The second coming, by bike, of rugby legend John ‘The Bull’ Hayes

Posted on: September 13th, 2018

John ‘The Bull’ Hayes is a rugby legend; the sight of him in tears on an emotional day when Ireland beat England in Croke Park is one of the iconic Irish sporting images of the modern era. His wife, Fiona Steed, was also an international for a decade despite a late start to her ruby career. Now they’re on the bikes and getting set for the Great Dublin Bike Ride on Sunday week; entry for which closing this coming Sunday.


Best known for carving his name into the history books as a prop forward with the Irish rugby team, John ‘The Bull’ Hayes has turned to cycling now that his playing days are over.

And with his wife Fiona Steed, herself an international rugby player for a decade, he is now taking on the Great Dublin Bike Ride.

The 65km course on Sunday week, September 23rd, will be the longest they’ve ridden.

And while both have left behind their full-time sporting careers, and their peak fitness, a few years now; they are looking forward to taking to the start line in Dublin.

Speaking to stickybottle days before registry to the 65km or 105km event closes this Sunday, September 17th; Hayes said he has been doing a little more cycling of late with Fiona and their three young kids.

He has never done any organised cycling event or ridden for more than an hour before now. But he feels the 65km is within his reach, pointing out that completing the course is their only goal.

Now aged 44 years, the father of three from Limerick played for Ireland over 100 times. But he hung up his boots six years ago.

“I was feeling my age, I was 38 at the time and things were definitely getting tougher on the pitch,” he said.

In his prime, he hit the scales at about 130 kilos, which is just shy of 21 stone. He came to rugby late, only starting aged 18 years after first playing Gaelic Games.

But the vast majority of his 20-year rugby career was played at the top level, taking big hits.

When he stopped, he did no exercise to speak of for almost two years. But the bike then eased him back into.

“Training had been work for many years,” he said of needing a prolonged clean break when he stopped playing.

“I remember when I came out of the gym for the last time I said to myself: ‘Well, I’m not going back into one of those for a long time anyway’,” he laughs.



Running had always been part of his training and while that may have been an automatic choice to keep himself ticking over, he said the impact on the body would have been too much for him.

“So the exercise bike was the main thing that I did for a long time,” he said of his first small step into cycling.

“I’d belt away on it for a while and then after a time I cranked it up and did some intervals.

“It was really just to get a good sweat on; maybe for 40 minutes or so. And now I’m branching out a little bit with cycling; out into the fresh air.

“The Great Dublin Bike Ride will take me on another bit now of course. I wouldn’t say I’m apprehensive about it; I’m looking forward to it a bit nervously. But we’ll give it a good crack.”

Asked if he’d wear the lycra kit, the man they call The Bull guffawed with laughter: “Well, I don’t know about lycra but I’ll be wearing the padded shorts for definite; extra padded if they have them.”

Wife Fiona, a physiotherapist by profession, retired from playing 14 years ago. Like John, she also came from a GAA background and was a late convert to rugby.

She played camogie for Tipperary and then went to England to go to college, in 1990. It was in second year in college that she tried rugby.

Within two years she was playing for Ireland and continued to do so for 10 years. She had a then record-breaking 62 caps when she walked away in 2004.

The couple is kept busy with family life; their three kids – Sally (12), Roisin (9) and Bill (6) – make sure of that.

And while Fiona said Bill coming off his stabilisers in the summer had enabled them go cycling as a group; she also enjoys getting out on her own for an hour.

She is in the same boat as John in saying the Great Dublin Bike Ride will be by far the longest ride she has done.

They are choosing the 65km option, though a 105km route is also on offer.

Fiona said the 65km cycle is just far enough to stretch them and see them venture into cycling a bit deeper without feeling too daunting.

“Up until last week I had a 16-year-old hybrid bike. But the chance came up to do the Great Dublin Bike ride so we said ‘we’ll do it, and it’ll help us keep a bit fitter’.

“As you get a bit older and you have kids, you only have a small window to do some training.

“In the last couple of weeks I have upped it a bit and gone out for an hour here or there. But that’s been it for me.

“We won’t be the ones up the front with our heads down; it’s all recreational for us. But actually last week I was cycling along and I really did feel I had a bit of a breakthrough moment.

“I just felt I was really enjoying it now, it felt great to be out and to have the freedom.

“I was on my own, I had the hour to myself and I really could have gone for longer. I’m getting into it a bit now. And, yes, I am surprised at that.

“But I think it’s because there’s no pressure on me. I’m not a cyclist so I don’t have a huge goal to reach or to get this 65km done in any set time; it’s just a challenge for me to enjoy really.

“The more we bring the kids out the more they want to do it. From the fitness perspective and in terms of family time; it’s great. And I think we’ll enjoy cycling in Dublin city, and on the coast and out the countryside.

“We’ll be seeing parts of it we’ve never seen before and I think when we complete it there will be a real sense of achievement even though we are from sports backgrounds.”