After securing the Women’s Super League title for a third successive season last week, Chelsea now face Manchester City at Wembley on Sunday afternoon looking to add yet another trophy their collection.
A fatigue-related issue has kept Kirby sidelined for both club and country since February, leading to doubts about the 28-year-old’s availability for England for this summer’s European Championship. The the initial plan was to gradually ease her back into training this week.
But a player Hayes describes as a “generational talent” was able to sufficiently come through the drills to the extent that she is now in contention to feature at Wembley against City.
“I don’t want to put any pressure on her because I love that kid and she’s been through a lot, but she’s looked like she hasn’t even been away,” Hayes said.
“She’s looked that good in training and it was nice to see a smile on her face. She’s participated in everything.
“At the beginning of the week she was saying ‘let’s see how it goes’. But she’s said ‘I’m fine’ (every time) and she’s been in training all week so I’m over the moon.”
Kirby was absent for much of the 2019-20 season after being diagnosed with pericarditis, a condition which affects the saclike tissue surrounding the heart, but was instrumental in Chelsea’s treble-winning campaign last year.
She scored 16 times in 20 appearances in all competitions to collect player of the year from the WSL, the Professional Footballers’ Association, the Football Writers’ Association and was in fine fettle in this campaign until her health problems intervened again.
“I think she’s a generational talent,” Hayes added. “Maybe I’m biased because I work with her but rarely have I seen a football player that can do what she does in the way that she finds space, makes decisions and plays with selfless attributes in possession. She’s got eyes in the back of her head.
“She’s a winner, every day she wants to be on a winning team. Trust me, she’s a grumpy one when it isn’t going well, she’ll openly acknowledge that because she wants to win so badly.”
After being asked whether she considers herself a mother figure to the attacker, Hayes, who signed Kirby from Reading seven years ago, added: “I’d say so. I care about her.
“I always think about if it’s my child, what would I want for her? I think there’s been various times in different situations that we’ve had to make decisions together.
“I just want her to be well and happy. She’s in a great place today.”
Additional reporting by PA Sport.