HAVING persuaded him to leave home as a lad of just 16 and move abroad to a town he had never even heard of, it was always unlikely that Brendan Rodgers would have any difficulty convincing Jonny Hayes to join him at Celtic.

Hayes completed his £1.3 million transfer from Aberdeen on Saturday and was paraded at his new club – out front on the Celtic Way and not, as is usually the case in such circumstances, on the pitch, due to the fact the new Desso hybrid playing surface is still being laid - yesterday.

It is a move which has, despite the startlingly consistent form the winger has shown out wide for the Pittodrie club in recent seasons and his involvement with the Republic of Ireland squad of late, taken some in Scottish football by surprise.

Loading article content

Read more: Jonny Hayes: There will be a nice atmosphere if Celtic play Linfield in Belfast - I'm looking forward to it

Yet, the Dubliner revealed he was all set to sign for the Parkhead club years ago after impressing during trials – until a certain youth coach at Reading intervened.

Asked how close he had come to signing for Celtic as a boy, Hayes said: “Very close. I will never forget, the day I left I was at the club shop and Tommy Burns was there looking after me, giving me tracksuits for folk back in Ireland.

“I had made my mind up. I had the chance to go to 10 or 12 clubs. I narrowed it down to either Celtic or Man. City. I spoke to my family and decided to go to Celtic.

“I didn’t even want to go on trial to Reading. I told my dad that. But six days later Brendan had changed my view completely. I told my dad: ‘I don’t want to go anywhere else. I just want to go to Reading and work for him’.

“It wasn’t so much what he said, it was just the way he was. I spent six days training with him, being in his company, going out for lunch, having chats with him. That changed my mind. He is brilliant to work for.

Read more: Jonny Hayes: There will be a nice atmosphere if Celtic play Linfield in Belfast - I'm looking forward to it

“I had never even heard of Reading before I went there. I didn’t know where it was. I had to justify myself to family members who were Celtic fans. My uncle travels over almost every week and I had to explain to him that I was going to Reading, a Championship club on the outskirts of London over Celtic.

“There weren’t too many boys who would have done that. It was purely down to Brendan and the chance of working with him. We only worked together for 13 or 14 months before he moved on to Chelsea, but I enjoyed it every day. In the back of my mind I have always thought that if I got the chance to work with him again that I would jump at it.”

He added: “You could see how much he loved football. You can still see it now. He is enthusiastic about everything to do with football, even more so now it’s Celtic. The start of the conversation we had about coming here was pretty much, regardless of everything else, it’s Celtic.

“He said when he arrived here he saw the training kit and was just staring at it for five minutes before he spoke to the media. He has obviously been down at some big clubs in England, at Liverpool, at Chelsea as well. For him to have that opinion of Celtic was enough. I thought: ‘If he can think that having been at those big clubs it says a lot’.”

Hayes will be hoping to inherit the place vacated by a player who has returned to Manchester City after completing a hugely successful season-and-a-half-long loan spell at Celtic – Patrick Roberts.

Read more: Jonny Hayes: There will be a nice atmosphere if Celtic play Linfield in Belfast - I'm looking forward to it

It will, despite his considerable ability and vast experience, be difficult for him to take over from the Englishman, who cost his Barclays Premier League club £12 million two years ago, out wide in Rodgers’s side.

The 29-year-old, though, stressed that he was not a like-for-like replacement. He said: “I played against Patrick a few times last season and he did a couple of things on the pitch which made me stand back and say: ‘Wow!”

“Andy Considine had a great season for Aberdeen and even he agreed that Patrick was his toughest opponent. It says a lot that he stands out amongst the high standard of Celtic player and he’s still young (Roberts is still just 20).

“He will only improve and I’m sure he’d love to come back one day if he had that chance, but it’ll be his parent club which will decide where he goes.

“I can’t speak highly enough of him, but I wouldn’t say I’m his replacement. I wouldn’t want to build myself up like that. I’m sure the manager will still have a few replacements coming into the squad.”

Hayes was stunned when Celtic made contact with Aberdeen after beating them 2-1 in the William Hill Scottish Cup final last month and expressed an interest in signing him. He endured a few anxious days until the deal was finalised.

“As soon we got the all-clear with the medical and I knew it was happening I couldn’t wait to sign that piece of paper and get it confirmed,” he said.

Read more: Jonny Hayes: There will be a nice atmosphere if Celtic play Linfield in Belfast - I'm looking forward to it

“I then started thinking: ‘What if something happens to me? What if, God forbid, I am in a car crash or something?’ I wrapped myself in cotton wool for a few days until we got it over the line.”

Hayes could make his competitive debut in the Champions League qualifier against either Linfield or La Florita of San Marino early next month. He is confident he will be in peak physical condition if he does.

“A week or two off is enough to get that mental break you need,” he said. At the back end of the season I got a day or two off as I needed them. So, no, I am looking forward to it. I knew that we would be starting back early for Europe. I have looked after myself for the last couple of months.”

Hayes has taken a circuitous route back to Celtic since coming so close to signing for them as a teenager. He failed to feature in the first team at Reading and went on to play for Forest Green Rovers, Milton Keynes Dons, Leicester City, Northampton Town, and Cheltenham Town before joining Inverness Caledonian Thistle where his career really took off.

The Irishman, who will turn 30 at the start of next month, confessed that he doubted he would ever get the chance to play for the club he grew up supporting.

“No doubt about it,” he said. “You don’t know whether you are ever going to get a chance to get to that level. You have that little bit of self-doubt about whether you are going to step up. But all it takes is a quick call from the manager to know that he wants you to come to Celtic and that is enough for me.”

Read more: Jonny Hayes: There will be a nice atmosphere if Celtic play Linfield in Belfast - I'm looking forward to it

Hayes, who put Aberdeen in front against Celtic in the Scottish Cup final, denied that he knew the move was in the offing before that match despite it being suggested that Rodgers had spoken to him about it on the pitch at Hampden after the final whistle.

“I was still seething about the loss,” he said. “People probably made a bit more of it. You have to remember that we go back a long time and I hadn’t seen him for about ten years. He was a good friend, both he and Chris [Celtic assistant Davies].

“Chris and I used to go to college together at Reading. We did law and economics together. He used to drive me about. Seeing the two of them after so long was like seeing old friends.”