Joe Hayes recalled counting just 12 supporters at a National League game against Kilkenny in his time between the sticks for the Clare footballers, but he hung up his boots proud of his service and heartened by the Banner's progress.

The 35-year-old was forced to call it a day last week due to a persistent hip problem after 12 years playing inter-county.

He helped Clare gain promotion from Division 4 in 2014 and win the Division 3 title last year - they also made the All-Ireland quarters that summer - but those successes came after many years soldiering in the wilderness when support and interest was almost non-existent.

"It was in Cusack Park," he told the RTÉ GAA Podcast when recounting a game against Kilkenny where the terraces were particularity sparse.

"I looked around and I counted them. Two of them were very good friends of mine. That's just where we were.

"I wouldn't blame the Clare public for staying away. Prices are dear anyway for National League football. I wouldn't blame people for not paying to watch us at the time. That was the reality of the situation."

Living in Tipperary and working as a garda in Limerick, the commitment to the jersey was a strain.

Hayes admits there were sacrifices but none that he wouldn't make again.

"I never once said, 'what's the point in doing this?' A lot of people said it to me alright. I missed a lot of things - weddings, nights out, stags - but I've the rest of my life now to go to weddings and stags and all that. 

"I've plenty of regrets of certain situations, games we lost we shouldn't have lost. I've plenty of those type of regrets but I've no regrets of ever putting on the jersey and I've no regrets of giving it the time I gave it. 

"It's been my life since I was 19 years of age, when I first went into the panel. I knew nothing else only playing inter-county football and then playing football with my club when inter-county was over.

"It was a massive decision; it had to be the right decision, not for me, I'm not worried about me. I'd to get a hip replacement anyway. There was no point in me being in goals not 100% and Clare suffering."

Colm Collins' arrival at the helm in 2014 sparked a real upturn in the county's fortunes.

Hayes got a taste of it at the tail end of his career and savoured every second. It made the slog worthwhile. 

"It's great that we're after jumping a couple of huge steps in the last couple of years. 

"Colm (Collins) got the belief in the whole group working. He got players who wanted to play for Clare. It was baby steps and eventually it got the rewards. 

"He's very straight, very honest, very to the point. He'd tell you as it was. He built up a relationship with the players. I just think he got us playing freely again."