Aberdeen’s Jonny Hayes welcomes early start

Aberdeen's Jonny Hayes celebrates after seeing Adam Rooney score their third goal against CS Fola Esch at Pittodrie.  Picture: Craig Watson/PA
Aberdeen's Jonny Hayes celebrates after seeing Adam Rooney score their third goal against CS Fola Esch at Pittodrie. Picture: Craig Watson/PA
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It may have taken Aberdeen deep into stoppage time to get the better of Europa League opponents CS Flora Esch last Thursday night but Jonny Hayes believes the mental and physical toughness Derek McInnes has imbued them with means the result was never really in doubt.

In fact the Irishman, one of the Luxembourg side’s chief tormentors, credits his manager with making them as strong as any of the top teams in Britain when it comes to those particular characteristics.

One of Northern Ireland’s Euro 2016 goalscorers, Niall McGinn, finally edged the Dons ahead with the aid of a deflection as their persistent pressing paid off two minutes into time added on.

Then Adam Rooney’s penalty five minutes later clinched a 3-1 victory and surely an equally winnable second-round tie against either Ventspils of Latvia or Vikingur from the Faroe Islands.

Those vital strikes may have been a long time coming but Hayes was always convinced they would be delivered given the way McInnes has shaped his side during his three years in charge.

It might have been their first competitive game but Aberdeen’s fitness levels meant the pace and intensity of their play only increased as it progressed, but just as importantly for the midfielder they showed the sort of mental toughness all top teams possess.

“It’s always a trait with successful sides that they score late goals and I believe that’s down to their mentality” said Hayes.

“You can look at the great Liverpool sides of the past, Manchester United under Sir Alex and Celtic and Rangers down the years. They all had that ability and I think that has become recognisable in this team over the last few years.

“The manager has instilled a mentality over the last couple of years to find ways to win – and we did that. Never giving up is one of our traits. It’s the way we train and it’s the way we go about games.

“We’re a quick side, a fit side and we’ve got the mentality to find ways to win when things aren’t going our way, without being too reliant on the manager and the staff to change things.

“With the players we have there’s never any panic, and you have to have that belief in yourself. You could see, even after we scored our second goal, the lads were grabbing the ball and getting back to try for a third goal.

“We want to keep going, we want to keep scoring goals, we’re not going to sit back content at 2-1.In Europe that’s too dangerous because you can go away and concede one and that’s enough to kill you.

“Our mentality helped us to push on and get the third goal and going to the away leg with a two-goal cushion is much better than it could have been.”

Of course the demands caused by these now regular early starts for Europa League qualifiers means Hayes and the majority of his Aberdeen team mates have had just seven weeks holidays in the past two years.

The Republic of Ireland international wouldn’t have it any other way, though, as he believes continental competition has helped the club emerge as Celtic’s closest challengers in the league for the past two seasons.

After all Aberdeen followed last season’s Europa League qualifiers by starting their league campaign with eight straight wins for the first time in a 113-year history and Hayes is looking for a similar boost now.

He added:“We could be spending this time out running with no footballs until we don’t feel well or we could be playing European football.

“I know which one I’d choose every day of the week, and everyone in the dressing room would agree with me.

“It has helped us get off to decent starts in the league too and another record-breaking start would be nice!

“A couple of seasons ago we lost the first league game but did OK after that, then there was last year when we won eight in a row.

“Playing in Europe gets you fitter quicker than if you weren’t playing, so hopefully we can take a bit of an advantage from that, mentally and physically.”