Hayes one of Saints greats: Thomas
Former St Kilda player and coach Grant Thomas says Lenny Hayes deserves recognition as one of St Kilda’s finest ever players, after being inducted in to the Australian Football Hall of Fame on Monday night.
Thomas, who coached Hayes from 2001-2006 at St Kilda said he was one of the finest players of his era.
“Lenny Hayes is right up the top there’s no doubt about that,” he told Sports Drive on Tuesday.
“You can’t take anything away from him. He’s right up there with the other best midfielders around the same time. I put him right next to Robert Harvey without a shadow of a doubt in that regard.
“His value to the team, his leadership by example. He’s right at the top of the tree.”
Thomas spoke glowingly of Hayes character, the popular midfielder having played all of his 297 games at the Saints.
“Len dog as we liked to call him, he’s the sort of guy as a parent with daughters you want one of them to bring him through the door,” the 62 year old said.
“He’s an absolute beauty Len. He just reeks of credibility and character. He’s a bit of a Bambi over here; he has this persona and perception that everyone loves.
“I’m not just talking St Kilda players and fans, I’m talking everyone. If they had a most loved player award Lenny would win it.”
Hayes debuted in 1998, copping a bruising hip and shoulder from Glenn Archer at the SCG. Injury restricted him to just 13 games in 2001, by which time Thomas had taken over from Malcolm Blight as coach.
The former Saints mentor admits he wasn’t sure if Hayes had what it took then to become a superstar of the AFL competition.
“I thought he’d be a pretty good midfielder. But I didn’t think he would elevate himself to the levels that he did,” Thomas said.
“He was hard to get to know Lenny; he was hard to connect with in a lot of ways. We had a very good and close relationship but it was a lot of work scratching through those veneers.
“He was quite reserved and quite shy. He improved dramatically. His colleagues in the club, the true pros like a Rob Harvey, an Aaron Hamill. He really connected with those two and just learnt an enormous amount off them.”
Hayes retired at the end of the 2014 season, having overcome two knee reconstructions in his career to become one of the most decorated Saints of all time.
He won the Trevor Barker Medal as St Kilda’s best and fairest on three occasions, finishing in the top three on eight occasions during his career.
He has since moved in to coaching, holding an assistant coaching role with the GWS Giants.
Thomas hopes his former star player one day joins him in becoming a senior coach.
“I actually didn’t have him pegged as a coach to be honest, but I didn’t have Robert Harvey pegged as a coach either. They have both gone on and done tremendous jobs,” he said.
“Len especially I’m hearing great things about what he’s doing and the impact he’s having with players and everything else.
“With that in mind with the career he’s had and also with the respect everyone has for him, if there’s a job up for grabs you’d be really confident that he’d give it everything he’d had to do a great job.”