Joyce's Naas look to make history in Hogan Cup decider
As a former student and a current teacher in Naas CBS, Ronan Joyce knows just how big today is for the school as they prepare to take on St Michael's Enniskillen in the Hogan Cup final.
Joyce, along with Shane McGuinness, Alan Cullagh and Cormac Kirwan, steered Kildare colleges football to new heights last year when they became the first team from the county to win the Leinster senior 'A' football title since St Thomas' (now known as Newbridge College) in 1923.
Today they'll look to go a step further by claiming All-Ireland honours.
Naas entered the competition as one of the pre-tournament favourites.
A handful of last year's squad remained and they were buttressed by some new talent, with Joyce confident they had an even better squad than the one that made history the previous season.
"To be honest we would have looked at the squad this year and felt we had a stronger panel this year than last year," commented Joyce, a Naas senior footballer.
"Last year we hadn't as much to come off the line as we had this year.
"We have about four lads starting that are overlaps from last year but we'd have a huge amount to come off the line now and that's a positive."
They cut a dash through the group stage but the challenges stiffened considerably in their games against Coláiste Eoin before needing extra-time to get over Wicklow Schools in the final.
"It was tough but we left a lot of chances behind us that day (against Wicklow)," he said.
"We were four points up with two minutes to go and the ball came off the crossbar and they got a goal off it and with time up we coughed up possession and they kicked a score with a one-two from a sideline so.
"The Coláiste Eoin game was every bit as hard. I know there was two goals in it at the end but the last three games have been serious battles."
They faced off against Eamonn Fitzmaurice's Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne in the All-Ireland semi-final, having lobbied to get the game pushed back.
They were originally fixed to play that game just a few days after their Leinster final with the competition held up as Coláiste Eoin were in action in both hurling and football.
Naas eventually got an extra week and they made full use of it, delivering a brilliant performance to see off the Kerry school.
Now they face MacRory Cup champions St Michael's. The Fermanagh school have been in a Hogan Cup final as recently as 2012 while their captain Brandon Horan is tipped for a call-up to Rory Gallagher's county senior squad after today's business is concluded.
"They are going to be a serious battle for us, we played them a couple of months ago in a challenge," Joyce said.
"We ended up drawing the game and I know they were missing a few so they are a serious outfit.
"You can't read too much into (that game).
"Our teams have changed and we have made two or three changes in every game so it doesn't stand for much, especially when you're going to Croke Park it's really on the day and whether lads show up or lads freeze."
Today they head to Croke Park. History is on the line.
"You don't prepare too much differently, you just hope the occasion doesn't get to the lads.
"But they have taken it in their stride until now and hopefully they will again on Saturday."
St Michael's Enniskillen v Naas CBS, Live, TG4, 2.45