A three-time St Kilda Best and Fairest winner, three-time All-Australian and a Norm Smith Medalist – it’s safe to say that Madden Medal nominee, Lenny Hayes, will be remembered as a champion footballer and an even better bloke.
Hayes was selected by St Kilda with pick 11 in the 1998 AFL Draft after taking out the Morrish Medal in the TAC Cup, and made his AFL debut in 1999 – receiving a Rising Star nomination late in the year. He continued to improve as he progressed through his career, winning his first Best and Fairest Award in 2003, along with an All-Australian selection.
A strong leader within the Saints’ group, Hayes was named captain of the club in 2004 and went on to win a further two Best and Fairest Awards (2010 and 2012) and two more All Australian selections (2005 and 2009).
His reputation was further enhanced during the drawn 2010 Grand Final, where he almost lifted the Saints to victory, collecting 32 disposals and laying 12 tackles. A week after that performance netted him a Norm Smith Medal, Hayes backed it up with another 22 touches and 14 tackles during the following week’s replay.
Hayes overcame two knee reconstructions throughout his career, continuing to move brilliantly and delighting the St Kilda faithful with his signature sidestep until the end.
The boy from suburban Sydney announced his retirement at the end of 2014 after playing 297 games for St Kilda. He went out with a bang, breaking Jude Bolton’s record of 1,496 tackles in his final AFL match, laying 13 tackles against Adelaide.
“Of all the people I’ve ever met in football, he’s the best person and the best player as well” – Nick Riewoldt
Modest until the end, Hayes told afl.com.au. “It’s something I might look back on and tell my son one day that I used to go alright.”
Champion teammate Nick Riewoldt was one of many to heap more significant praise on Hayes.
“He’s just the ultimate teammate, the ultimate player and… off the field he’s the nicest, best, and most fiercely loyal guy that you could ever meet,” Riewoldt told The Age.
“Of all the people I’ve ever met in football, he’s the best person and the best player as well.”
Hayes has also been a valued contributor to the wider community, undertaking ambassador roles for Keep Your Cool, who promote fair play in sport, and the Eli Hayes Healy Foundation, which works to relieve the financial burden on families with children in the Intensive Care Unit at the Monash Hospital.
“I just think [Keep Your Cool] is a great initiative,” Hayes said.
“I think it’s all about just creating the best environment for our kids to enjoy their football and get the best out of themselves and to have fun.”
Hayes has also been committed to his studies, completing a Diploma of Sports Management, Diploma of Management, Certificate 4 in Frontline Management and Certificate 3 and 4 in Fitness.
The 2014 Madden Medal winner will be announced on Friday, September 30.