One of the region's brightest young soccer talents, Ballyjamesduff's Jake Doyle Hayes (16) is on the cusp of signing his first professional contract with Aston Villa Football Club. The Irish youth international speaks to Seamus Enright about living the dream...
It’s almost a year since one of the region’s brightest young soccer talents, Ballyjamesduff’s Jake Doyle-Hayes was snapped up and added to the youth ranks at 2015 FA Cup finalists, Aston Villa. Now, on the cusp of signing his first professional contract at a club that developed Gary Cahill and Gabi Agbonlahor to name a few, the 16-year-old Irish youth international speaks to The Anglo-Celt about “living the dream”...
Its a chance most young lads would kill for, but with it comes the pressure of trying making it in an ultra competitive environment that offers little symapthy for those to don’t make the grade. A few sage words of advice however from none other than Roy Keane have no doubt helped set young Jake on the right path - even if he recalls his encounter with the Irish football manager as somewhat daunting.
“He’s fairly terrifying. That was when he had the beard,” laughs Jake, whose family, originally from Marino in Dublin, moved to Ballyjamesduff 10-years-ago.
Drafted across the Irish sea a year early to assist his integration into the Villa’s youth set-up, Jake explains it wasn’t long after his arrival at the club’s Bodymoor Heath training ground that he was summoned by the Academy Manager.
“He told me to follow him. I could see we were going towards the first-team’s side and the Manager’s offices. We landed outside Roy Keane’s room. My heart was thumping.”
Then second in command to first-team coach Paul Lambert, the Corkman proceeded to show a side not often portrayed in some of the negative media hype that has dogged much of the former Manchester United and Celtic midfielder’s career.
“We just chatted. He knew I’d just arrived at the club. He told me about him growing up, and how he got to where he did. He just told me to keep doing what I’m doing. Try improve every day, work on what I’m weak at and take something from every training session,” says Jake speaking to the Celt at his parent’s south Cavan home.
With his local soccer pitch not far from the front door, and Castlerahan’s Paírc Uí Fhéich a stone throw to the back, it was a rare occasion that a pair of scuffed football boots weren’t waiting ready to be worn as Jake was growing up.
In one corner of the Doyle-Hayes’ kitchen stands a cabinet laden with youth football trophies, medals, Man of the Match awards and mementos, a veritable memorial to the achievements marked in Jake’s fledging football career to date.
It’s been a busy 12 months for the teenager who, since swapping Ballyjamesduff for Birmingham, has made quite an impression after joining a strong Irish contingent togging-out in Villa’s claret and blue.
Appointed Captain in his first year at the club, Jake was progressing well until injury towards the latter part of the season curtailed any further involvement.
On the dotted line
Recuperating at home for the past two months, at the time of interview Jake was due to make two trips back to the UK - one to complete his GCSE’s in English, Maths and Science, a prerequisite of his traineeship; the other to sign on the dotted line and for Jake to take his first big step towards a possible career as a professional footballer.
“I can’t wait. I’m a year there now and it’s made me want it even more,” says Jake, who is set to commit himself to a four-year scholarship deal that keeps him at 'The Villains’ until 2018 at least.
A number 10 by trade, keen to influence the pace and play of the game, Jake is comfortable anywhere across the midfield. This talent and versatility was spotted at an early age while playing with the region’s youth soccer team, Cavan-Monaghan.
Like Kilnaleck’s Ryan Reilly (Stoke) and Jonathan Leddy from Butlersbridge (formerly Ipswich) before him, Jake played three times at the SFAI Umbro Kennedy Cup, which each year attracts dozens of scouts representing English and Scottish footballs top clubs.
It was on the back of fine performances at that prestigious tournament, and similar showings in the Cashin and Galway Umbro Cup, where both Chelsea and Manchester United clubs also showed keen interest in him. But Villa swooped quickly to sign their man.
“When you first hear a scout is talking to your family, you do get nervous. All sorts of things go through your head, and the next time you go out you maybe end up trying a bit too hard. But you get used to that pressure. Instead of letting it get to you, you try use it in a more positive way,” explains Jake.
