A three-time Best and Fairest and All Australian and sixth on St Kilda’s all-time games played list, Hayes is not only a favourite of Saints fans, but is universally respected across the AFL for the way he goes about his business on the field. Drafted at 11 in the 1998 National Draft, Sydney-native Hayes had an interest in football stemming from his Victorian-born father, who encouraged him to play the southern code from an early age. After winning the Morrish Medal in 1998 with the NSW-ACT Rams, Hayes quickly stamped himself as midfielder of note once he arrived at St Kilda. A Rising Star nominee in 1999, his ability to win the ball in close and dispose it cleanly made him a permanent fixture straight away.
In 2003, Hayes became a Best and Fairest winner, All-Australian and International Rules representative before getting his chance to play finals for the first time in 2004 – a year in which he led the Saints to the Pre-Season Premiership. His rich vein of form was interrupted by a serious knee injury in 2006, but Hayes took his game to another level under Ross Lyon, highlighted by his outstanding Grand Final performances including the Norm Smith Medal in the classic 2010 draw against Collingwood.
A second knee injury in 2011 robbed the Saints of Hayes’ midfield presence, but he returned to full fitness, even after Pre-season surgery to repair a heart defect, and was one of the stories of 2012, winning a third Best and Fairest at age 32 and showing that he has plenty of football left. Off-field, the recently married Hayes has been a prominent media performer and is sponsored by Diadora.
After his retirement as a player in 2014, Hayes spent a year working with the AFL on a number of projects before accepting a role as a midfield coach with the GIANTS for the 2016 season.