By Brian P. Dunleavy
There’s an old saying about karma. You know the one. That it’s a… well, this is a family newspaper, and the gaffer here is pretty strict about that.
So there’s another old saying we’ll use instead. The one that reminds us that “bad things happen to good people.”
It comes to mind now that Celtic winger Jonny Hayes has suffered what appears to be a serious leg injury during the Hoops’ 2-0 Boxing/St. Stephen’s Day win at Dundee. Hayes was taken off on a stretcher in the first half of the win following a 50-50 challenge with Dee defender Josh Meekings, who was also forced to leave the match due to an injury sustained as a result of the clash.
Meekings will not get much sympathy from the Celtic support, though, who likely remember him well for a certain “undetected” handball in a 2015 Scottish Cup semi-final (he was playing for Inverness CT at the time), which arguably cost the Hoops that match, and may have contributed to the eventual downfall of then-manager Ronny Deila’s regime.
But enough about history, and more about Hayes, the Irishman who signed for Celtic in the summer after helping Aberdeen to consecutive second-place finishes in the Premiership. Hayes, from Dublin, had Celtic connections, of course, as well as a long-time relationship with current Hoops bench boss Brendan Rodgers. So, while Dons supporters were hardly happy about Hayes’ southwestern migration, they could hardly begrudge him the increased wages, nor their club’s £1.5 million windfall in the form of a transfer fee. That midfielder Gary Mackay-Steven made the reverse move—for the relative bargain fee of £250,000—must have sweetened the pot as well.
And Hayes, by all accounts, is a good guy—and a good teammate, who hasn’t complained at all about not getting nearly as much playing time in Glasgow’s East End as he did in the Granite City. According to Rodgers, Hayes has continued to work hard in training, taken time to learn a new system and been supportive of all his teammates, including those such as Scott Sinclair, James Forest and Patrick Roberts, who have been (at various times, anyway) ahead of him on the depth chart.
With so many fixtures during the festive period, Hayes was rightfully biding his time, knowing he would get his chance. And he did, finding a place in the starting XI last Saturday against his former employers, the aforementioned Aberdeen. He was Celtic’s best player in the first half in that match, and finally opened his Hoops account in the second, scoring his first goal in a match that matters.
In a show of class, although his Celtic teammates celebrated enthusiastically on his behalf, Hayes himself remained restrained, out of respect for Aberdeen.
“A young Irish man, I know what it means to be from Ireland and support the team, but to play for Celtic and get your first goal, especially against your old club, it is a really special day for him,” Rodgers told the press after the match. “He is just settling into the club, but the last couple of months have really seen him make a step forward…”
Ah, but then: karma. That fickle friend. That cruel lady. Just as Hayes was finding his stride in Glasgow, there was Meekings to break it. Hopefully not literally (with X-rays pending at press time). Would he have featured in Saturday’s match against Rangers? Unlikely, but one never knows.
Undoubtedly, though, he would have relished the opportunity—even if he started proceedings on the substitutes’ bench. There’s a (large) segment of the Celtic support that believes these Glasgow derbies aren’t the same, that they don’t mean as much as they once did.
We doubt a player in Hayes’ place would agree.