Tom Hayes took over as head coach at Shannon RFC in January, half-way through last season, when the club was going through a difficult period.
They notched just one victory in nine Ulster Bank League outings and they were “thread bare” in terms of players to choose from, to the point where the 37-year-old reluctantly togged out on more than one occasion.
Things improved as the season progressed thanfully and Shannon managed to pick up five wins after Christmas.
Well-documented at this stage, a lot can change in a short space of time in rugby and Shannon is yet another case study. They have tore into this season with plenty of gusto and sit pretty at the top of Division 1B with six wins from seven, their only loss coming from a hard-fought 21-18 loss against Naas.
Kelvin Brown is a welcome addition to the squad after a season spent with Aurillac. Hayes says that starting fresh with a new season is another help for the side but it is largely down to a shift in the team’s collective attitude.
“The attitude they have shown is the biggest thing. They are just going out on the pitch and going for it. There was a little bit of apprehension and inexperience last year in comparison that was hurting us so those things have changed a bit. They had a hard start last year but things have got a lot more positive.”
As is often the case in sport, former players return to their clubs to work in a coaching capacity. Having enjoyed a fruitful time with Shannon where he led the team to back-to-back AIL titles in 2004 and 2005, Hayes admitted that “seeing the club doing well” was a big motivator to taking over as head coach from Marcus Horan.
“You always want to be there to see your club doing well. I was involved in the set-up anyway up to that point and I didn’t want the club to be left in the lurch completely with the way things were going. It was a case of taking it on short term just to see through what was a fairly rotten patch. Then the club wanted to keep things going and it happened that I would take things on.”
As a man who has had huge success in the All Ireland League, it doesn’t take a rugby anorak to see how much Hayes values the club game. He understands that there is a balance to be struck between the Ulster Bank League and the British and Irish Cup.
Is Munster paying enough attention to the league as a whole? Maybe more can be done, Hayes admits.
“It’s a hard one to find a balance for. Maybe there’s too much on the Munster A side of things. I’ve always heard about what fellas can learn by playing in club games. On the professional side of it, if you’re playing the same teams all the time, sometimes it can all become a bit sterile.
“There are pros and cons for both of them. I wouldn’t say necessarily do away with Munster A altogether but from my point of view it might be good to turn towards the club stuff then they currently are and maybe a bit less onto the British and Irish Cup side of things. Both have their advantages but it would help the club game and could obviously reinvigorate clubs across the board not just top division clubs,” he added.
Read more of this interview in the Limerick Voice print edition available December 7.