JONNY HAYES has revealed he had contract extension talks with Neil Lennon before the coronavirus pandemic struck.
The versatile Republic of Ireland international is now a free agent after his three-year deal with the nine-in-a-row champions expired, as CQN reported at the weekend.
Hayes, who will be 33 next month, is leaving at the same time as Croatian central defender Jozo Simunovic who has not had his one-year option activated by the club.
They join youngster Calvin Miller who has also been released by the Hoops while the Parkhead side offloaded midfield misfit Eboue Kouassi to Belgian outfit Genk during the week.
Hayes, speaking to talkSPORT, admitted: “I spoke to Neil Lennon a couple of days before the Rangers game back in December. He was aware I was out of contract in six months and said he’d like me to stay.
“As the season went on, we had similar conversations. He was quite keen for me to stay and saw me as part of his plans. I had the same conversations with John Kennedy.
“When it comes down to the decision being made this week, I don’t know if the financial impact the virus has had on Scottish football has contributed to it or not.
“But I wasn’t being phased out, I was still playing regularly, in the team or off the bench, up until this virus struck.
“It’s always hard to think about leaving a club when you’re heavily involved in the team.”
Hayes made 68 appearances for his boyhood favourites – a total which would have been higher had he not broken a leg at Dundee in his first season following his £1.3million arrival from Aberdeen in June 2017.
He continued: “Maybe if I stayed, I might not have got as much game time. I’m a little bit older now, it’s probably better for me to go out and play a bit more regularly.”
Asked about a potential return to Pittodrie, he replied: “I have always loved Aberdeen, no doubt about it. Even playing against them was a bit strange. I have a good relationship with the staff and players up there.
“It’s been an option before, I don’t know whether it will be an option now. Previously, there was talk of me going back on loan maybe.
“The current climate in Scottish football, you can’t really nail your colours to a mast and say you want to go there because it might not happen.
“The club you might want to go to, for example Aberdeen or Motherwell or wherever it might be, the club might struggle with finances over the next six months.”
Dons boss Derek McInnes, speaking to BBC Radio Scotland, commented: “I’m well aware of Jonny’s situation, but we are not in a position where we are looking to bring any players at the minute until we know the lie of the land, no matter how good a player they are or how much we think they would add to the team.
“Jonny’s association with the club and working with myself is obvious, but we need to concentrate on other matters at the minute unfortunately.
“We are not in a position where we can bring players on, I am really just trying to safeguard the future and the securities of the players and staff we have got.”