me. I don't want to go over it, but after winning an All-Ireland, they voted me out of being their representative on Central Council in 1962.

"They put Paddy McFlynn in as their Central Council guy. And then the following year they made me assistant secretary to TP Murphy instead of joint secretary. So I thought then it was time to move."

It has often been said that any aspiring politician should spend a number of years as a GAA administrator, where they can learn every trick in the book and all about people's motivations.

But Hayes feels that good people get badly treated when others feel they outlive their usefulness.

"They don't get any better at it," he said of situations being mismanaged, referring to his native county and their county board.

"A couple of cases there in the past, I mean, Pete McGrath… Pete McGrath, what he did for Down and they humiliated him.

"That last guy before Burns, Jim McCorry, disgracefully treated."

Referring back to his own situation and how he arrived with a number of like-minded individuals who paved the way for Down to win their first Ulster and All-Ireland titles, he continued: "I think what happens with these things is that we start off with some scepticism within the county board. People were scoffing at the ideas, so it was kept to a small group.

"Then, people who had been scoffing wanted to scramble onto the bandwagon. And the second thing is that they thought it was easy and that anyone could do it.

"It's not something that burns me up or I reflect upon, but, you know, it's part of life. Most people hang on too long. There is a generational thing as well.

"I think no one over 40 could talk to a kid of 20 in this day and age. Change comes so quickly, our whole sense of values and more."

A decade ago, the GAA introduced a fixed-term rule where administrators could only hold a role for five years.

Initially conceived as a means of guarding against burnout of officials, and a handy means of ensuring there was no cronyism, it hasn't worked out that way in practice according to Hayes.

"Funny enough, when they tried to counter that in the GAA and said people should only hold office for five seasons, what has happened is it has become musical chairs. I stand down, you come in, and then I take your job, and then you come back into mine. The sort of thing people do in nursery," he chuckled.

Having celebrated his 90th birthday last week, he has always been a moderniser, and it is refreshing to hear his views on how Gaelic football has evolved to its present day incarnation. It hasn't been lost on him that the Down team into which he had so much input were seen by some as innovators, and by others as positively ungentlemanly for the way they redefined positions and their unorthodox tactical approach.

"I think it's coming out of the dark night of the soul," he lightly joked.

"Jim McGuinness is going off to China, I sometimes wish the Chinese had taken him out there 20 years ago!

"He imposed that Catenaccio defensive thing, like the Italians did to soccer all those years ago. They attempted to do the same with hurling."

In their time, Down arrived on the scene and dictated the terms.

One of their players, Joe Lennon - who passed away last November - was one of the most thoughtful football men of his generation. In the mid-60s he was one of the main architects and supporters of the first formal GAA coaching training courses in Gormanstown College, where he began teaching in 1965.

He had also produced his first book, 'Coaching football for champions' and another would follow, entitled 'Fitness for Gaelic football'.

While there were minor tweaks in the approaches teams took, very little changed in a real sense for the next few decades.

However, like many field games, an over-emphasis on defence took hold at the turn of the last decade. While Ulster teams were unfairly labelled as defensive for having the temerity to press high against opponents, Donegal altered the concept of the traditional formation in 2011 by placing all but one or two players within their own 45 defensive metres when they lost the ball.

"What this is about, and again it comes back to the manager and the cult of the manager, one thing a manager cannot do is lose. No one notices so much if he doesn't win, but if he loses, bingo!" said Hayes.

"The thing to do, it seems, is to eliminate the risk. Sport is about risk. It's about being on the edge, taking a chance.

"I think they took a lot of the joy out of the game. I found for a couple of years there that it was particularly hard to watch football, especially with the amount of hand-passing.

"But these things come in phases. Good players and managers find a way past them. Tyrone were impressive in getting over Donegal and I thought Down did well against Monaghan (in the Ulster Championship). There was a bit of passion about them, and there was a sense of purpose."

And speaking of purpose, one final question about what purpose the GAA had for its members in his time, and what it has now in the present day?

"There's one thing we did very well," he stated.

"Preparing guys for life after football, when they wouldn't have the tumult and the crowds and all the rest. We did try to get guys jobs and settled.

"The one thing is that the 1960 team, every one of them was a good citizen afterwards. They made a contribution in one way or another to the society they were in."

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