NAAS CBS create a little bit of history when they take on Marist, Athlone in the Top Oil Bro. Bosco Cup in O’Connor Park, Tullamore at 2pm on Saturday afternoon.
It’s almost 100 years since a Kildare school has competed in the Leinster ‘A’ final and Naas certainly couldn’t be accused of taking the easy route to the decider.
Under the new format of the competition, Naas were placed in a tough group alongside Good Counsel and St Marys Edenderry. They drew their first game and then beat St Mary in a must win tie to reach the quarter-final but it’s that drawn game against Good Counsel that manager Ronan Joyce picks out as the key game.
“That was the making of the team. We were seven points up with a couple of minutes to go and we missed a penalty along with that before they came back. We really took off after that because the lads knew what was expected of them. The first game is a hard hurdle to get over but the lads really kicked on since then,” said Joyce.
After competing at ‘B’ for the last number of years, there was much discussion among the management team as to whether they should move up to ‘A’ level but their performances in those group games convinced Joyce that they had made the right choice.
“There was a small bit of doubt whether we should go ‘A’. We knew we had the quality of player and we knew that if we could get the buy in from the lads that we would be competitive. That main thing was the lads wanted to do the work, it was really down to them. They’ve driven everything from the start of the year,” said Joyce.
Once qualified from their group, Naas CBS really put the pedal down and recorded impressive wins against Knockbeg College in the quarter-final and Colaiste Eoin in the semi-final.
“We got a lot of confidence once we got out of that group and we’ve built on that since then against Knockbeg and Colaiste Eoin. Hopefully we can continue that on Saturday,” said Joyce.
To have got past four schools with such good GAA tradition shows the level that Naas CBS are currently competing at but Joyce says a lot of praise should be given to the clubs who do so much work with the players as well. The Naas club obviously provide the bulk of the squad but Raheens, Two Mile House, Eadestown, Blessington, Ballymore and Caragh are also well represented.
“There’s a huge amount of work going in at all the clubs around and we are just building on that. Hopefully that can continue in the next few years and that we can regularly compete at this level because it’s vitally important for all the clubs around, and Kildare football in general,” said Joyce.
That good feeling around the school has continued to the younger teams as well and there is still the possibility of a Leinster double.
“The U16s won a South Leinster title and are in a Leinster semi-final. When things are going well there is a great buzz about the place but it’s a matter of keeping that going and trying to build on it. That’s what we are trying to do,” said Joyce.
But nobody in the set up is getting carried away just yet and Joyce is just focused on the team producing their best form on the big stage in O’Connor Park.
“A lot of these lads would have played in finals for their clubs so they are used to the big occasion. When you have put in the amount of work that they have put in I have no doubt that will give them confidence. This is a big step but I have no doubt they are ready,” said Joyce.
One player on the player on the team who is well used to listening to the manager is Joyce’s younger brother Colm. Like Ronan himself, Colm is a lively forward and scored five points in the quarter-final win and a further three in the semi-final and Ronan said his younger sibling has no problem taking instructions.
“It was difficult at the start but the lads are brilliant and he’s no different. It’s very easy to work with lads with a great attitude. He just gets on with it and plays away. There are three other mentors there, Alan Cullagh and Shane McGuinness are teachers in the school and Cormac Kirwan comes in and takes sessions regularly. When you have four involved it makes a big difference. It’s not the one voice, there are four voices there working with the lads all the time,” said Joyce.
Like most aspects of Irish life, preparations for the game were hampered last week by heavy snow but Joyce is confident that his team is ready.
“It was very difficult. We didn’t get much done the week of the snow, the lads did a bit themselves, but it has taken off again this week. We just tried to manage as best we could but we got very little done that week. That won’t be an excuse on Saturday though, we’ve done a lot of work over the last few months so if we’re good enough Saturday we will win, if we’re not we won’t,” said Joyce.