Visible opportunity to progress is what attracted Jake most to joining the midlands side who, under Tim Sherwood, recently welcomed Jack Grealish to the first-team, currently embroiled in an Anglo-Irish tug-o-war of national loyalties.
“You see how well [Jack] is doing. You see that and say 'that could be me’. [Sherwood] is bringing through a lot of youth players even to train with the first team and it motivates you to want to be part of that.”
Jake is acutely aware he is “one of the lucky ones”, the envy of many his age, most of whom must make do with recreating themselves in a football computer game’s 'Career Mode’. He is therefore hugely thankful to all who have supported him in his career.
But each year top-flight clubs cull by releasing a handful of players. It’s a painful and uncertain time for those involved, left struggling to find another club or, failing that, inevitably return home to etch out a life in another field.
Jake recently got a tattoo. Inked on his wrist, it reads: 'Believe to Achieve’, and Jake defiantly says: “If I end up coming back, it won’t be for the lack for trying. The important thing is I have no regrets. Right now I’m focused on being successful where I am. I’m in the best place possible for me to learn, and any chance that comes my way I’m going to take it.”
In the blood
There is sporting success in Jake’s blood. His grandfather, Mick Maguire, captained Shelbourne FC back in the 1920s and his father played Gaelic football for the famed St Vincent’s and Dublin.
As a blueprint for the kind of player he aspires to be, and a Liverpool fan like his dad Jim, Jake looks to former Anfield legend Steven Gerrard.
The level of responsibility exuded by his hero on and off the pitch is something Jake keenly takes on board.
In his off-time Jake has been coaching younger players in Ballyjamesduff. It’s “strange”, he says, to have kids in his hometown looking at him as a role-model. But he understands they all want what he wants too. “They all want to make it. Play for a big club and be the best.
“But to do that, you need to improve as a player on and off the pitch. A lot of the work that the players who succeed put in is the stuff done off the training pitch.
“I want to see local players do well and if a few were able to follow in my footsteps. There are few good players there already. It’s great to see talent there and I’ll help them in any way I can,” he says.
Jake’s parents Jim and Maria are justly proud of what their son has been able to achieved.
“He’s gone from playing on a patch of green down beside the house to being with Villa. Its hard to believe sometimes, but we’re delighted for him,” says Jim.
With all the trappings of wealth associated with today’s money-dominated football industry, and multi-million deals done for kids being dubbed 'mini-Messi’, the Hayes-Doyles are anxious that Jake keeps his feet firmly on the ground.
“At the end of the day, Jake’s happiness is what’s most important to us,” says Jim. “Villa have been very good to him and us. You do worry sometimes whether you’re making the right decision. Do you need an agent there on your first contract? There have been calls, but I don’t think so.
“Jake’s contract means there are no distractions, no one looking to turn his head and he can continue to work on becoming the player he and the club both hope he can be,” says Jim.
Having not kicked a ball in almost two months, Jake is now raring to go for the next season. “I’m happiest when I’ve a ball at my feet,” he puts simply.
With the youth league and the FA Youth Cup to look forward to next year, Jake says: “If in all of that I can show my worth and get called up I’d be delighted. If not, I’ll keep working on improving my game until I do.”
Like Everton midfielder Steven Kinsella, Robbie McCourt at West Brom and Manchester City’s Jack Byrne, Jake also represents a bright future for Irish football on an international level.
Jake wasn’t even born when Ireland’s last friendly against England ended after 27 minutes at Lansdowne Road when English fans rioted. He is also too young to remember Packie Bonner’s penalty save against Romania in Genoa, Italia 90, or Ray Houghton’s memorable goal, and more iconic celebration against Italy at Giant’s Stadium, USA '94. But Jake is hopeful his generation can bring joy to Irish fans going forward.
“Hopefully we can keep going the way we’re going, get our chances and take them when they come. If that happens, Irish football will be in a great place. Hopefully, if we all progress together we can make our own history. World Cup 2022 is a possibility. You never know!”