- Published on Thursday, 10 July 2014 08:01
- Written by Fachtna McCarthy
The recent death of Flor Hayes in London at the age of 70 has evoked considerable sadness and nostalgia among GAA followers everywhere, and especially in his native Clonakilty. Long before the word "superstar" came into common usage Flor Hayes was truly a superstar on the playing fields.
He first came to prominence in the late 1950s as one of the most exciting under age players to have been seen in West Cork GAA circles. His dazzling speed and extraordinary ball skills marked him out as as a uniquely exciting player, destined for greatness. Having starred at under 14 and under 16 level for Clonakilty and the Carbery Division in both football and hurling it was inevitable that he would come to the attention of the Cork minor selectors in 1961 while still only 17. He emerged as an outstanding member of that year's Cork minor football team that created history by winning the county's first All-Ireland title at that level. 1961 was to prove an exciting year for many other reasons for the new young Clonakilty star. On the first Sunday of August he made his senior championship debut for Clonakilty in the county quarter-final against Carbery. To make the occasion even more memorable, the game was played on Clonakilty's home pitch, just a hundred yards from Flor's home. He proved his worth to the team as Clon ran out winners in front of a monster crowd. He was to retain his place as Clon went all the way to the county final, losing in heartbreaking circumstances to Avondhu. The year ended on a high note for young Flor Hayes however as he was a star player on the Clonakilty junior hurling side that won the West Cork championship in thrilling fashion against the famed Courcey Rovers. An All-Ireland minor football medal and a West Cork junior hurling medal for a 17 year old was a great start to his career. Flor was a dual Cork minor the following year but both Cork sides were beaten in the Munster finals. Flor had the privilege of captaining his school, St. Mary's College, to its sole victory in the Munster Colleges senior football championship early in 1962 and in the same year he was also drafted onto the Cork under 21 football panel. He was now one of the most exciting young talents in the county. His mazy solo runs and ball skills attracted fans who would otherwise have had little interest in football. One of his proudest moments came in 1963 when he was the outstanding player on the Cork under 21 football team that defeated Kerry in the Munster final on a score of 2-03 to 1-04. The game was particularly significant as it was played in Clonakilty in front of an enormous crowd. Coming onto the Cork team was another young player that was creating a huge stir in Cork GAA circles, Flor's brother, Tim F. Incredibly, Tim F. was only seventeen. With Flor scoring 2-01 of Cork's total of 2-03 it was one of the most memorable days in the life of the Hayes family and Clonakilty GAA club. The following year brought heartbreak for Flor as a hotly fancied Clonakilty senior team were shocked in the county semi-final by Carbery, despite Flor himself turning in a magnificent display. It was in the following year, 1965, that Flor's career was to see possibly its lowest point. He was the central figure in one of the most controversial of the many internal disputes that have dogged Cork GAA over the years. Flor was working and living in Waterford and his extraordinary skills had brought him to the attention of Waterford AFC, then the leading soccer team in the country and regular winners of the League of Ireland. With the infamous "ban on playing foreign games" still in force Flor's involvement with Waterford was bound to cause problems, and it was to prove to be the case in the most dramatic of circumstances. It was apparently brought to the attention of the Cork football selectors in the dressing room in Killarney minutes before the start of the Munster senior football semi-final against Limerick. With the Cork team already togged out Flor suffered the humiliation of being told to togg off again as he was being dropped. He was told that an objection would be raised if he played and Cork would be disqualified. In the event, a deeply divided and disillusioned Cork side was defeated by Limerick in the most sensational shock result of the decade. Many Cork players were deeply annoyed and made little effort. Flor was suspended and his absence from the Clon team led to one of their poorest ever performance in the senior football championship when they were heavily beaten by Nemo Rangers in Bandon. Cork under 21 footballers also felt his loss as they were beaten in a classic All-Ireland final by Kildare, a game that they would almost certainly have won if Flor had been available. To add to Flor's woes, his brother Tim F was injured and unable to play in that final. Though many would have understood if Flor had walked away from the GAA at that stage he did not do so. He served out his suspension and returned to the Cork senior team the following year and had the satisfaction of being a member of the Cork team that shocked Kerry in the Munster final in Killarney, thus preventing Kerry from winning nine in a row titles. Galway, then completing three in a row of All-Ireland titles, narrowly defeated Cork in the semi-final but a year later Flor and Cork were back. Victory in the Munster final saw Cork defeating Kerry in successive Munster final for only the second time in their history. Flor starred in the All-Ireland semi-final win over Cavan and was now only an hour away from achieving his ambition of an All-Ireland senior medal. It was not to be. Meath defeated Cork narrowly. The following year brought more heartbreak for Flor as he was a vital member of the Clonakilty team that was so unlucky to lose the county final to Carbery after a replay, with Clon being so desperately unlucky not to have won the drawn final. These setbacks seemed to drain his enthuisiasm and his sending off in the county senior semi-final of 1969 effectively brought his playing days with Clon to an end. He then tried his hand at rugby with Dolphin. He made a comeback to Clon's colours for the 1971 championship and his return provided a boost as a team that had reached a real low the previous year scored a big win over Carrigdoun in the first round of that year's championship. However, defeat at the hands of Beara in front of a huge crowd in Bantry in the quarter-final brought further disappointment. Flor gave it one last try in 1972 but was well below his once brilliant best as Clon just failed to a star-studded UCC side. Though still only 28 Flor was never to play for Clonakilty again. He emigrated shortly afterwards and rarely returned to the town where he had been a sporting hero for a decade. Though now gone he will never be forgotten in Clonakilty GAA club.