Jonny Hayes may yet spend the summer playing for the Republic of Ireland in the European Championships now that Derek McInnes has finally convinced the player he really is international class.
The Aberdeen manager has spent the past couple of years trying to disabuse the Dubliner of the notion that he wasn’t worthy of a place in Martin O’Neill’s squad and the message seems to have finally hit home.
Until recently Hayes claimed his only interest in the finals in France would be supporting Pittodrie team-mate and close friend Niall McGinn, who is a certainty to make it into the Northern Ireland team.
That all changed after winning his first two caps for the Republic of Ireland in their recent double header against Switzerland and Slovakia that ended in a 1-0 win and 2-2 draw respectively.
Now someone who previously looked on the international breaks as the ideal opportunity to spend some quality time with his family is ready to cancel his summer holiday if he does make it into Martin O’Neill’s squad for the finals.
Typically, the self-effacing Hayes believes that is still an outside prospect but if he does end up facing Italy, Belgium and Sweden this summer then a large part of the credit will go to his club manager.
“Derek McInnes always said that if I kept performing and kept improving then I would get a chance and he has been proven right,” admits Hayes. “That has given me that little bit of extra confidence and self-belief to go on and get a cap for Ireland.
“I never got too optimistic hoping about something that might never happen or that I particularly aimed for but the manager has said to me every few days for the last couple of years that I was capable of playing at that level.
“He is probably the person that has had the most belief in me, besides my dad, and he has constantly been trying to improve me as a player.
“I’m not one that over-analyses my game too much as there’s always someone else there to tell me if I have done well but I am always trying to improve my game for Aberdeen and I still think I’ll need to improve to get in the Ireland squad regularly.”
McInnes certainly knows the one area where even he expects more from Hayes and that’s goalscoring, as the Aberdeen manager is convinced the player can contribute more in their seven remaining games.
The former Inverness Caley Thistle player has only managed four in the Premiership so far this season and it would be the ideal time to add a few more as the Dons try to overhaul Celtic in the title race.
That would certainly enhance the Dubliner’s reputation as the complete package and McInnes has revealed that he’s not the only manager who always had faith that Hayes had untapped potential.
“When I was down in Liverpool spending some time with Brendon Rogers, the first question he asked was: ‘How’s Jonny Hayes’,” said McInnes. “Brendon was manager at Reading when Jonny was there and he told me he always thought he had ability and speed.
“He just needed to put his game together and sometimes players develop and become what they are quicker but Jonny, even at 28, with his pace and fitness, is magnificent.
“The fact that he can play in a few positions and a few different ways of playing makes him more difficult to play against and he certainly has a lot of confidence in his game at the moment because he knows he’s a good player and he known his ability to keep going at his full back and keep getting on top of him.
“He adds such a dynamic to our team, wherever you play him – wide, midfield or even at left back. The ability to show that pace he has and then recover and go again and again is down to him because he has got himself into really good condition to be able to do that.
“He has got confidence from being able to do that and now the last wee bit for me as far as Jonny’s concerned is to get more goals.”
Lunchtime would be the perfect time to start as Aberdeen’s title hopes realistically rest on taking maximum points against Hamilton Accies at Pittodrie today and at Tynecastle on Friday.
They won six and drew the other in their last seven matches the last time they won the league title in 1985 but even a similar finish now may not be good enough to end the 31 year wait for another.
Defeat at Motherwell last time out was a major setback to their ambitions but Hayes for one remains simultaneously optimistic and realistic about their chances of preventing Celtic making it five-in-a-row.
He added: “We are under no illusions where we stand now as we simply can’t afford any more slip-ups if we are going to keep the pressure on Celtic.
“Hearts are breathing down our necks for second place as well so we know that only wins will do.
“That’s just the way it is as Celtic have a game in hand but we can only look after ourselves in this situation.
“All we can do is look forward to the matches that we have left and try to pick up as many points as we can from them.”