After being delisted by Port Adelaide following the 2023 season, ruckman Sam Hayes has found a new home closer to his Victorian roots, signing with the University Blues in the Victorian Amateur Football Association (VAFA). The 24-year-old returns to his home state after six seasons with the Power, determined to reignite his football career.
Hayes, a Ferntree Gully junior, rose through the ranks of the Eastern Ranges before being drafted by Port Adelaide with Pick 56 in the 2018 AFL Draft. Despite showing promise in his early years, injuries and competition for ruck positions limited his senior opportunities. He made his AFL debut in 2022 against Carlton, going on to play 11 games that season, averaging a respectable 29.29 hitouts and 7.71 disposals across seven appearances. However, he featured sparingly in 2023, spending most of the season with Port Adelaide’s SANFL side.
With Port Adelaide undergoing significant list changes during the off-season, Hayes was one of seven players not offered a new contract. Undeterred by the setback, he expressed his desire to continue playing at the highest level possible. His return to Victoria opened doors to potential opportunities closer to home, and the University Blues quickly seized the chance to secure his services.
The VAFA Premier B outfit, known for producing AFL talent like Jack Viney and Ed Langdon, will undoubtedly benefit from Hayes’ experience and physical presence. Standing at 205cm, he offers a strong marking target and a reliable source of hitouts, crucial assets in amateur football. His experience at the elite level will also be invaluable, providing guidance and leadership to the Blues’ younger players.
Hayes’ signing coincides with the University Blues’ ambitious plans for the 2024 season. After reaching the penultimate week of the finals last year, they are determined to challenge for the premiership. Hayes’ arrival adds another dimension to their squad, bolstering their chances of success.
While the VAFA may not be the AFL stage he aspired to, it provides Hayes with a platform to rediscover his best form and potentially attract the attention of other clubs seeking ruck depth. He joins a long list of players who have successfully used amateur football as a springboard to revive their careers, names like Liam Ryan and Sam Reid serving as positive examples.
Hayes’ story reflects the resilience and determination often found in aspiring athletes. While setbacks are inevitable, his commitment to the game and his willingness to adapt are commendable. Whether he ultimately returns to the AFL or thrives in the VAFA, there’s no doubt Sam Hayes will continue to chase his football dreams, proving that setbacks are not always endings, but opportunities for new beginnings.